4 Things to Do Before You Go to College
Let’s face it, with today’s societal expectations, the question is not if you’ll go to college but where. It’s a vital part of surviving in the ever-growing global economy. The Bachelors degree has virtually replaced the high school diploma as the minimum education level for many jobs. So where are you going to college? Follow these 4 steps to jumpstart your academic career.
1. Decide what you want from a school. Do you want to stay local, or would you rather go out of state? Attending a university in your home state is generally a cheaper option, but some students want to experience living in another region. Don't forget academics. Even if you're going in with an undeclared major, investigate and find out which schools offer degree programs that you think you might be interested in. What about size? Some people want a sprawling campus and echoing lecture halls. Others may prefer a smaller, more tight-knit college community. If you're staying local, do you want to commute or have the option of living on campus? Will you need access to night classes? What about extracurricular activities? Is it a must for you to be able to play on a recreational volleyball team or work on your school's literary journal? This is also a time to look at the potential return on investment at each school. How much money are graduates making one year, five years, ten years out of school? This is an important piece of the college puzzle.
2. Explore your options using all of your resources. First, the Web is your friend. It gives you access to in-depth information through individual college sites. There, you can read about faculty, degree programs, and you can contact the schools’ admission offices to schedule an on-campus visit or even a meeting with an adviser. You won’t really know about a place until you’ve been there and seen it for yourself. If you're in high school or a community college, schedule a visit with your guidance counselor or advisor to talk about your options. They know the college ropes, have working familiarity with admissions offices, and can connect you with the information you need. They can also notify you about college fairs and open houses. A college fair is a great place to collect a lot of information in a little time. Once you've narrowed down your choices, schedule campus visits. You won't really know about a place until you've been there and experienced some it for yourself.
3. Look at your financial picture. College costs are something to consider. Once you have a list of top choice schools, sit down and do some accounting. Tally up to the total cost (don't forget about commute costs, living expenses, and meals), then see what kinds of aid each school offers. Fill out your FAFSA right away. You don't have to know where you're going to get in the pool for financial aid, and some of the grants are limited and disbursed on a first come, first served basis. Do any of your school choices offer unique scholarships that you might qualify for? What about work-study? Explore all of the options at each institution, then see which one is the most affordable and accessible while still meeting your individual needs.
4. Prepare your application materials. Simplify things for yourself by assembling a basic application kit. Most schools have an online application option, but you'll still need to stay on top of things. Have you already taken your ACT? Make sure your transcripts are ready to be sent. Gather your documents, scan them in, make copies, put the originals in a folder, and keep it all together somewhere safe. Don't forget to back up your electronic copies. Disorganization is your enemy when it comes to college applications. Transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation, identification documents--keep it all together so that it's ready to go when you're finally ready to apply to your top choices.
Finding the right college for you is an important process, but if you stay on top of things, it's a fun and exciting endeavor. You're making the choice of a lifetime. Good luck!