Surviving College: Picking the Right School
Choosing a College
The first big step is deciding where you want to apply. Some people apply to dozens of colleges. Some people only apply to one and hope that they get in. In all honesty there is no 100% right way to go about it. The best way to start is to look at your finances. I'll get more in depth with that in a moment, but it really is the most important step. If you can't afford to go to a college that is out of state then why waste your time and money applying?
Talk with your parents about how you will pay for school. You may find that they have a savings account set aside for your college education. You could also find that your parents are planning on helping you pay for school, or will cosign with you on your student loans. Or you could also find that they will not be giving you any financial assistance and you will need to pay for your education yourself. It may be an awkward conversation, but it is an important one.
Student loans are a popular way to pay for school. I don't know too many college students that have $8,000+ laying around to pay for a semester of school out of pocket. There are student loans issued by the government and by private companies. Look in to them. Read the fine print. Often those loans from private companies (Sallie Mae) have a high interest rate, and you could end up signing a contract that says you'll start paying for the loan before you are out of school.
No matter how your education will be paid for you can always look in to scholarships. You can get scholarships from big name corporations, private individuals, or even from the school you will be going to. My scholarship from my university was a real lifesaver. Talk with your guidance consular at school and see if they can help you apply for any scholarships.
If finances are a major concern you can always look in to community collages. You can get your associates degree, or a few general education classes and then transfer to a four year university. Many universities have the transfer requirements on their website, or you can always talk with an administrative professional if you have questions. Community colleges are often much cheaper than a four year university and can be a great way to take some of the more basic/lower level classes. I attended a four year university, but each summer I came home I took a few of my general education classes at the local community college. This, along with some AP credits, helped me to graduate in three years instead of four, which helped to save on my student loan debt upon graduation.
In State Vs. Out of State
In state colleges are most likely cheaper than out of state colleges. Very rarely is the opposite true. The prices per credit hour are on nearly every school's website. Read them. Do the math. The debt will add up quick. I went to an in state university and it was about $350 per credit hour. Most classes are 3-4 credits. Full time students take between 12-18 credits per semester. Keep in mind that does not cover room and board or meal plans, which in my experience together they can cost as much if not more than tuition. My roommate one year was an out of state student. She paid nearly three times the amount I did per credit hour. Just let that sink in. She graduated with student loan debt of over $100,000. Again, that does not include room and board or meal plans. That is completely crazy to think about.
Some schools are private while other are considered public. I attended a public university. Had I attended a private university my cost per credit hour would have been higher. Make sure that you pay close attention to the finances section of the school's website. Do not get pulled in by the fancy course listing, or the new dinning hall. Make sure you understand how much this degree will cost you.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Once you have figured out if you are able to apply to out of state colleges or if you are limited to in state now you can narrow the field further. Have you figured out a field for your major? Are you undecided? If you don't know where you want to go start try a Google search: best college for Marine Biology in Florida or top culinary school in each state. Spend some time researching the colleges and universities you would most like to attend. If you have any AP credits will the university take them? Will you have to apply for another school or program after you apply to the university itself? For example at Old Dominion University you apply to the school and then you must also apply to the nursing program. It is possible to be accepted to the university but not be accepted into the nursing program.
Now is also the time to figure out if you will be able to get in to a school. If you have a C average through high school and see that the school you want to apply to requires a GPA of 3.5 you would most likely be wasting your time and money applying to that school. It is a myth that colleges accept students lower than their standards to make the smarter students look smarter. Students that don't meet the minimum requirements will most likely not graduate, and that looks bad on the school.
I don't mean to come across as harsh, but sometimes high schoolers need a reality check. If you are getting C's and B's in class and are not taking and AP classes you will not get in to Harvard. Does that mean the Universities that will be open to you will be bad schools? Of course not! Just because you are going to lesser known University or a small school does not mean your degree will count for any less.
Visiting The Campus
Once you have done some research its time to schedule a tour of the campus. Of course it may not be possible, or feasible, to tour every college you are interested in. If you really want to study Marine Ecology at the University of Hawaii and live in Maine that campus tour could be really expensive. But, it is a good idea to at least go and see a few schools close to home so that you can get the feel for the campus.
I'd recommend going during the week instead of a weekend if at all possible. That way you are able to see what a typical day is like for students and you may even be able to sit in on a lecture if you prearrange it with the school. Talk with the students. You may find out that the campus floods when it rains or that there is a fantastic public transportation system or that the food served in the dining halls during the campus tours is not what is really served to students. This is all valuable information! This is the stuff that will effect your entire life while at school, and it will not be listed in the school's brochure.
I lived in Virginia for several years, and I choose to go to school in a different part of the commonwealth. I found out the hard way that it rains for most of the fall, and I lived on the side of campus that floods with so much as an afternoon shower. I was not prepared for it. One of my closest friends in high school went to a small university in Ohio. She loved the small class sizes and the small campus. However, she found out that first winter that the sun did not shine very much, even though they didn't get too much snow. She discovered that she suffered from seasonal depression. It made the next three years of school very difficult for her. I had friends that went to their dream school, only to discover that after a semester they felt like a number as the number of students on campus was so high.
The moral of the story: talk with current students.
Now that you have a list of universities and colleges it is time to apply. These applications can be quite lengthy, repetitive, and expensive. I'd recommend applying to at least 2-3 schools, that way you can choose between them if you are accepted to more than one school.
Some universities offer early application/acceptance. If you have a school that you have ranked higher than all others on your list this is the school that you want to apply early to.
The application process will vary from school to school. Many will have some sort of personality test. All will want up to date copies of your transcripts from high school. If you have taken any AP classes they will want those transcripts as well. Many will require letters of recommendation. At the end of your junior year and start of your senior year start thinking about what teachers, coaches, or employers you want to write your letter. Some universities even want an essay on a given topic or a resume highlighting your accomplishments outside of school.
This is the time for you to shine! Don't sell yourself short. If you ran the drama club's bake sale for the last three years let them know, that it leadership experience. Anything you can do to set yourself apart from every other applicant will help you. Just don't give false information, it will always come back to bite you in the butt.
Breathe. Take it all in. This can be a very stressful time in any student's career. If you do your research you will be able to make the most informed decision you can. You will find a school that is a good fit for you. If you pick a school and see that it wasn't a good fit you won't be alone. A lot of students transfer after the first semester or full year at college, though it would be safe to say that most of they didn't fully know what they were getting themselves in to.
When in doubt find someone to talk to. Ask questions. Make mistakes. Gain knowledge.