So, you’re in high school, which is no doubt a difficult period in your life. You are finally becoming an adult and gaining new responsibilities. On top of these new experiences, you are beginning the college search process, which can certainly add to the anxiety. Well, relax. The process doesn’t have to be that complicated.
First, your main goal right now should be to focus on graduating high school. You cannot go to college without a high school degree, right? So, pay attention in class, do your homework, and make sure you are getting good grades. Additionally, you may want to play a sport or participate in an extra-curricular activity.
Now, here comes the hard part: making sure that college is right for you.
Don’t go to college because all your friends are doing it or your parents are making you. Go to college because you want to learn more. College gives you more than just useless facts and student loans. It can prepare you to be a great problem solver, to think better on your feet, and to communicate well.
But, like high school, college can be complicated. Make sure that you are prepared for late night study sessions, forty page papers, and living in residence halls. If you are, your college degree can be rewarding. You may have better job opportunities and have the potential to make more money than those people without bachelor’s degrees.
At this point, you may be wondering how you choose the right school for you. Choosing a college is like using the process of elimination skills you learn when you are taking a multiple-choice test. You eliminate the obviously wrong choices first, then you pick the answer that seems correct.
What characteristics can you use to eliminate the wrong colleges?
Size is a great characteristic that can help you eliminate schools. Do you want a large university or a small college? The choice is yours, but if you want more personal attention, make sure that you choose a school with a small student to faculty ratio. A word of caution, size of the student body has nothing to do with the personal attention that you would receive. Sometimes it is all about making the right connection with a faculty or staff mentor.
Location is another key characteristic of the college search. You may hate the city and want to go to school in the suburbs, or you may want to stay close to home. By narrowing down the kind of environment you want, you can eliminate more of the wrong choices.
Other things to consider are religious affiliation, diversity, and graduation and retention rates. Graduation rates are generally the percentage of students that graduate in four years and retention rates are the percentages of freshmen who stay at a school to become a sophomore. Of course, you need to factor in financial assistance. Schools offer financial aid, but you need to make sure you can afford your school of choice.
As you fine-tune your interests, you can begin searching. How do you do this?
The internet is a great resource. Go to this page or your favorite search engine and type in “college search” or something more specific like “nursing schools.” The results that generally pop up are specific college search engines. You can ask for colleges in certain states with certain majors, and in some cases ask for a certain religious affiliation.
Another great search tool is your guidance counselor in high school. They are there to help you in this process; take advantage of them. Ask them questions. Also, don’t forget your friends and family; they are great resources too. They may know of a great college that may not even be on your list.
Additionally, go to college fairs to meet with the representatives of the college. These people can answer your questions and help you with this process. Plus, sometimes the representatives of the colleges aren’t employees; they are alumni or faculty representatives. These people are highly invested in a school that you are looking at.
You may even meet representatives during high school visits. These are times when a representative will come to your school. Usually these last a period or throughout the lunch periods.
At this point, you will have plenty of college brochures. These can be helpful because they contain plenty of information about the college. But don’t decide to apply to a school because of their brochure. It may have pretty pictures, but the best way to see if a college is right for you is to visit it. If you feel comfortable when you visit a college and like the people you meet when you are on the campus tour, chances are you are going to like going to school there. And if you don’t feel like you belong, you probably won’t as a student, so you may want to knock that school off your list.
Once you have found the schools that fit your needs and eliminated the schools that don’t, ask yourself the final question: “Can I see myself here for four years?” You may answer yes to more than one school. If you do, talk it out with your family and friends. They know you pretty well and could offer some insight.
In the end, you may choose a school that isn’t the perfect fit. If this is the case, you may need to start this process all over again. This happens frequently and you are not alone, so don’t get discouraged.
One final piece of advice; make this process fun. The college search process shouldn’t be like going to the dentist. If it becomes a chore or stressful, take a break and evaluate if this is really what you want to do with your life. If you want to go to college, you’ll survive.