Tips to Prepare for College Admissions Process
Going away to college can be the most exciting time of your life, but preparing for it can be overwhelming. You have to choose where to go and how to pay for it, and at some point, you also have to choose a major. These can feel like momentous decisions, and it might help if you remind yourself that nothing is set in stone.
If you choose a place that is genuinely the wrong fit, you can transfer. If you start out in a course of study that doesn’t suit you, you can change majors. These may be setbacks, but they are not the end of the world, and it can be helpful to keep in mind that career changes through adult life are common these days. Whatever you are doing in the first few years after you graduate, you might be doing something very different 10 or 20 years after that. Removing some of the decision-making pressure in this way can actually help you make a more considered choice.
What Will You Study?
Some people have known what career path to pursue since they were children while others won’t decide until after a couple of years of college. There are also people who head off to school with certainty about what they will study only to realize after a year or two that they want to go in a completely different direction. You don’t need to know what you want to major in before you start college, but if you have some idea, it can help you choose a school that suits you better.
There are a few things you should balance when you are considering this. Your interests and ability are both important factors, but you should also consider the practicality of the major although this may not be as straightforward as you think. This does not mean you should avoid studying something that does not have a clear career path, like history or linguistics or philosophy. The so-called soft skills that you learn in these majors are valued by many employers. You may need to work harder to show that you have practical skills, such as trying to get internships or taking leadership positions. On the other hand, you may be drawn to a field that has a clearer career path, such as accounting or computer programming. Talk to your professors and advisor if you are unsure about what you want to study.
How to Pay?
One of the biggest concerns for students can be how they will pay for a college education as tuition continues to rise. On top of that, there are the usual costs of living. Even if parents have been saving since their children were born, this might not be enough to cover all the costs. Scholarships, grants, loans, and working while in school might all help with expenses. Your first step may be completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once you know what kind of federal aid you are eligible for, you can determine what more you may need from private loans. You should pay attention to the interest rates offered, and you may need a parent or someone else to cosign on some loans. Banks, credit unions, and online lenders may all offer private student loans in order to invest in your future. It’s worth doing a lot of research on scholarships since there may be some with very specific requirements that apply only to you and a few other applicants. These might only offer small amounts, but they can add up, and other scholarships might cover your tuition much more. There may be other opportunities as well. For example, in some cases, an employer might pay some or all of your tuition.
Choosing a School!
The cost will probably be a factor in selecting where you go, but it should by no means be the only factor. You should look at a cost relative to what your income is likely to be after you graduate. However, you should also consider location, size, the specifics of the program that interests you, and the general culture of the school. Your experience may be very different depending on whether you attend a college located in the city, the suburbs or a rural area. Attending classes in huge lecture halls with hundreds of students is very different from having the same classmates over and over in small, intimate settings. For some people, having a large number of courses offered online might also be important.
If you know what you want to major in, this can help you narrow down your choices significantly. Culture can be a bit more difficult to ascertain, but some schools are more social while others have a more academic focus. You might want an artsy campus or one that is career-oriented. One important element to consider is whether it is largely a commuter school or if students tend to live on or near campus. Visits are the best way to get a feel for the school, but these can be prohibitively expensive. In lieu of this, you can learn a lot from going online and asking current and former students about their experience. Another thing to look at is hard data. How many students graduate, and what kind of jobs do they go on to get? How many students are admitted proportionate to the number who apply? Most people like to apply to a few places, with at least one being safe and the other being a long shot dream school.
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