It’s graduation season: college graduates are either heading into Grad School or going to the real world. High School students are taking the next leap, whether it’s to college, a vocational school, or otherwise, and a whole new crop of kids are heading into their senior year.
It can be a daunting time for these students and their families, as they may feel overwhelmed about exactly what they need to do to prepare to make their college choice over the next year. Don’t fear. I’m here to help.
I’m not an “expert” so to speak, but I have worked in Higher Education for 4 years. I’ve worked in Admissions for 3 of those years, and have seen a few things on the road and worked with families of numerous backgrounds. Please be mindful that this is not the end all be all, but merely meant to be a stepping stone, make full use of the Financial Aid, Student Accounting, Student Recruitment and Admissions departments that the various schools of interest offer! Also be mindful that my experiences are limited to public Universities and a small sample of private Universities. Primarily in the Southeast. A lot of this will still hold true if you live outside of the Southeastern US, but just be mindful that there could be some small differences!
COLLEGE IS NOT FOR EVERYONE AND YOU’RE NO LESS OF A PERSON IF YOU’RE EXPLORING OTHER OPTIONS. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE AS A STEPPING STONE INTO A FOUR YEAR PROGRAM IF IT HELPS MAKE THE TRANSITION BETTER FOR YOU. YOUR JOURNEY IS YOUR JOURNEY.
Even if you don’t have a child old enough, you might have some family and friends with children that age! So be sure to point them in this direction! So let’s get to a few tips:
Tip #1: This is their journey!
It’s your student who is making the decision on where to go, not you! I know it can be hard and you might have the instinct to do everything for them, but it’s important that they lead this journey themselves. You can certainly help! Give advice, reason with them when it comes to some of their decision making, after all, they ARE still a teenager and their rationale may not always be sound. As your student begins to tour schools, make sure they keep a list of pros and cons based on their thoughts, and then review that list with them.
Tip #2: Tour, Tour, TOUR!
Tour early and often! Your student might have an idea of where they want to go, but they could get to campus and completely change their minds! Remember, there are all kinds of college campuses out there to compare: Traditional vs commuter, urban vs rural, big vs small. It’s up to the student to gain an understanding of what it is they do and don’t like. The only way to know this for sure is to visit various schools and the towns they are based in. A student may feel, in their mind, that they want to attend the University of Georgia, but then they may walk onto campus and feel overwhelmed. That’s an important feeling to remember. Gather a list of colleges you would like to visit, and go to their various websites to see how they offer campus tours: is an advanced sign-up required? (likely), are walkups welcome? Do they have a walking tour? Bus tour? When are tours offered? Most schools offer weekday tours, but not as many offer weekend tours outside of special weekend events.
Speaking of which, if you are a rising Sophomore or Junior and haven’t started visiting certain schools yet, it might behoove you to look for any Preview Days they are offering the fall. That usually gives you a good first look before you go back for a regular tour, and if you live more than a few hours from a University you’re interested in, reach out to an Admissions Counselor to see if they can setup some additional appointments!
While you’re there, get a taste of the city/town the school resides in. Can you live there for four years?
Tip #3: Researching What You Want To Study
It’s not enough to accept “I want to be a doctor or a nurse”. Sit down with your student and research what it takes to become that. Not to discourage your student, but to help them get an understanding of the work that is necessary to achieve that goal. Get to the core of WHY they want to be that. A lot of career paths, especially those that require additional education beyond the four year undergraduate program, take a LOT of dedication and drive. A student should know what they’re in for.
They should also research the careers they are interested in to see: what majors people tend to select for those careers, if a Master’s degree is preferred, etc. Also make sure that a school you wish to attend can help you get to those programs. Do they have the majors necessary? If your end goal is a professional program or Graduate degree, can the University help you get there?
Tip #4: Attend College Fairs and Visit Every Public School In Your State
This might not be feasible for everyone. If you’re in, say, California, this is probably harder than for someone in say, Rhode Island or Mississippi. But the intent is the same: visit as many in-state schools as you can, yes, even that one. The one you think is just a commuter school, or only has Engineering, or only does Medicine, visit them all. You don’t know what resources a college or university has until you’re on that campus, led by a tour guide, and see it for yourself. Now I know most of you might say “I don’t have time for all these guided tours, we’ll just drive through ourselves”. Well that’s all good and well, but what are you really learning from driving through? Largely, nothing, just how it looks in person compared to pictures. You don’t know how that institution functions until you have someone tell you about it, even if that someone has incentives to do so, you’re still learning something.
You will be blown away by some of the things you’ll learn on those tours. You’ll be blown away by scholarships that those schools offer. You don’t know until you see it, you could fall in love with a diamond in the rough like I did for undergrad.
IF you have the opportunity and a certain institution outside of your home state offers a course of study in your intended field, I would look into visiting a few out of state. At the very least, it helps gain a better understanding of what you’re looking for, but you’ll never know what you will find and how affordable it might be. Speaking of which….
Tip #5. Don’t get turned off by sticker shock!!! (FINDING SCHOLARSHIPS)
“So and So State University has a total cost of $18,000 per year? That’s ridiculous!”
Yeah, that number may look outrageous at first, but this is when you start to play “the game” so to speak. The initial prices colleges list are the price indeed (you should ask if there are any additional fees that get stamped on depending on your classes), however, the goal is to locate scholarship opportunities and make use of financial aid so that you’re keeping a clamp on what’s leaving your pockets. This why it’s important to compare scholarship opportunities that each institution offers. A lot of Southeastern Public schools and a good number of mid-sized Public Institutions will offer some kind of merit-based scholarship that is earned when a student is admitted with a certain GPA and test score. Most of those institutions will give students the opportunity to increase their award amount by increasing their test score or GPA by December. Although some institutions (like the University of South Alabama) will allow students to continue attempting to increase their scores through the Spring Semester. University Departments tend to offer their own sets of scholarships as well. Once a student has been admitted, if they’ve declared an intended major, their department will rule them eligible for these scholarships. For example, at the aforementioned South Alabama, if you’re a Chemistry Major, the Department of Chemistry might have some additional funding for you in the form of a scholarship application. College of Engineering may have funds as well, but you’ll want to check EARLY so that you can apply before the windows close!
If you’re in the state of Alabama: CollegeCountsAlabama.Com is a scholarship that offers funding to students who attend two or four year public Universities with a 26 or below ACT and a GPA above 2.75
Check with local civic organizations: Kiwanis club, Lions Club, Alumni Chapters of various fraternities or sororities, churches, Rotary club, etc.
Local businesses might offer them as well, especially law firms!
Check with your counselor to see if they have a list of presenters who attended the previous Awards Ceremony held by the school. That will get you a head start on who offered what to the current class.
A school may say they cost 20,000 per year, but after a merit scholarship, departmental scholarship, Pell grant or loan, you could have that total cost covered. Check with a school counselor OR a Financial Aid counselor with a University you’ve applied to in order to get a breakdown of how student loans really work.
Tip #6 – College is about building your resume
The game has changed. A four-year degree does not do for us what it did for our parents a few decades back. Businesses and job opportunities have become more specific, the competition has become more fierce. Your four years and college aren’t just about getting by with a degree. You need to make sure to pace yourself and begin building your resume as soon as you possibly can.
Does the University you’re interested in offer research opportunities if you’re entering a field where you can truly benefit from it? Think about that. If you’re going into economics and maybe you’re interested in how socioeconomic cycles can doom certain communities before they even have a shot, or if you’re going into maybe Physical Therapy, and are interested in working with patients who use prosthetics, can the Institution you’re leaning towards help get you there?
ASK THOSE QUESTIONS
and once you’re there, take advantage.
It’s a tiring process, the college search, but it’s well worth it if you take your time and do it right. If you need tips or have questions, feel free to reach me on the Twitters: @EagleEye1906