It’s Off to Class We Go

You are just a year away from graduating high school. So, now you are faced with one of the most important decisions of your life; where to go to college. Where you choose to further your education potentially affects your life more than any other decision you have made up to this point. But don’t let that intimidate you. As important as this decision is, it isn’t as hard to make as it may sound, once you know what to look for.

The first step in deciding on a college is deciding on what you want to study. Analyze your interests. What classes do you enjoy now? Science? English? Gym? Beyond the classes you enjoy, what careers sound interesting to you? Crime scene investigator? Investigative journalist? Chemistry teacher? Considering these questions will help you start a list of colleges. Do a web search for programs that fit your academic interests. Write down any schools that offer degrees in your desired area(s). Don’t worry about anything right now except what you want to study. Also don’t worry about the number of schools on your list, you will narrow them down as you go.

University Location
After you have a list of colleges that offer programs to suit your academic needs, decide if you would like to live where they are located. If you are a warm weather person, a college in northern Michigan may not be the right choice. If you enjoy curling up with a book during a snow storm, you might cross Florida State off the list. Also, think about the distance from home. Independent, self-reliant students will be more comfortable attending college halfway across the country from their family than a more dependent student who has never been away from home. Remember, you are going to live wherever you choose to go to college eight months out of the year, you should choose somewhere you will be comfortable. You don’t want an uncomfortable climate or homesickness to negatively affect your studies.

Extra Curricular Activities
Remember, first and foremost, your college experience should be about education. That doesn’t, however, mean you can’t enjoy your free time. After you crossed off schools that don’t offer the climate you are looking for or that are too far from/close to home, visit the websites or order pamphlets from the remaining schools. Look for two things: activities you already participate in (and enjoy) and activities that you have wanted to participate in but couldn’t for whatever reason. Extra curricular activities offer a few benefits to your college experience. First, it is a great way for new freshmen to meet people with similar interests. Make friends you can relate to. Second, if you are undecided about your field of study, clubs and organizations can help you explore options without having to waste money on classes you aren’t interested in. Third, some clubs and organizations, such as an accounting club or the student government, offer career experience, which will prove valuable when you look for a job after college.

Cost of College
The last thing you should consider when deciding on a college is the cost. The adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily apply to colleges. There are benefits to colleges in both cost brackets (that is under and over $10,000 a year tuition). One benefit to a lower cost school (avoid “cheap,” it denotes lower quality as well as cost) is that the classes are often smaller. They are also typically easier to get into, if your high school grades or ACT/SAT scores aren’t quite what you (or the higher cost schools) would like them to be. One draw back to a lower cost school, however is credibility. While there are many excellent and accredited schools with yearly tuition under $10,000, a competitive job market may not see things the same way. This, of course, makes credibility one of the benefits to a higher cost school. On the other hand, because of credibility in the job market, the higher cost schools often have larger, less intimate classes. The difference comes in 300 and 400 (Junior and Senior) level classes having between twenty and thirty students and having 200 students. But even if all of the schools left on your list after eliminating those that don’t fit your other needs are over $10,000 a year, don’t let that worry you or keep you from applying. Financial aid is nearly (keep in mind nearly) guaranteed assistance in paying your school bills and scholarships are often available for anything you might imagine.
Now all that is left to do is apply. Be sure to do this early in the year. That way, first, you have time to apply to other schools if you don’t get in to your first choice schools. And second, applying early should relieve some of the end of the year/pending graduation stress. You will know where you are going the following fall and can concentrate on your last few months as a high school senior. If you follow these steps, one of the most important decisions of your life can also become one of the easiest.

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