How do I choose a school?
When you begin the college search, you may be familiar with a few well-known schools. The truth is, there are over 2,000 4-year degree-granting institutions in the United States, so your choices are many. You do not have to attend a big-name school to have a successful college experience. To find a school that works for you, here are a few things to consider:
- Size: College sizes range from 2, 000 or under to over 20,000 students. When you consider a school, think about the type of environment you feel most comfortable in. Do you want a small community and personalized attention? A small to mid-sized college may work best in that case. Are you comfortable in a large community? A larger school will offer many opportunities, but you will have to be independent and self-sufficient. If you choose a large school, there may be smaller communities within that create the feeling of a small college. Honors colleges are one example of this.
- Geographic Location: Do you feel comfortable traveling far from home when you begin your college education? Or do you prefer knowing that home is easily reachable at a moment’s notice? Is the expense of travel to college a consideration? Do you like a warm climate or cold? Are you happiest in an urban area with many cultural activities around you, or do you prefer a school that is removed from the frenzy of a big city?
- Choosing a School and Academic Programs: You may not know what you will major in when you begin college. In fact, a college student typically changes majors three to four times over the course of four years. You should look for colleges that offer a range of majors in your areas of interest to give you an opportunity to explore different career options.
- College is Affordable: Many students do not apply to schools they are interested in because they think they will not be able to afford them. While the overall cost of a school may seem out of your range – and sometimes that is the case – there are many options out there to help you finance your college education: federal aid, merit scholarships offered directly by the colleges, outside scholarships, and more. Do your research before you decide that a school is too expensive.
- Finding the Best Fit for You: If possible, visit the schools that you are interested in, preferably when classes are in session, to observe the student culture. If you know students who are currently attending a school you will apply to, it is a good idea to talk to them about their experience. When considering a school, look at the academic programs, types of extracurricular activities offered, and cultural events on campus. When you visit, talk to the professors and students, in addition to the admissions officers.
- Take a Gap Year, if you are not ready: Not every student is prepared for college right after high school graduation. You can apply to college and defer your enrollment if you feel that you need time to prepare for this critical life transition. There are plenty of options if you are considering a Gap Year: internships, study abroad, community service programs, and work.
When should the college process begin?
The college process typically begins in the spring of the junior year of high school when prospective students begin to tour colleges of interest. The visits, while school is still in session, give students a good perspective on campus culture. High schools generally send home a college packet at this time which contains parent and student brag/rave sheets, and a checklist that includes the names of the teachers who will write a college recommendation. Testing may begin as early as January, giving students the opportunity to raise their scores on the SAT or ACT with multiple testing dates.
Between late spring and summer, the application process itself begins. The college list is built, the resume is prepared, and essay writing is started, especially if supplement essays are required. By fall the process is completed when students request their recommendations from teachers, complete the applications themselves, and then press the submit button. In many cases, students choose to apply to schools through Early Action or Early Decision, accelerating the process. Regular Decision dates vary, but generally, the deadlines occur early in the new year.
When thinking about colleges, the process should begin as early as freshman year in high school. Focus on good grades, appropriate course selection, and building an activity resume are the most important factors to consider.
What are some good resources?
Should I apply for financial aid?
Many students and their parents assume that it is not worth applying for financial aid because they think they will either not receive any aid or it will be a very small amount. Because parents can’t predict the future, it is a good idea to apply, regardless of the current family circumstances. Very often students do receive aid. According to a NASFAA report, National Student Aid Profile: Overview of 2013 Federal Programs, for the 2011-2012 school year, the total amount of federal financial aid was an estimated 173.8 billion. To learn more about the ways to finance a college education, read the College Board report, Trends in Student Aid 2013.
In addition to federal and state aid for qualifying students, many schools give merit scholarships, regardless of the financial situation of the family. Given the rising costs of a college education in the United States and a difficult economy, it is well worth the time and effort to apply.
What’s a Good SAT or ACT Score?
According to the Princeton Review, the national average for the SAT is 1500 (out of 2400). Fifty percent score above that; fifteen percent score above 1850; 7 percent score above 2000. For the ACT, it’s between 20 and 21 (out of 36). Only five percent score above 30 points and a score of 33 is considered to be in the top percentile.
Read more in the Princeton Review.