It is important to know all of your options in order to make the best choice possible for which college to attend. To help assist with this pivotal decision, take advantage of this list of tips and advice from Deanna Goldberg, head counselor at Monte Vista High School, and real college students to help prepare you for this stirring and life-altering adventure.
1. Research various schools
Sometimes a school you have never even heard of may be the perfect fit for your educational needs. For example, a popular school may not have that highly-ranked science program you’re looking for, so be sure to research everything, both local and non-local.
Take things into consideration such as classroom size. Some students can do well in large-sized classrooms, while others tend to perform better when the classroom consists of fewer students and more one-on-one time with the professor.
“I strongly emphasize finding the right match for you,” said Goldberg. “Look at the obvious factors, such as location, size and major, but also research the less obvious factors. For example, check out any activities you would like to get involved with on campus or see if the school has a more conservative or liberal approach.”
Be sure not to base your college selections on friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. Yes, you may have made mud pies together since the first grade or had your first kiss next to the water fountain, but your diploma will be an accomplishment of a lifetime.
“It’s very important to really put time into finding the right school for you,” said Stephanie Rios, a Nursing major at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, CA. “Think about where you feel most comfortable because you’re going to be there for awhile. If you feel uncomfortable in your academic environment, you’ll be more likely to be less successful, not only academically, but socially. College isn’t just about education, it’s about an experience.”
Also, never stray from applying to any particular institution because you do not think you stand a chance at acceptance. Colleges look at all aspects of the applicant. For example, if someone barely meets the GPA requirement, but has outstanding leadership abilities or other unique qualities, the person can still very well have a chance.
2. Submit your FAFSA and apply for scholarships
Don’t ever let money hinder your chances at a solid education. Log onto fafsa.ed.gov to complete your free application for financial aid. This free site, along with the college you will be attending, will determine how much money is available to you.
“Money is something that you have very little of in college,” said Antonio Spellman, a Sociology major with a minor in Africana Studies at San Diego State University. “To meet the high demands of books, tuition costs and other fees, it is important to fill out your FAFSA in a timely fashion. Otherwise, you miss other important deadlines for payments on the aforementioned items because processing your information may take awhile. It is like paying any other bill, the sooner the better.”
Financial aid applications for the upcoming academic school year can be submitted as early as Jan. 1 with a deadline of March 2. Keep in mind that there is only a certain amount of money made available to students. The earlier you submit your application for review, the greater your chances are of getting more money than someone who waited until just before the deadline.
“Not only should you be aiming to meet the March 2nddeadline, but you should stress submitting the most accurate information possible, even if your taxes are not completed,” said Goldberg. “It’s more important to meet the deadline with accurate information, rather than having to go back later to correct something.”
Also, research scholarships. There are scholarships for everyone, I mean everyone. Some are available to people just because they are left-handed, so take advantage.
“Your FAFSA may seem to be a hassle now, but it’s a walk in the park in comparison to having to pay the full amount of your college fees,” said Berenice Alvarez, a Business Administration-Management major at San Diego State University.
3. Request letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.
Most universities will require the applicant to provide letters of recommendation from high school faculty. Be sure to request and acquire these letters well before your application deadline. You want to give the person who is writing the letter enough time to ensure that ample thought and detail is involved. The person is more likely to provide you with a thoughtful letter when he or she is not being rushed.
“Try giving teachers and counselors a two week lead-time in order to prepare letters of recommendation,” said Goldberg. “We want you to be able to put your best foot forward and writing a strong letter takes time. It’s like when you are writing a paper. You start out with a rough draft and take time to make revisions. It’s the same way with a letter of recommendation.”
Transcripts and other items should also be requested well in advance because it may take awhile to process. You want to make sure you have everything you need and on time.
4. Schedule a meeting with your high school counselor
Your counselor provides you with free assistance to help guide you toward making the best choices for your future. He or she can also help to provide you with application fee waivers to the colleges you wish to apply to if you qualify for them. Remember that your counselor is not there to make decisions for you, but is simply used as a tool to help you, help yourself.
“A counselor is such a valuable resource,” said Goldberg. “Whether you want to set-up a meeting with your family or on your own, we can provide you with up-to-date information on colleges. We can make you aware of college visits to the high schools and most of us set-up workshops for college applications and the FAFSA. We also have updated information on local scholarships because agencies usually send that information directly to the counseling office.”
Counselors are not only helpful, but can act as an excellent contributor to your academic support group.
“In high school, my high school counselor was almost like my best friend,” said Mike Sessions, a Mass Communications major with an emphasis on TV and Video Production at California State University, San Bernardino. “Had I not met with her and listened to her advice, I would’ve been lost in trying to figure out this whole college thing. Not only was she the key to mentoring me, she also pushed me to go harder academically.”
While counselors are very useful, you should still always take the time to figure out what works best for you, apart from what everyone else thinks or says.
“All students should have a counselor in whom they trust to help motivate and inspire them throughout their academic career,” said Yonathan Elias, a Mass Communications graduate of California State University, San Bernardino and currently enrolled in the Mass Communications master’s program at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
5. Contact schools
Try not to base your decisions on the college descriptions from the website or photographs, especially if the school is local. If you are able to, visit the school. You can usually schedule for a tour guide to show you around, so you can view the campus first-hand.
“It is very important to go to the campus,” said Goldberg. “Check out its surroundings and environment because you’ll be spending a lot of time there. It’s like picking out a home for the next four years. I encourage potential students to take a formal tour of the campus, but to also tour it on their own. Wander around and talk to students. Ask them about their favorite things to do there and get to know the school in a more casual setting.”
Introduce yourself to the faculty and staff to gain a better understanding of who you will be working with for the coming years. If you already know what you want to major in, pay specific attention to the staff working in that department. If the college is not local and you have the means, plan a road trip with some friends to visit your educational prospects. It can be both helpful and exciting.
“I made sure to contact different schools to gain a better understanding of how the curriculum worked,” said Tiffany Hobbs, who graduated with her Pharmaceutical Technician Certificate from Valley Career College in El Cajon, CA.
6. Know your deadlines
Once you have determined which schools you wish to apply to, you must know your deadlines.
“Universities are getting much stricter with deadlines because they are so impacted right now,” said Goldberg. “Fewer students are being admitted due to budget cuts and schools will discontinue looking at your application if you are not meeting the required deadlines. Schools are likely to get in contact with you through e-mail, so many sure to check yours to remain aware of any time-sensitive requests they may have.”
This is of the utmost importance. You must not procrastinate.
“I am the top dog procrastinator and I learned the hard way to change this terrible habit,” said Elias. “Don’t wait until the last week of application deadlines. Get everything done as soon as possible.”
College applications are not like homework. You cannot submit them late and simply expect the reviewers to deduct some points. If you miss the deadline, you will be unable to reapply until the next application window. Some schools accept applications twice a year. However, there are many that only accept them once a year, meaning a whole academic year will be lost because you were unable to gather your material within the correct time frame. Time is of the essence, so make do to manage it wisely.
“Deadlines are super, super important!” said Rios. “School will be very hard if you don’t keep track of important dates. Getting material submitted for the application deadline is only the beginning. Write important dates down in a place that you will constantly look, in order to keep them fresh in your head.”
7. Study for your exams
Depending on the university, different exams will be required for entry. Visit your local library for books to help you to prepare for these tests or find free online study tools, according to the exam. These will be some of the most important exams you will have to take because they will determine your academic placement.
“High school prepares you for these important exams,” said Alvarez. “Study as much as possible because the higher your score, the less likely it will be that you have to take remedial classes.”
“Make sure to take the entrance exams very seriously,” added Goldberg. “It can save you money in the long run because you may be eligible for exemption from certain classes for graduation. Even if you do not need a specific course for graduation in high school, try taking it anyway to better prepare yourself for the test. It can end up reducing your time and costs for college.”
8. Be organized
This is especially important if you are applying to multiple schools because different schools have different requirements. For example, while one school may require two letters of recommendation, another school may require three.
“Being in college, you find that everything is fast-paced and you end up multi-tasking and taking on more than your fair share of responsibilities,” said Spellman. “I find that being organized helps with time management, makes prioritizing and remembering things simpler and makes your life that much easier. If you have to, buy a planner, set reminders, write on an at-home chalkboard, whatever helps you organize your thoughts, ideas and events (tests, papers, etc.).”
9. Save your money
As much as we’d all love for grants and scholarships to completely pay our way through college, it’s unlikely. Therefore, something’s going to have to come out of that pocket. If you’re still in high school, try thinking about a part-time job for the weekend or working summers.
“It is important to have a budget and to keep it in mind,” said Goldberg. “Keep track of your finances and if you have a part-time job, factor that in as well.”
Open up a savings account at a local bank or put your money into that secret stash you have hidden in your closet. Don’t think you need to wait until your junior or senior year to start saving or even researching colleges. Do this as early as possible. You can never be too prepared.
10. Don’t let rejection hold you back
After 13 years of school, you should be able to go to the school of your choice. However, Harvard and Yale don’t accept just anyone. So, of course, applicants will have to face some rejection. However, don’t think that rejection is limited to certain students because even the valedictorian and salutatorian will get their fair share.
Play it safe and apply to as many schools as you can, without settling. Choose schools that you know you will be able to both gain something from and contribute something to.
Don’t take rejection too personally and give up. Colleges receive thousands of applications per year with only so many seats available in the classroom. Therefore, many highly-qualified applicants will have to be regretfully turned away, so don’t get let down too easily and don’t lose hope.
“If you don’t get into your first choice for colleges, there are hundreds of them out there,” said Goldberg. “The right one is waiting for you, so go find it!”
Some students resort to taking a break if they are not accepted into their “dream school.” Although some students feel that it would be more beneficial to do so after high school before jumping into college life, students who do take a break tend to be less likely to go to college. Of course, benefits may include saving up more money, re-taking exams for better scores, etc.
However, try other alternatives to skipping a year. For example, if you were unable to be offered entrance into universities, visit your local community colleges. Some universities will admit students after completing an educational track through a community college. Also, make sure to verify that courses you will be taking are eligible to transfer to a university. This way, you will already have credit at the university if you apply the following year and are accepted.
Education is the future. In it, we can find hope to progress in both knowledge and mankind. By expanding our minds, we can seek new and advanced alternatives in medicine. We can heighten our current levels of technology and we can use our past errors in history to pave better paths for our future. We must educate and discipline ourselves both mentally and physically, so take the first step by filling out an application. By doing so, you are not only applying for college, you are applying yourself.
-C., Chanel. “Attention Students: 10 Tips to Prepare for College.” Santee, CA Patch. © 2016 Patch Media, 06 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.