If I could re-do my college selection process, I’d approach it differently.
Since I was the first one in my family to attend college, my parents didn’t know how to help me and didn’t get involved in the selection process. We never toured colleges, discussed choices, or researched alternatives. I was unsure about my career path.
I ended up choosing the least expensive option, since no one talked to me about scholarships or loans. My freshman and sophomore years were difficult, and I felt lonely and lost.
Luckily, I “found myself” during my junior year, changed majors and got to know a group of people on campus with the same interests and career goals.
“Selecting a college can be compared to buying a pair of blue jeans,” said Jamie Grant, Executive Director of Enrollment Management at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wis. “You’ll find a lot of styles, sizes, and price ranges. But remember, a good fit for your friend may not necessarily be a good fit for you.”
To help you prevent making the same mistakes I made, I collaborated with Jamie to come up with the following helpful tips:
1. Don’t wait until the last minute to start thinking about college.
Start your search early, preferably in your junior year of high school. Visit college campuses. Meet the students, staff, and instructors. Give yourself time to process what you’ve seen and learned.
2. Know yourself.
Write down what’s most important and least important to you. Do you want a small college or large university? Close to home or far away? Do you want a strong math or science program? How important are the college’s athletic, music or art programs?
3. Research options.
When you stay in Wisconsin for your schooling, state schools offer in-state tuition. Some out-of-state schools may have reciprocal tuition agreements with Wisconsin. Private colleges are typically the same cost in or out of state.
4. Don’t rule out a college because of cost.
Look into financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, campus job opportunities and other ways to make the experience more affordable; then do the math.
5. Talk to your parents, teachers, advisors, college students, alumni, and other people knowledgeable about the colleges you are interested in.
Each will bring a different perspective to the table. But remember, it’s eventually up to you to decide if the college is a good fit for you!
6. Look ahead.
At the end of four years, you’ll likely be looking for a job. How much help does the college offer in placing its graduates? Does the school offer work-study, internships, job interview training, job fairs and other pre-professional help ready you for the “real world”?
7. Consider flexibility.
If you work full time, you may need to find a school that offers evening, weekend or online courses. This is one way to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree.
8. Think about athletics.
Some students enjoy watching college sports and others want an opportunity to play. Decide what’s important to you and find the school with an athletic program that fits your needs.
9. Look for common values.
If attending a school that aligns with your beliefs is important, consider finding a school with faculty and staff who have similar values.
10. Ask about office hours, the professor-to-student ratio, and class size.
If you think you’ll want or need one-on-one assistance from your professors, find out how much time they have to give students personalized attention and what other help the college offers its students.
These tips are just a starting point; prioritize what matters most to you. But above all, know that the more you’ve thought ahead about what you need in a college, the better the decision you’ll make. Finally: don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it!
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