Everyone has different goals in life, and that’s totally okay! Now is the time to sit down and seriously think about what you want to do with your life in the next three or four years. What do you want to study? Do you want to land a great job as soon as you graduate from college, or do you want to continue to do a graduate degree? If you’re finding it hard to decide what you want to do, ask your parents, school counsellor, or other trusted adult advice. Their life experiences can help you look at your own circumstances and goals in a reasonable way. Ultimately, you’ll get out of college what you put into it. If you’re ready to work hard towards a goal on your own terms, you’ll be fine. Don’t let other people’s expectations influence your decisions. If you really want to go to community college first and move on to a four-year school later, you’ll be miserable if you try and make it work at a private Ivy League university.
So what steps to follow before taking this big decision in your life? What makes a college “right for you,” anyway? Let’s See:
First things first:
There is almost certainly more than one “right” college for you. Some might be reach schools; some might be safe. In any case, when you’re searching for colleges, try to remember what college should be. It’s a place where:
- You’re comfortable being yourself—but also challenged to be better.
- You find people to talk with late into the night—whether it’s because you totally agree with each other or you’re debating something you care about.
- You have opportunities to study things that fascinate you, play the sports you want to play, work at internships that help clarify your career plans, and join the clubs you want to join—and you are expected to take advantage of those opportunities because they won’t just fall in your lap.
- You learn how to learn, communicate well, and solve problems—skills all employers want to see, no matter what industry.
You can get this kind of education without breaking the bank and taking on huge amounts of student debt.
Decide what you want
Everyone has different goals in life, but that’s okay. You may not even be at a point where you’re sure about what you want to do yet, but before you pick a college, you need to decide what you want. Take some time to sit down (either by yourself or with your parents), ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be, and who you want to become. You may or may not have a major in mind, but knowing your goals will help you choose a college to help you achieve them. Once you have your goals set, you can start looking through colleges. It’ll probably be too difficult for you to quickly browse through college websites online and find out what you need to know in this Internet era. Here are some things to consider:
- Size/Location of the college
- Distance from where you live
- Available programs and classes
- Housing options
- Available extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, etc.)
- Campus atmosphere/facilities
- College prerequisites
With all these in mind, think about whether or not the college can help you achieve your goals.
Make a list
As you go through various colleges, you’ll want to make a list of potential places that seem promising. Rank colleges according to how well they meet your criteria. You’ll want to have about three possible lists:
- Your preferred colleges – these are your top choices, colleges that you would like to attend (assuming you meet the requirements)
- Your potential colleges – these places may not meet all of your criteria, but there may be other things they offer that are just as promising
- Your “safety” colleges are places that you definitely meet the requirements for, but which are basically the safety net to fall back on if the other places you apply to don’t work out.
Keep an open mind as you go, and stay open to possibilities. If you need advice, then go to your parents and/or friends and talk to them. Take their suggestions into account, and remember that the list you’re making can be changed as you learn new things about different colleges from other people’s perspectives and experience.
Check the place out in person
As great as the Internet is, it’s still important to make sure you visit your potential college in person so that you can find out as much as you can about what it would actually be like to study there. Some colleges may have open days, where potential students can visit for a tour of the campus. This gives you a great opportunity to have an insider’s view of the college works, how strong the programs and extracurricular activities are, and how happy the student body is. You’ll also get to check out the facilities provided and ask questions about the classes and general college life. Most importantly, one thing you may wish to do is schedule a personal chat with a college rep so that you can speak to them one-on-one in more detail. Also, if you’re planning to apply for a college in another country, or one that is far from where you live, you can still try to schedule a visit if money and time allow. You don’t want to travel all that way only to be disappointed later by what you find.
Check if financial help is available
College isn’t cheap. You may have found the perfect college for yourself, but one thing you’ll need to consider is whether or not you can afford to go there. Remember that you may well be at your chosen college for at least 2-3 years, and besides the tuition fees, there will be things like college resource fees, food costs, accommodation fees (if you’re not staying at home), and transportation fees (you may need to take public transport or drive). If your college is in another country, then you’ll probably have to factor in all of those costs along with the current exchange rate as well. So when you’re checking out colleges, make sure to ask about their packages and financial aid. Most colleges may offer student loans, scholarships or work-study programs, or they may have other options to help you cut costs. Even if you don’t get a full ride, every little bit helps!
Keep your long-term goals in mind.
As you search for the best college for your needs, remember to look into whether or not it provides job connections or future networking options that will allow you to set up for your future career. If you already have a good idea of the career you want to pursue, then it would be good to find a school with a strong reputation in that area. Also, find out how often your college has job fairs, on-campus interviews – and even whether or not there is a career counsellor available on campus who can help you out if you need any guidance or advice.
Make a short-list
After looking through all the many options available, it’s time to make a shortlist of the colleges you would like to apply to. List down the pros and cons of each place and cross off the ones with too many negative points. Think about the colleges that offer the best opportunities and facilities and where you felt most comfortable during your campus visits. By the end, you should have narrowed your options down to about 5 potential colleges and can start the application process once you’re ready.
The process of finding the right college takes time, so you really shouldn’t put it off until the last minute. It’s a difficult decision that will affect your future, and you’ll want to get it right the first time if you can. This is exactly why you need to spend time and effort researching colleges seriously and finding out as much as you can, or risk making costly mistakes later down the line. As you explore your college options, you may begin to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of different options available.
Take things slow and do things one step at a time. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it from your parents, family members, or friends. This is one of the most important decisions you could make, and it will affect your future, so it’s worth investing the time and effort into picking the best college you can.
Frequently Asked Questions
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