Sunday, January 30, 2011

College Bound

Choosing a college or university can be even more complex than choosing a job. There are several additional factors to consider in your search and often you haven’t really discovered yourself yet. There’s determining your own personal interests and degree choices, where you want to live, the size of the school, the cost, and the environment of the school itself. My son has been discovering the ins and outs of college selection over the past few years and we’re heading down the homestretch now.

Counselors and teachers will advise students to begin thinking about college from the start of high school, but few students are even close to considering college at that age. Most students are still trying to figure out their position in high school. They are looking into all the new choices of classes and activities and seeing what their friends are interested in as well. Determining what school or degree they want for college is as distant as retirement. But this is an excellent training ground for determining college as well. The process can be very similar in some ways.

Once a student has established where they fit in within high school, they have already narrowed down their college choices. Clearly a student that has little or no interest in the arts isn’t going to be considering going to a fine arts school, and a student that is deeply involved in music may want to seriously consider schools with large music programs. High school also gives students the opportunity to try out a certain interest and see if it’s really where they want to be. For example, a student may take a theater class and discover he absolutely hates it, or maybe he finds it to be a new passion. Either way, it’s a convenient way to experiment with an interest.

My son has had the advantage of visiting a few colleges within our state over the last few years. This helped him to determine what kind of campus where he’d be most comfortable and whether he really wanted to stay within our region to go to school. His choices narrowed considerably once he’d chosen his major, but many students don’t choose a major until their sophomore year of college. His in state choices are limited, partly due to his GPA, but also because he doesn’t want to live here. He’s anxious to move away from home, and he wants to move far away, not just a couple of hours away. Fortunately, there are some very good schools that fit his needs.

Establishing how much school you can afford is a big factor as well. While everyone hears about scholarships and grants that will pay for the whole cost, few students actually receive anything like that. Assuming you have to pay for the whole thing makes anything you do get icing on the cake, so to speak. There is a federal aid form that anyone planning on college should fill out. You might be eligible for federal money and not even know it. Your high school’s career or college center is also an excellent source of potential money. They usually have a current list of scholarship opportunities and while many are specific to seniors in high school, there are often others for younger students as well. The sources of financing for college are numerous and there are many creative ways to fund a student’s education, but you have to search them out. No one’s likely to come knocking on your door with money unless you have a truly spectacular student, and even then it’s unlikely.

Taking a tour of prospective college campuses is a must. This is where you’re looking to be living for the next four years. You need to make sure you’re comfortable there. Some schools are very small and close-knit and others are immense and spread out over several towns, and still others are somewhere in between. Some schools are very technical and others quite liberal. Each have their benefits, but until you actually go there and get a feel for the place, you won’t know if it’s a place you can really thrive. Visiting the schools also gives you a chance to talk with other students and get feedback about the school that isn’t from someone being paid by the school. While faculty and admissions personnel will tell you all the benefits, they aren’t likely to be as forthcoming with any negatives. While visiting the school, you might also get the chance to sit in on a class and really get a feel for going there. If you can’t stand being in a class with a hundred and fifty students, you’ll know it then. On the other hand, you may find the diverse population of a large school to be exciting.

Our son’s journey into college has been an interesting one, and I hope his choices work out for him and us. We’ve tried to explore as many possibilities as possible, but I know there are things we’ve probably missed. He’s excited about going away and he’s anxious to begin this next phase in life. I’m rather anxious too but more because my life will be changing as I return to the regular workforce in order to help pay for his college. Learning about college has been an interesting journey for our son and for us and there are many more factors to consider than just what degree you’ll be taking. Start early and take your time. Explore the options and ask questions. It’s an exciting experience and well worth the effort.


Charles Gramlich said...

Fortunately, in many cases it's more about what the student brings to college than what the college brings to the student. ONe can get a pretty good education in most subjects no matter what college they attend, as long as they are motivated and a self starter.

BernardL said...

The cost is the most murderous parameter. This is a tough time to be job hunting too. I agree with Charles on success being what the student brings. I did all my general ed and auto tech degree stuff at a cheaper community college when I left the service. Then finishing my BA in English at a Cal State near my home cost a heck of a lot less than doing the general ed there too. It helped that I finished with only 1 extra unit. :)