Going to college is an exciting step in your education and your future career. With thousands of degree-granting colleges and universities to choose from in the U.S. alone, the possibilities may seem virtually endless! Still, abundant choices can quickly become overwhelming. Picking a college may seem like a gargantuan task, especially amid a busy school year. Fortunately, you don’t have to do all your college planning at once. Plenty of tips for choosing the right college can help guide you forward on this incredible journey. Here are some of the best ways to select the right college for you.
Consider Your Major
If you already know what you want to study, narrowing down your choices becomes a lot easier. Look for colleges and universities that specialize in your field of study, or talk to mentors who are already working in your dream career to see where they studied. College rankings and statistics are also excellent resources. U.S. News & World Report publishes an annually updated list you can use as your starting point.
If you’re undecided on your major, don’t stress. There are still ways to choose a university that suits your potential interests. Reverse-engineering your dream job can help you select an appropriate major or department and guide you toward a college with a good reputation. For instance, if you know you want to go to veterinary school, look for a university that offers bachelor’s degrees in subjects such as biology, chemistry, zoology or animal behavior sciences.
Start Brainstorming Early
It’s never too early to begin brainstorming about the future, though juniors and even sophomores can benefit from reflecting on their lives, desired paths and goals. Writing these thoughts, memories, goals and ideas down in a journal can be an invaluable tool for getting organized. You can also draw on those pages for future college essays when the time comes!
If you’re not sure how to start a process like journaling, try practicing free writing. Once a week, choose a personal reflection question. Then, set a timer for 10, 15 or 30 minutes and begin writing. Do not stop. Write anything that comes to your mind on the subject, even if it feels like you’re rambling. You can also use your journal to make a list of colleges that pique your interest and use it to conduct further research later.
Speak With a School Counselor or Mentor
Another excellent college planning strategy is to get advice from others. These people could be teachers, school counselors or mentors — people with real-life experience who can help answer your questions, give you some perspective or even connect you with people in your field of interest. While talking to your friends can help you get some stress off your chest, they’re in the same boat as you. Instead, tapping into the wisdom of experienced educators and advisers can help you see things you might have otherwise missed or never thought about before!
Some advice you might seek includes the best time to apply to college, activities and clubs that may boost your resume, what to look for in a school and the sort of life experiences that may shine in a college essay.
Evaluate Your Needs
Choosing a college based on your major is crucial, but there are other factors for prospective students to consider. Location, school size, student-teacher ratios, extracurricular clubs, societies and sports programs can significantly influence your overall experience. Some students should even consider if college is right for them, now or ever. While some people’s plans require a bachelor’s degree or higher, other tracks don’t need one and therefore do not require such a steep investment.
Not all reasons to choose a college are equally valid. For example, you might eventually regret selecting a college merely because you’re a fan of their sports team, your friends are all going or your parents or grandparents attended. Rushing the process or failing to visit the campus can also put you in an unfortunate position, especially considering how expensive college can be. Take your time, do your due diligence and choose thoughtfully!
Assess the Application Requirements
After narrowing down a list of your top choices, assess their application requirements, such as minimum test scores, GPA, essays and interviews. Based on your findings, only apply to schools where you meet or are close to the desired entry requirements. Since some programs can be exceptionally competitive, evaluate and apply to multiple schools that meet your goals and criteria.
Yes, you’ll probably have a top choice, but why not also apply to a “reach” school — a college that may be a bit of a stretch to get into based on their exclusivity or minimum requirements? You should also opt for a “safety” school — one you feel confident you can get into and are still happy with if your other options don’t pan out. As the saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to several schools, so you’ll be sure to get accepted into at least one.
Estimate Your Finances
It’s no secret that college can require a significant investment. Do your research on the estimated tuition and fees associated with each college on your list and compare it to your desired career’s potential earnings. Any given university’s undergraduate majors will cost the same across the board, so understanding whether you’ll receive a return on your investment is wise. If your future career will net you a lower income, opting for vocational programs or online colleges can be a worthwhile decision, especially for the first few years.
Research Scholarships and Grants
Despite the cost of college, some programs might make it possible for you to attend your dream school. The Federal Student Aid program is free to apply to and can offset some tuition balance or provide low-interest or even interest-free loans. Applying for scholarships and grants is another possibility. Some schools offer program-specific grants and scholarships, while you can use others at the university of your choice. To start looking for open, nationwide scholarships, try searching Scholly to see what’s available.
Learn How CCA Helps Students Choose the Right College
At Commonwealth Charter Academy, we prepare students for the future. As the largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania by enrollment, we offer extensive, interactive K-12 curricula that allow for easy customization. With small class sizes, CCA focuses on career readiness and provides our students with ample opportunities to explore and experience career paths that match their interests, including AgWorks at CCA, TechWorks at CCA and over 700 field trip opportunities each school year. Best of all, our Family Services division develops and maintains family involvement through things like training, ongoing support and educational programming.
To learn more about our school or to request information about CCA, reach out to us today!