Guide to Saving for College
Choosing the right college is intimidating. This is an important decision and no one wants to make the wrong choice or accidentally overlook an opportunity. However, with a little preparation and focus, you can effectively streamline your research, narrow your options and more quickly pinpoint the college or university that provides a perfect fit.
This guide will walk you through understanding the process of finding and selecting a college that fits, and offer you some simple tips to increase your personal success.
If you are a traditional student, start considering colleges by the summer before your junior year. Earlier than that tends to be premature, and any later potentially risks limiting your options. If you find a college you love and decide to try for an early action/early decision, time is going to be a crucial factor to you. Even if you are entering into the normal consideration process everywhere you apply, time matters. Calendar dates will already have become very important to you by the time you enter senior year - so a lot will happen over your junior year in preparation. Starting to compare colleges the summer before your junior year should allow you ample time to establish a detailed and personal framework to carefully consider and compare a number of reasonable options, and still be able to have all your applications in on time.
The key in finding the best-fit college is to identify and properly prioritize your personal goals. You create your own checklist of what's most important to you, and see how each college measures-up. Looking at the colleges you're considering in this manner helps you develop a more objective perspective, because each option is measured and compared using the same basic set of criteria. This helps you to make sure you cover the bases efficiently and can look at each option free from passion or other forms of sway, like social or family pressure. Objectivity is what brings you to the safest and most productive conclusion.
You will want to record your progress as you research college options. A simple way, is to use a spread sheet as you would create in Excel or Google Docs. Some people prefer to be more elaborate, and might create a unique, physical folder for each option that they then fill with brochures and other printed items collected as they progress. Some will blend online and offline options. The means used are really only important to you to create a meaningful resource. However you find it most comfortable to log your progress, do it. There is a lot of information to collect and compare, so don't rely on only your memory. This is a busy, important and often hectic time in your life, so keep it organized to reduce your stress levels, improve efficiency and decrease the overall time invested. Recording everything in the right manner also allows you to view potential colleges side-by-side to enable a stronger decision.
The match between a college and its future student is ultimately going to be a very personal one. Every person approaches a college education with their own set of circumstances, so the reasons for attending a specific college are going to be as unique as the people attending them. However, when you use a common set of data points to review and compare your options, your own direction becomes clearer and you are more likely to find an educational path that meets more of your personally defined and prioritized needs.
The following are common considerations for choosing one college over another. The priority each receives depends on you, and your personal situation.
The Internet has opened up some amazing options for would-be students. You can literally attend school from most anywhere in the world, including your living room. Here are some of the finer points, or nuances of location to consider when you are collecting and reviewing information on different colleges:
There is a wide range of ways you might approach your college education, depending on the type of education you are seeking. There are of course traditional degree paths, but micro colleges, community colleges and online options open-up a wide array of specialization and different directions to consider. If you know what direction you'd like to go, great - it will make finding colleges that offer your concentration much more direct. Many students don't really know what they want to study in a meaningful way - and at this point of the journey, it is perfectly normal to feel that way. In a case like this, you would likely want to look for colleges that offered general programs, transferrable credits and opportunity. A state-run university might be the perfect thing, as it would allow you to start in a general way but focus your direction once established. If you want to see what a college offers for areas of study and degrees, one efficient way is to look to the web. We have a list of colleges by state that is linked, and you can use it to view any college site to see what majors and programs are offered. Remember too, the first two years of college are not typically going to be spent on the major as much as the core curriculum. This means the core classes can likely be approached and handled in a more universal manner, but when you decide on a major, choosing the right school can make a big impact and is worth more detailed and precise evaluation.
For many aspiring students, options are defined or limited in part by their associated costs. The financial commitment to a college is substantial in most cases, so determining how much to expect is a big part of the decision-making process. The following are all details that will have an effect on the overall costs of a college education and worth consideration in the evaluation process:
For some students, supporting their faith or ecological beliefs is a fundamental part of who they are. There are schools specifically for every denomination, and many schools with a decidedly "Go-Green" focus. If these beliefs are strong enough in a student to sway their decision, they may have less options but today's educational landscape will certainly offer them a path.
Even if you are not going to participate directly in the programs offered, the existence and level of athletic competition offered at the college is a strong consideration for many. Attending a football, baseball, or soccer game, track or swim meet is very important to some students. The level of competition and history of athletic excellence might be a cause to look at specific schools, such as Duke's winning basketball team or Penn State's legendary football program. Know that intramural athletic programs are popular on any college campus, so if you are seeking some recreational fun, there will likely be many choices anywhere you go.
While you should start with a broad stroke approach and an open mind, you do need to refine your options. There are thousands of potential directions you might go, so bring your focus to about 20 schools, and filter those down to about 12 viable options. You'll no doubt have preferences right off the bat, but it pays to see what's out there and to make sure there is not another place that might offer a closer match to your own goals. Objectivity and diligence will get you there.
Over your junior year (and especially once you've narrowed the list to a dozen), you should schedule time to visit college campuses to help get a feel for each one. You will see immediately that each college will offer you unique benefits and challenges - and sometimes, you visit a campus and something just clicks - and the decision to apply feels like fate's hand guiding you. Your guidance counselors will be able to help you schedule visits to colleges of interest, and to help you speak to the schools' representatives.
Through a site visit, you will be able to see where the dorms are, some classrooms and study areas, student common areas, courtyards and gathering places. You will also be able to talk to financial advisors/admissions personnel, students and other school representatives. As you have no doubt developed questions during your information-collection, this is the time to pose them all - these people are trying to help you make a better decision.
Site visits are a great way for you to see if there is a chemistry between you, and the college you are considering. You can see if you like the way the campus fits into the town and surrounding area. You can sometimes see that a college is clearly not where you want to be. All of it is good information and a necessary part of this decision-making process.
Ultimately, many students find site visits to be the final piece of the puzzle, and in them they find a college that fits.
We applaud your decision to attain a higher level of education. While there are aspects of this transition that are going to be a little intimidating, this is also a wonderful time of growth and change to be embraced. You are doing the right thing by researching. Don't feel limited by the information here, either. This guide is meant as a means to focus your start, but expect to exhaust many sources of information in your evaluation process. Don't be afraid to be creative - be bold, be inquisitive. Reach.
The right college is not going simply fall on you - it is something you will determine over time, after carefully deciding what has priority to you, and then weighing the options that meet your needs. But a college that successfully aligns your goals and resources is out there if you are willing to look...it will be ready and waiting for you to enroll.
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