I’m sure that you all probably thought I fell off the face of the Earth! Well, I didn’t – I probably came close to it, but that’s another story… Anyhow, so I’ve been thinking about transferring to a 4-year college and have been doing the whole ‘do necessary research, narrow down, take notes, and repeat’ thing when I realized one thing: college searching is HARD!!!!!! I mean, I had thought that going straight from high school to a 2-year college was rough, but now that I’m considering transferring, I know that I had no idea just how fortunate I was to have a simple option that made the most sense for me. Now I’m getting weekly recruitment emails, countless pamphlets that ask me to bring my GPA, my money, and my work ethic to their institution because they all have the best of everything and I’m about to scream – not out loud of course, internet café baristas tend to frown on that and they make my chais, so… I’ll not piss them off.
Back to the subject at hand, though, I’m thoroughly convinced that my advisor is a godsend. She’s helped me focus on different aspects of every college and helps talk me through every option. And don’t even get me started on my family, I’m fortunate that they’re patient enough to listen to my endless blathering about transfer credits and campuses and Clery Reports and… well, I won’t bore you with endless details – yet… (*maniacal laughter comes from down the hall followed by a hacking cough* I have no idea where that came from *whistles innocently*). Anyways, with all these details and stressors, I thought that I should do what I do best: write. Thus, was the birth of this “multi-chaptered” (if you will) op-ed. Hopefully everyone who reads it will face the transfer opportunity or the first-time college applications more prepared than I had!
This “chapter”, as the title would suggest, is all about the things I was advised to consider and look up. So, I recommend having a sheet of paper for notes – not from this op-ed, but for your thoughts – a favorite drink (because thinking is hard work), and the very device you’re reading this on and get ready for a long – but hopefully not as daunting as it seems to be – journey!
Let’s get to it, shall we?
The first thing I always ask people is: Do you really want to go to college? I know this seems like a silly question as this article is all about what you need to know when applying to college, but on the contrary, it’s a critical question. College isn’t the only viable option for getting ahead in life – I mean, really, have you ever seen a mechanic’s bill? They must be making decent money! – and college can get expensive, fast. So, if college is not for you, why spend that much money? Trade schools are just as good as college if you’re more interested in working with stone or HVAC systems or anything of that kind, and if you’re happy, then that’s all that matters. Quite frankly, I think we need more craftsmen (and craftswomen 😊) nowadays, so if that’s what sparks your interest, go for it! Research other options, and if college still is the way you want to go, then you’re in luck because we have that in common. So, hang on tight because the questions are only going to get harder (*maniacal laughter is heard once again from down the hall* Seriously, where is that coming from?)
Moving on, we arrive at our first question – one that has me hiding behind Clint Barton (who, thankfully, has agreed to be my bodyguard for the paragraph 😊). Alright, now that I’m safely behind the armed archer of the Avengers (like the alliteration there? 😉) I’ll just ask it: “What do you want to do with your life once you graduate college?” I know, I know, I hate that question just as much as you all do – which is why I knew to hide before I asked it – but it needed to get asked. Heaven knows that it’s hard enough to figure out which college you want to go to when you know what you want to do, but it’s well-nigh impossible to narrow down a college when you have no clue. Still, don’t worry if your answer is “I don’t know.” Mine is too. I know that I like business – hence my major – but turns out there are tons of specific majors that are business related which make it hard to choose. I also happen to have a solution. This is where the piece of paper and pencil comes in. For a week, I want you to think of all the jobs out there that you find interesting. It could be a therapist, a Forbes 400 executive, or even a 5th grade science teacher for all I care, it just can’t be something like “dragon tamer” or “professional couch potato” or something like that – it’s got to be careers that are, I don’t know, real? 😉 – and write them down. At the end of the week, take another sheet of paper (or the back if you didn’t use that, REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE 😊) and organize them based on field. Like, engineering and chemistry would go under STEM, graphic design and acting would be considered the arts, accounting and management would fall under business, and attorneys and politicians would go to law, etc. Once you have that complete, you’ll start to have an idea which way you want to go when deciding your major. Obviously, you don’t have to decide on a career right away, and it’s okay if that still doesn’t help you narrow down your field of vision; that’s what advisors and undecided majors are for. Still, it may very well show you things about yourself you didn’t realize, and it’ll help you when you start looking for colleges that offer – and ideally excel – in your field of interest!
For this next question, I think I’m safe enough to come out from behind Hawkeye, here, but I’m going to keep him on hand, just in case I need him later 😉. “How many years do you want to be in school for?” Do you want to receive an Associate degree? How about a bachelor’s degree? What about a master’s degree – or, holy cannoli, a PhD??? Well, that’s going to make a difference as to which kind of college you want to go to. Associates degrees are typically offered at 2-year colleges – and, as the name implies, when studying full-time, usually take two years to earn. What do I mean by full time? Well, it depends on the college you’re thinking of; each school has their own cutoff point between full-time and part-time, usually measured in these things called credit hours. My school has the cutoff point at 12 credit hours, anything less than that is part time and 12+ credit hrs. is full. Full time is what schools base the average degree-earning time on, but I digress. If you’re thinking of more than an Associate degree, then you would want to apply for a four-year school – with the option of higher, higher education… if that makes any sense. Of course, you can always go to a two-year and then transfer to a four-year, or you can use the 2-year to experiment with degrees at a lower cost, quite frankly, the possibilities are endless depending on your wished-for degree program and your priorities!
Next up, what kind of school would you prefer – public or private? What’s the difference? Well, not to sound like the business major I am, it’s all in how the cash flows (ha-ha, ah… accounting puns… the highlight of my day 😉). Public institutions usually receive their funding through governmental means while private schools typically rely on donations from either investors or alumni. What does this mean? In short, this means that typically public schools have lower tuitions and more people attending while private schools tend to be smaller in population and higher in tuition. Still, each have their own respective, non-monetary perks! Public colleges typically draw a more diverse student population – which is perfect if you’re an extrovert and love to meet new people and try new things! On the other hand, if you’re like me and are an introvert who would rather curl up in the library with a good book and a $5 coffee, then private colleges, with their smaller class sizes and larger focus on student retention and alumni involvement, would probably be where you want to focus your attention. While not all the public and private institutions fit into this generalization, this is just to give you an idea of what to look for when you’re facing what seems like an endless list of colleges, universities, and institutions.
Finally, we’re getting to my last question: does cost play a role in your decision? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m no spoiled, rich witch that lives in a bubble where college isn’t expensive. But I also understand that some people don’t want to take on student loans that they’ll be paying for twenty years after the day that the die. So, I do realize that while cost is a factor for everyone, it’s a higher priority for others. If that’s the case, I suggest that you do careful research when you look at a college. Typically, all you need to do is type “[Name of College] tuition 2019-2020” – or whatever year you’re looking for; I recommend that whatever year you’re planning on attending, you look for the tuition from the previous year. But, if there’s a college you really want to go to, but their price is well beyond what you’re able and willing to pay, there are a few solutions. One is scholarships, and there are a lot more of them than most people realize. Are you in any sort of volunteer organization or honor society? They’ll have scholarships, you just might need to look around for them. I know for sure that Barnes and Noble have thick books on scholarships for specific colleges, for certain states, and just because. Plus, if you look around on the college websites, they’ll have certain pages about possible scholarships. Also, it’s something that you can discuss with advisors once you start talking to the school about applying. Your advisors will help you find as many as possible because they want you to come to their school. One word of advice though: I used to not apply for scholarships because I didn’t think that I “showed financial need” – I mean, really, what does that even mean? – but it turns out, a lot of kids don’t apply for them for the same reason, and the schools are losing scholarship money because they aren’t using it. So, always apply, even if you think that there is no way on God’s green earth that you’re going to get it – you may just surprise yourself! There are also grants and, as I mentioned before, student loans, plus jobs that you can take at the college – such as an RA – that you can take on in order to put credits toward your tuition. Another tip, even if you do end up taking on student loans, they don’t start accruing interest until you graduate, so if you want to (and I would completely recommend this option) you can start paying off your tuition as you’re earning your degree in order to lower your principal payment – which also lowers your interest payments by the way, so… yay for financial planning! And, if you happen to reside in the state of New York, we also have the Excelsior program that the governor (I believe it was he who did it) implemented a few years ago. For more information about that, follow this link: https://www.hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/financial-aid/types-of-financial-aid/nys-grants-scholarships-awards/the-excelsior-scholarship.html and for anyone looking into grants, here’s a link for you: https://www.questionsanswered.net/article/how-apply-college-grant?ad=dirN&qo=serpIndex&o=740012 Finally here’s a link for those interested in college jobs, here’s a sample page of employment opportunities at UNC Charlotte: https://housing.uncc.edu/about-us/employment
Okay, I know I said that was the last question, but I’m going to push the envelope by adding in a few tips that I discovered while I was going through this very process before I found my dream school.
- Tip #1: Always request information. Even if you aren’t fully interested in the school. You can’t always get a good sense of the school from the website, but you usually can with their “come join us” packets. Plus, it’s a great way to find out who your advisor will be. The faster you find who they are, the faster you can get answers to your questions from someone who knows the system inside and out. Plus, it’s good to have all the information in pieces of paper or emails to leaf through as opposed to trying to navigate the website all the time 😊
- Tip #2: Schedule school tours. I know that in this time, it’s rough to try to apply to a college because of the damn virus, BUT… colleges are working overtime trying to navigate the protocols in order to be able to invite you again. I think that this is the best way to figure out whether the college is just right. Usually you can just tell when you’re walking across the quad, looking in the school buildings, and listening to current students about how they like it there. It’s also a great way to ask questions and get a sense of the, well… the vibe is I guess the only way I can put it where it makes sense. It’s just the feeling of peace you get… you’ll know it when you feel it.
- Tip #3: Don’t worry if you have multiple colleges you want to go to. This isn’t the time that you need to make that decision… you have time and can apply to more than one college. Applying to college is stressful enough, no need to make yourself go crazy!
- Tip #4: Take a few breaks, go down a YouTube rabbit hole – maybe watch Sal Valentinetti AGT videos… not saying that was what I did in between or anything, but… let’s just say that I know from personal experience that it’s a great way to calm down and relax while dealing with all that college research has to offer!
- Tip #5: Find a trusted person to talk over these decisions with. Whether it’s a parent, an older sibling, a significant other, or a guidance counselor/advisor (depending on whether you’re doing the first-time or are transferring). These aren’t easy decisions to come up with answers to, much less trying to figure it out all on your own. Having someone that you can trust to listen to your questions, comments, concerns, or – in my case – rants can be very helpful, especially when they give you another perspective than ends up solving your problems or leads you down a different path that works even better than the original one!
I think that’s all with the tips and tricks and everything I know about this stage of the College Application process. If any of you have any new tips that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment with them! Good luck to all of you that are reading this and, not to sound like Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, but “May the odds be ever in your favor!”