Before and throughout your college search, you must remember that higher education is an expensive, high-stakes business. Colleges must make money from their students in order to keep the lights on, build and maintain facilities and pay their employees. They will save money where they can and only give money when it is a smart move for them. The growth of the higher education industry has created an entire support system to assist applicants with planning and the successful completion of college degrees. For families choosing to brave the application process on their own, there are a few things you should know.
There are a dizzying number of tools available to help research college campuses. A few of them are below.
Naviance – only accessible to users whose K–12 institutions partner with them to provide students with college planning and career assessment tools.)
There are some very important factors to consider when deciding which colleges to attend. They can mean the difference between completing the degree and becoming a dropout.
Cost is a major consideration for most families. Make sure you understand that tuition cost is not the total cost of attendance. There will also be fees, housing, food, books, travel and other expenses. You may be able to get financial aid to help offset the cost, but it’s still important to have a realistic idea of how much you can afford.
Think about where you want to go to college. Do you want to stay close to home or experience a new city or state? What about the climate? Do you like warm weather, or do you want to live where the seasons visibly change? You should also consider the cost of living, and the availability of jobs and internships near the college.
What are your academic interests? What major and academic environment are you looking for? There are huge differences between large research universities, small liberal arts colleges and technical schools. You should also consider the campus environment. Do you want to be involved in sports, clubs, or Greek life? Do you want to live on or off campus?
One very important factor that families usually fail to consider when gazing dreamily at a name brand college is the question of fit. Will the applicant feel like the college is a good fit? Though it is not vital that the applicant visits every campus before the application is submitted, it is crucial that they visit before saying yes to an acceptance letter. While on campus try to talk to current students and get a sense of the school’s culture. You should feel comfortable and excited about the prospect of spending the next four years there. Whether you acknowledge the feeling or not, you will know if the campus doesn’t feel right.
A few more pieces of advice for managing the college application process include getting an early start, asking questions or asking for help when you need it, reviewing all your work and having someone else read it if possible and above all, be yourself. There is no place for “fake it till you make it” in the college application process.