Now's the time to start preparing for your next big step in life - college.
The process begins from within. And the important thing to remember is there's no wrong answer. It all boils down to what's important to you.
I sat down with University of Evansville's Associate Director of Admissions, Gary Rigley, and asks what aspects incoming high school seniors need to think about when searching for colleges.
- Location. Do I want to stay close to home or move halfway around the country? Some students want to move far, far away while others want the option of coming home on the weekends. Others may decide to continue living at home and commute to school. But remember, don't compare yourself to your parents or siblings. You're an individual.
- School Size. The only true way to determine that is through a campus visit. Weigh out the benefits and drawbacks of small verses large campuses.
- Community. And while you're visiting the college, spend sometime around the community. Where's it location within the city. Is it in the heart of downtown Chicago or on the outskirts of Evansville, IN?
- Academic Rigor. How selective are they? And has your education thus far prepared you for the type of curriculum expected at this particular school?
- Majors Offered. Now, don't get too bogged down in this area. A high percentage of college students change their major at least once during their years at school. Just think over your four years of high school and how many times you changed your mind on what you wanted to do. "The largest entering major at U of E is undeclared," says Rigley. But remember, if you know you want to do something with math, choose a school with a strong math department. And don't forget this: There are many paths to lead to you're final destination.
- Extracurricular Activities. Students spend an average of 35 hours weekly in the classroom during high school; however, in college most spend between 15 to 16 hours. Since you'll be spending so many hours outside the classroom, it's important to familiarize yourself with the extracurricular activities available for students. Here are a few broad categories to look into: social, philanthropic, government, sporting and religious organizations. Another important factor is studying abroad. It's a great opportunity students can take advantage of when offered.
- Student Diversity. Are students primarily commuters or residential? Do you want students who share the same background as yourself or are you looking for diversity. Also, what's the political climate of the campus?
- Affiliation. Many schools are affiliated with a church, and oftentimes, when you are a member of the same church, you receive a scholarship.
- Money. Rigley says it's very important to first look at colleges that are the right fit for you with no assumptions on cost. Most students receive financial aid of some sort while in college. Go into your search with an open mind, and let the university send you a packet on what aid they can offer. Between scholarships and your family's income, you might be surprised. It's important to remember you can't place a dollar figure on education, but also don't forget to choose within your means.
There are more than 3,400 colleges within the United States! As individuals, we're blessed with many different opportunities. The right college for you is out there, it just takes some searching.
Remember, the college search begins within you. After you've determined the type of school you're looking for, begin your researching. The Internet is a great way to start. There are also pamphlets available at libraries and schools with objective facts. Also, never hesitate contacting the college with questions. Their job is helping students find the right fit.
The single most important part of the whole deciding factor is the campus visit. No visit is a waste of time. It's best to find out now whether or not this college is the right one for you. But there should almost be a light that clicks on when you visit the right one. Also, trust your instincts! Visit a variety of campuses. If you're on vacation in St. Louis, visit some of the colleges there. With every visit, you'll discover what you do and do not like.