My daughter and I have traveled nearly 1000 miles and spent dozens of hours visiting colleges over the past few weekends. Throughout this adventure some nuggets of inspiration and knowledge have come to light which I’d like to share.
You Can’t Be Forced Into Going To College.
No school, no matter what they say, can arrest, file a law suit, or make you attend their college. Even with early admission. The only thing that can be done is that if you renege on your “binding agreement” and have received any financial aid, you will owe this money back. However, some fees associated with the application are often “non-refundable”.
So don’t feel threatened, pressured or under the gun by any college, or college admissions officer, to sign on the dotted line.
The competition for college admissions is getting quite heated this year and more and more colleges are waiving fees. They are also baiting students with large sums of money. But the long and short of it is that – Nobody can make you go to college. Dare I say, not even your parents. OK, maybe them. In the immortal words of Bill Cosby “I brought you into this world, I can take you out”.
However, with this said, most reputable people and institutions value ones commitment and dedication. After all, promises should be kept and therefore well thought out. Good moral ethical people, and institutions, keep their promises.
If you do get some sort of grant, scholarship or award from a college, make sure that they do not “graduate or differentiate” the availability of money. In other words, some bait you to go to their university by offering up a bunch when you apply and then “review” the award every year after that. Of course many scholarships are tied to a minimal GPA which is only reasonable but from my point of view, and the students, a university that says the award is good for each year you attend as a full time student is much more reputable.
Some folks are also advising that prospective students apply to as many colleges as possible. As in upwards of 12 or more. Their reasoning is that the competition is so heated this year that you never know how many will accept or decline your application. Even with more and more universities waiving fees, this can, and will get quite expensive. Here is my thinking on this . . .
Maximize Your Chances by Concentrating, Not Diversifying and Keep It Simple (KISS principle)
Universities are looking for students who stand out from a crowd. Everybody sends in transcripts and SAT scores. This is data that universities can easily analyze and weed out certain applicants. It does not say much about who you are or why they should accept you.
Over the past couple weeks, I have seen more than one article talking about Steve Jobs and traits of successful people. One such trait is that no matter how busy he or she is, that person typically simplifies tasks as much as possible and concentrates on just a handful of things or people at any one time. By concentrating on a handful of colleges that you know you want to go to, you can maximize your efforts of impressing them. You will have the energy and excitement to put your best foot forward by limiting the number of places you submit your application.
Tell a Story
And it all starts with the essay. The essay should say that you have a good idea of who you are and what you want; even if your major is undecided. That is why they ask for essays. College admissions look for essays that tell a story about you. What makes you who you are and more importantly what kind of person you are and why they would want the kind of person attending their university.
Ask Questions And Be Interesting
Make no mistake of it. College visits are interviews. They are interviewing you and, more importantly, you are interviewing them.
Interacting as much as possible with college admission boards, personnel, students and faculty, both during and after campus visits, helps everyone decide who gets in and who does not. It also helps both you and the university make informed decisions.
None of this will happen if you don’t ask questions and gather as much information as possible.
Applying to a select few, hopefully a select few who know who you are, sends a clearer picture and increases your chances of getting in.
Of Course College Is Expensive, But . . .
There are alternatives, and ways to limit expenses. More and more local community colleges are offering transfer programs to major, usually instate, colleges and universities.
Back in ancient times when I went to college, community college was viewed as the place where everyone else who couldn’t get into college went. That is no longer the case.
With community college costs considerably cheaper that major universities, it is possible to get the basic core requirements out of the way for less money and have your grades count towards a degree program at a state university. Often, these transfer programs are guaranteed as long as you maintain a certain GPA and take the appropriate required credits and classes.
So, this means one could still get his or her degree of choice, from their university of choice, for a lot less money.
It’s Never Too Early To Start Planning.
Today there are are a wide range of savings accounts to choose from. State sponsored 529 plans are some of the more popular ones, but there are others.
Just like with 401K retirement plans, the earlier you start, no matter how small an amount, every little bit adds up and will make a difference.
There are also tons of scholarships available out there. It takes a lot of time to find them and to apply for them. Many of the same topics I just mentioned regarding colleges can be applied to finding and applying for scholarships.
And, as with any trip, plan ahead. We have found that it is generally a good idea to spend most if not all day at a particular university. That way you can spend quality time finding out as much as you can about the campus, people
All work and no play make for a really tough trip. If you are planing an extended trip, many days of traveling and driving, it might be a good thing to schedule in some down time and or some casual site seeing along the way.
This will help provide a much needed change of pace and recharging of batteries plus, who knows, you just might learn or see something interesting along the way. And don’t forget; towns, like university campuses, have a personality all their own. You might find a place that makes you say, “wow! I’d like to spend the next 4 years of my life here” or “ewww, really?”.