Ben Franklin once said "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." In today's competitive work environment, that is definitely true; according to an article in the New York Times called "The Class of 2012," graduates with degrees were more likely to land the jobs they apply for, with only "8.5 percent, on average, in the past year — compared with 21 percent for young high school graduates" who were unemployed. In other words it is a good idea to consider going to college, not only to help you stay on top of your game, but also to learn more about your passions and your chosen fields. If you are already thinking about college, awesome! But where do you start exactly? Here are some things to think about to help you take the next steps toward college and your dreams.
1. What do you want to be when you grow up? If you're thinking about college already, then you might be more grown up that you think. But this is still a good question to ask yourself. If you want to be a lawyer, for example, you would need to look for law schools, like Harvard or even Baylor in Texas. A scientist might shoot for MIT in Boston while an aspiring writer, like myself, would aim for a liberal arts college like Columbia in New York. Once you decide what your career path is, you can search for schools with programs that meet your needs. A meeting with your guidance counselor at school or even a Google search on your own will help you figure out what programs will suit you and which schools offer it. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a handy place to start. Make a list of 6-10 schools that look promising.
2. How far do you want to go? Of course, you're shooting for the stars as far as your goals and aspirations. This question is actually about where you'd like to go to school. Checking out programs and which schools offer them is a good start, but narrow down your options even more by considering how far from home you are willing and able to travel. I think it is good for all students to try to at least leave their hometowns to study, since it gives them a wider view of the world, but sometimes that is not affordable or even desirable. Which schools make it to the next round have to be in cities where you will be able to afford to live, as well as cities you really want to go to or you won't be very happy with your decision. Many school websites have a student life section where you can learn more about the city in which the school is, so make sure to read up on that and see if the city is as good a fit for you as the school. Further narrow your list of schools by thinking about these things and even visiting these campuses, if you can. Take a tour and ask whatever questions you have.
3. What's in your wallet? Or rather, how much? As I mentioned in question two, you need to consider places that you will be able to afford. This is where you go back to your guidance counselor and also talk to your parents to see what you all can afford. Your counselor can point you in the right direction for scholarships, grants and financial aid as well as loans, should you really need them. (Make sure you really do need them before reaching for loans, though. They are too easy to get and add up fast!) You also need to see if your parents will be able to help you or not so that you can make a good decision on schools and better navigate your application process. Also look into each school's work study program, which will allow you to work part time while attending school. Even if a school you are looking at seems crazy expensive however, you might be surprised at the funding you can find, if you look hard enough and do the leg work. Check out websites such as Fastweb or CollegeProwler for scholarships of all sizes and even more tips on college.
4. What else is important? While there seems like millions of things to consider when going to school, we've actually already covered the basics: what do you want to study, where do you want to go and how will you pay to get there? By now you should have about 6 schools that you have hopefully fallen in love with (two safety schools, two maybe schools and two top schools) and that you know you will apply to. If you don't, take another look at that student life section of the schools' websites. What else do they have to offer? Do they have extracurricular activities like sports, music, or other clubs you'd like to join? Just like in high school, college isn't just about studying. You have to have to some down time too. Not only will some of these extras be something fun for you to do, it will look even better on your resume when you graduate. It's a win-win. See if the school has a program that puts you in touch with someone who already goes to the school so you can talk with a real person going through what you will go through. You'll get insight and maybe make a new friend.
While searching for schools, applying and waiting for acceptance letters to come in, it is so exciting to get one and start planning what you've been dreaming about for years. The work you put in will certainly pay off later. Keep that in mind both during your application process and when you're actually in school. With a little hard work and a little faith in yourself, you can do it all!