There are two types of high school seniors right now. There are the ones who have already applied to their colleges of choice and are waiting to hear back on an early decision, and then there are those that are putting the whole affair off until February. I was the second kind. My classmates were deciding over their top three early admissions, and I hadn’t even looked past the first couple pages of my state school’s website.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care. Actually, quite the opposite. The whole thing seemed so overwhelming, I didn’t even know where to begin. K-12 had been pretty straight forward. I had been told where to be, what to do, and what to learn for the past thirteen years, so college seemed like this insurmountable challenge. If that last sentence hit a little too close to home, here’s some advice to get you through the next couple months.
Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself
One of my biggest problems was that I started to overthink everything. What would I even major in? Where were all my classmates going? Would I like the town? Could I handle the drive there and back during holiday breaks? Would I live in the dorms, join a sorority, or was I allowed to live off-campus
These are all important questions, but you don’t have to know the answers to all of those right now. You don’t need to worry about whether the school colors will clash with your skin tone until you’ve explored your options.
So, you don’t want to overthink things, but you still need to identify what is important to you. Before you even start seriously looking at schools, think: Do you want to live close to home? Do you just have to go to the same school as your best friend or boyfriend? Do you need to go to a top school, or do you want to save money by staying in state? These are important criteria to be aware of when you looking through your options. Write them down as a list in order of most important to least important.
Of course, it can be difficult to pick a school if you don’t even know what you want to go to school for. With so many options, most freshmen are just as lost as you. That’s okay! You’re still a teenager. Just think about some fields that you might be interested in, and keep those in mind while researching programs. If you are one of the lucky few that knows that they’re destined for medical school or the world of marketing, then more power to you!
Start Doing Research
If you haven’t already, you need to get to this step ASAP. The longer you wait, the fewer options you’ll have. Start by just looking through the basics: costs, location, prestige, population, etc. How does each school match up to your criteria? You can successfully eliminate a lot of schools this way. Recognize that some of your criteria might be at odds with each other. You might have to give up living in a big city to go to school with your best friend or vise versa. Whenever you come to conflict like that, refer to that list you made, and ask yourself which one matters more. Which priority is going to make you happier in a year?
You’ve also probably received more than your fair share of university pamphlets. These can be great resources to see your options, especially which universities are interested in you, but make sure you look deeper. Don’t decide based on the smiling students on the cover or the football team’s performance. Instead, scour through their website. Ask older siblings or friends what they discovered was really important in college. Visit the campus if possible! Then reevaluate your own list.
Look at Your Finance Options
Paying for college is a big part of the experience. A university’s affordability should be one of your top concerns. There are several ways that you can accomplish that. Scholarships and grants are the best, but they’re also very competitive. You should apply for these as early as possible! Next, see if you qualify for any sort of employee reimbursement. Some schools have specific partnerships, like ASU and Starbucks, and some companies will only provide it under certain conditions. Obviously, you don’t know where you’ll be working after graduation, but it’s never too early to start looking at future career paths.
Loans are an unfortunate reality for most college students. If you find yourself among us, make sure that you know your stuff. Finances are complicated- they have college courses about them! There’s no shame in admitting you don’t understand the jargon. Just do yourself a favor and learn what you can about loan lingo. You’ll make more educated choices, and you won’t be surprised when you get your first bill in five years!
Okay, I know that it still seems overwhelming, but you’re ready! You’ve got all the tools to make a great decision right in front of you. Imagine the weight off your shoulders when you can actually answer your grandma’s holiday questions with zero stress. This is a big step, but college is a journey. Picking where you go is important- it’s your first adult decision- but it’s what you do at college will be even more so. One step at a time!