Choosing the Right School
Considering what’s most important to you when choosing the right school is a good way to weed out schools on your list that are either unrealistic or lack those qualities that you think you need on your intended college campus. Think about what you want out of your college experience, whether that’s a school with a strong academic record, impressive athletic teams or diverse social programs and services, and take a hard look at whether you’re applying to schools for the right reasons. Once you’ve applied, compare the financial aid packages of the schools you’ve been accepted to, as that decision could require making more sacrifices than you made when choosing where to apply. Determine whether taking out more student loans at one school over another is worth it, and if it is, come up with an action plan to apply to get the most free money in scholarships and grants that you can.
Put Reputations Aside
Every college applicant should have that dream school on their list that is just a little bit out of reach financially or academically. But alongside that one dream school application, college bound high school seniors should really be looking at schools that offer them either the program they’re interested in pursuing or a broad range of programs to choose from if you go in undecided. If you’re sure about your intended career, some smaller, less costly schools are known for certain fields, so do your research through a college search on schools that specialize in that field. Put what you’ve heard about the schools word-of-mouth from your friend’s older brother and look beyond what you think would look good on a resume or impress your family. There are many colleges out there with excellent academic programs that could be even more impressive than that big expensive university everyone in your class is applying for.
Consider low-cost options like community colleges if you’re concerned about how you’re going to pay back those student loans you’d need to take out to go to a more expensive four-year college. Over the last year, enrollments at community colleges have increased by as much as 25 percent, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, with many of those new students returning to school as adult learners to improve upon their skills or pick up a new trade. Many community colleges specialize in certain fields, even borrowing from the local economy to churn out marketable graduates. Even taking two years’ worth of general education requirements at the local community college could significantly reduce your total college costs. Just make sure your intended college will approve the courses you completed at the community college so that you aren’t forced to retake any courses. Compare in-state tuitions to out-of-state college costs when deciding on your short list of which colleges you’ll be applying to. Depending on where you live, you could still have the experience of going away to college and maintain a sense of independence without leaving the state and enjoying the cost benefits of a local education. And if you do get homesick that first year, it’ll be easier and less expensive for you to make visits home than if you make a move across the country.
State scholarships and grants are very common, but often only go to long-time residents of that state as a way to boost the local economy and keep qualified college applicants from leaving their home states. Choosing the right school for you can be tough, but with some research you can come up with a good list of schools that will not only meet your needs but be cost-effective as well.