I had no idea what to expect when I applied to college
It’s that time of year again. Seniors are finishing college applications and frantically writing all the last minute scholarship essays they possibly can. You might find yourself too tunnel focused to see anything other than you’re excitement after you’ve applied to college. As a first generation university student I had no idea what to expect when I got to college, or what to look for in the colleges where I applied.
Honestly, I didn’t even have the luxury to apply to multiple schools, or make visits to schools other than one I am currently attending. My cousin, also a first generation university student at the time, was attending a college in state and gave me a tour at the beginning of my senior year in high school. This was the first college campus I had ever set foot on and I was in awe. The historical buildings. The walkways jutting everywhere through beautiful landscaping. Everything about this college was beautiful. I couldn’t help but envision myself here and only here, so I applied.
I was in!
The application process was easy and with my grades I knew I was in. I had no idea what the college offered as far as scholarships go, grants, etc. Fortunately, I got really lucky and the college I attended had a program for students who were in need and this seemed “promising” to students like me. The program was a grant exclusive to the state college I was attending. It pays for all of my tuition as long as I stay in financial need and graduate on time.
This program was such a blessing because the government loans I was offered only covered enough of my living expenses with no excess. Although I got extremely lucky, in retrospect I should have done more research on all the schools in my area to ensure that I could have afforded the school where I applied. With a bad case of tunnel vision and excitement, I never fully took the time to assess my full range of options but I trudged ahead anyways. I never even knew of my grant until after I had applied. Had it not existed, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the school I currently attend.
I also didn’t take my social needs into consideration when applying for college. I didn’t picture my introverted personality working in a large campus versus a small campus, or a party school versus a private school with religious ties. I simply had eyes for a higher education and to me this was my golden ticket. I know that sounds silly, but that’s what had been engrained in me since before high school.
The Only Way to Succeed…Right…
Having a college degree as told to me, was the best way and only way to succeed. I’m pretty sure I had never heard of Steve Jobs and certainly didn’t know he dropped out of college to go on to be one of the most success entrepreneurs of our time. Oh no, I would never know this until my Fiancé initially named his cat Steve Jobs. He was far too proud to tell me than he should have been. Although he thought it was funny, I thought it was a terrible name and I made sure he knew it. Sure enough he was offended and he told me Steve Jobs was a bad ass.
When he figured out I didn’t understand why, I received the biggest fan boy tell-all of my life. This opened my eyes to a new world where certain individuals are wildly successful without a degree. However, I still was not down with Steve Jobs being the name of our future cat. So as us girls commonly do, I talked him out of a horrendous decision. Our cat is now named Milo. This isn’t the point of my post and I certainly do not want to encourage you to drop out of school or forego applying. College is a great thing. But don’t consider it the only way to achieve success.
All that being said, I have a feeling there are others finding themselves in the same situation and I want to give you some advice that I wish was given to me.
College is not the only way to be successful
I have nothing against college, obviously, I’m in it. What I’ve learned these past few years, having met professionals in all sorts of different industries, many of who are working for themselves, a degree is not the only ticket to success. I’ve also learned, that a degree does not guarantee any amount of success. Nearly half of college graduates are finding themselves unemployed these days. However, take note of the disparity between those who earned a degree and those who never made it to college. College graduates, on average earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute.
College graduates, on average earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015, according to data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute.
Figure out what you can and can’t afford
College is expensive. Sadly, it’s truly not a commodity everyone can afford. Luckily, there are feasible options for almost everyone if you’re resourceful and particularly handy with google. Costs vary depending on where you may want to go, a private school, out of state, in state, or community college. However, the college you want to attend might not match with where you can. Figure out the amount in government or private loans you and your parents qualify for, and if your parents are willing to take out what they qualify for. Determine a ball park figure. Apply to a school that is a step-beyond this figure and then a school that is within. This way, if you don’t obtain any scholarships or grants for your preferred school you will still have an option.
Apply to multiple schools
Please do not do what I did. If you do, you risk not getting into, or not being able to afford the only choice you decided on. I got lucky but this was a mistake and a gamble I don’t want anyone else risking.
For colleges you apply to, figure out the scholarships they offer
Basically, everything I didn’t do is exactly what you should do. Make sure you are aware of the grants and scholarships you are eligible for from the schools you are applying to. This will help you know where to apply in the first place. A common mistake that many people make is choosing colleges by the advertised sticker price (myself included). However, a lot of colleges have many opportunities offering highly reduced tuition, private schools with rather high ticket prices seem to be exceptionally great at largely reducing their tuition for people in financial need, or to those with exceptional academics.
Become bff’s with scholarships.com
If there was ever a better time for the word “literally” it would literally be right now. Do this. Go on the site, sign up, and don’t just look. This site has so many resources for scholarships that range from short essays, to art project to video projects. Some of the scholarships have guidelines on who is eligible, but there are multiple opportunities for anyone of any race, sexuality, and background.
Figure out the social scenarios you feel comfortable in and the scenarios you do not.
If you are a true, shy and introverted personality type like myself, a school with 25,000 people isn’t most likely to be a good fit. The school I chose is a state college and like most state colleges, has a large yearly enrollment. As I said previously, I didn’t take the time to acknowledge what type of atmosphere I would fit into most. I certainly didn’t run scenarios through my head that would have convinced me to look for my comfort zone in a school relevant to my personality.
Know where you fit in
I can guarantee you that having been in a place where familiar faces are often unseen, it hasn’t been an easy place for me to make friends. But if you fit into a livelier crowd and see yourself marching down dorm room hallways, yelling chants to other students as spirited as you, a college filled with other socially dominant and outgoing students is the place to be. A school with over 25,000 enrolled students is your personal party of the century waiting to happen.
Once you’ve figured out what size is ideal for you, you also need to think about the kind of activities you enjoy doing. Are you into dancing and drinking with a large group of friends and strangers? Or do you enjoy getting a small group together to play cards against humanity? Or maybe you really look forward to Tuesdays when a new episode of Bachelor is uploaded to Hulu, like me.
Whatever it is you like, research your college of choice what it’s known for. What clubs, intramural sports teams, groups or organization does it have? The last thing you want to be is a Netflix weekend marathon type of boy or girl and end up at a school where the main activities involve drinking games and parties that echo from block to block.
Consider what you want to do
Make certain wherever it is you apply that a program exists for the degree you are interested in. If you have no idea, make sure it has programs that catch your interest. You don’t even need to be alone in this decision. Career counselors at your school are more than willing to help you sort through all the possibilities.
Don’t know what major is best for you? Consider an undergrad program that allows you to create your own degree
Now that I’m in school and have officially changed my mind a million times, I am starting to really like the idea of creating my own degree. I’ve come to know that I like learning a little about a lot and I kind of wish I had the opportunity to build my own degree on only things I was really interested in and not required to take. I’m not sure the total number of schools offering this but I think if memory serves me correctly, it is popular in some. I’ve listed a few of the top schools offering a program to create your own degree below. Here’s a list of the top 10 undergrad programs that allow you to design your own major.
1. UC Berkeley – Tuition $13, 432 a year
2. The University of Minnesota – Tuition $11,896 a year
3. St. Olaf College – Tuition $42,940 a year
4. Oberlin College – Tuition $49,928 a year
5. UC San Diego – Tuition $13,456 a year
6. Swarthmore College – Tuition $47,070 a year
7. Hanover College – Tuition $33,744 a year
8. University of Michigan – Tuition $13,856 a year
9. University of Maryland – Tuition $9,996 a year
10. Warren Wilson College – Tuition $31,980 a year
You control your life and have every say in the decisions you make. Inform yourself and choose the best. I hope my journey in all of this helps you.
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