Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How to College: 5 Tips for Choosing Schools

August is here! You know what that means - it's time for back to school shopping, last minute vacation plans, summer sales, and for high school seniors, applying for college.

University of Texas at Austin: The Tower
My next few How to College posts will be centered around the college application process. If there's anything I'm good at, it's planning. I was that crazy kid that did extensive research on tens (probably hundreds) of schools before I started narrowing it down. After applying to 7 schools and helping many of my younger friends through the same process, I think I've got my method down to a tee!

Do I think the education system is flawed? Absolutely. It sucks that you have to pay money to be rejected (thanks, UChicago), and THEN have to give up the blood of your first born child to pay for your education (please don't take this literally).

But I'm going to do everything in my power to help you beat the system, because everyone deserves an education that doesn't cost your entire life's savings!

So, what's the first step? Probably choosing schools to apply to!
University of Alabama: Gorgas Library

It's daunting, I know. There are thousands of beautiful colleges that offer you what you need. How on earth do you even begin to decide? Before you start on this exciting journey, I NEED you to keep one thing in mind:

They're all the same, you just need to pick one.

Man, I wish I heard this sooner. An old friend told me this when I was struggling to decide where I wanted to be for the next 4 years, and the day after he said this, I committed to a university. Keep this in mind, and the process will be much easier for you. After all, college is just a place.

1. Use College Board

I know, I hate them, too. They're in charge of the ACT, SAT, and AP tests - basically, they control and monopolize the college application realm. But they're here to help, too!

When I began to look at schools, the Big Future feature was my best friend. You can search for colleges by location, major, and social life. Don't know your major yet? That's totally fine. Take other factors into account - do you want a small school or a big one? Is it in a city? How much does it cost? How are their sports?

College Board has brief profiles of each school, giving you information on population size, majors offered, location, cost, and more. If you've found a school you're interested in, go to their website. While College Board has a plethora of information, it's not always accurate and should be used as an overview.

2. Ask friends, family, & teachers

These people know you best! If you're struggling in your college search, ask around. See where your friends are applying, and look at your family & teacher's alma maters. They've already been through it, and chances are, they can help.

Careful though, don't let college rivalries get in the way! I speak from experience when I say that some teachers won't be supportive. I had a teacher laugh in my face when I told him I was visiting UA. Don't pick a school that's right for someone else - pick a school that's right for you.

University of  Alabama: The Quad & Denny Chimes on game day

3. Search by location

Okay, so you can't find anything on College Board, and you don't like the schools your friends recommend. Well, have you always wanted to live in a city? Maybe you want to move to the other side of the country, or maybe you cant to go abroad, like Abby!

If you've always dreamed about living in a specific place, check out schools in the area! You can use College Board to do this, or just Google "Colleges in _____." You'll get plenty of results!

Don't forget to look in surrounding areas, too. Say you want to live in New York City, but NYU is ranked as the 2nd most expensive college in the nation. Remember, NYU isn't your only option in the area! Have you considered the CUNYs? What about Berkeley? Both options are still in the city, and cheaper than NYU. Also consider schools in DC and Philadelphia - both cities are only 2 hours away from NYC by bus!
University of Texas at Austin: Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex

4. Search by cost and scholarships

So you still have no idea where you want to go. That's totally fine! Searching by cost and scholarship eliminates most of the decision-making for you - pick the schools that will be the cheapest for you. That's what I did, and I am so happy that I won't have thousands of dollars of debt when I graduate.

Alright, shameless plug here, but well worth your time: The University of Alabama offers incredible scholarships. In 2012-2013, we had the most National Merit Scholars of all public universities. You know why? Because of our scholarships! National Merit students have almost all costs covered, including tuition, housing for 4 years, and last time I checked, they get iPads. No, the university didn't pay me to say this, I just think my investment is 100% worth it.

Generally, state universities have a lot more scholarship opportunities than private universities. Look in-state, too, because for state schools, you'll qualify for in-state tuition, and there are often additional scholarships like the HOPE (TN and GA).

Many schools offer automatic scholarships based on standardized test scores. I applied to Indiana University Bloomington and received an automatic scholarship because of my ACT score. UA does this, too!

I don't mean that you should choose the school that's the cheapest. If you're dream school costs a little extra $$$, go for it. Keep your options open!

University of Alabama - Million Dollar Band and GAME DAY

5. Other things to keep in mind
The earlier you start looking, the better. That way, when senior year starts, you can talk to other people about your options. I know it's already August, but I didn't finalize my list until September. Right now, you've got time!

I know I've said this a lot, but remember that you should pick a school for you. Don't make it difficult like I did - when it comes down to it, they're all the same! I am a firm believer that a degree is a degree, no matter where it came from.

In the end, college is just a place.

If you don't love your university, that's okay. Have confidence in your decisions. Apply somewhere totally random if you feel like it! Remember that even if you don't get into your dream school, transferring after freshman year is always an option. Or you could stick it out and come to love your university, like me. Can I get a roll tide?!

If you have any questions or tips on picking colleges, let me know in the comments or shoot me an email! I'd love to talk about your thoughts on the college application process, and I'm always here to help. Thanks for reading!

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