November 7, 2018 By Jodi Okun

College Selection 101 for High School Seniors

As a high school senior, are you experiencing a lot of envy towards those energetic classmates who seem to have this whole college thing figured out already? While you are sitting there still trying to decide what to write about for your admissions essay, they are saying annoying things like, “I already applied for early decision, and filed my FAFSA. Now we just have to wait.”

First of all, you need to realize that you are not alone. While there will always be the super-organized person in just about everything you do, most of us just try to muddle through as best as we can. If things seem way too confusing or frantic right now, it might be worth it to talk to your parents or guidance counselor about how you are feeling. They should be able to help you figure out all of those confusing deadlines and forms. In the meantime, here is a brief College Selection 101 course that might help make life just a little easier.

Narrow Your College List

Don’t focus on the fact that you are making a decision that could affect your life for the next four years. If the first college you attend doesn’t turn out to be a good fit, you do have the ability to switch schools down the road. If you have no idea what college is right for you, ask your parents to take you to some campuses for a visit. That should help give you a better feel for each school, and some of the students who go there.

Think about your own personality and whether you want to push your boundaries. If you’re a bit shy, you might want to stay with a smaller campus or live at home and attend a college near you. If you’re more socially engaged, you could do well on an urban campus or live off-campus with a group of friends.

Use your social media skills to help you out here. Join groups from each college to see how they interact, or catch up with grads from your high school that attend the college to see how they like it. Ask about how easy it is to fit in, and whether they see most of the students graduating in four years or dropping out in their freshman year.

Get Your Facts Straight

Don’t make assumptions about any of these schools. You might think they are too large, too small, too expensive, or too whatever, but none of that may be true. Do your research before crossing any one of them off your list. Make absolutely sure they offer courses that will interest you, as well as outside opportunities to use the knowledge you are gaining in real-life situations.

Think About the Money

Unless your parents are fabulously wealthy, money will probably play a role in your college selection. You might be shocked to find out that some larger colleges can be surprisingly affordable because of the grants and scholarships they offer, while a community college closer to home might actually end up costing you more money.

Look for something called a “Net Price Calculator” on the financial aid page of each college on your list. Fill out a few basic questions and they will give you a starting point for what it costs most students to attend their college. Then add in extra costs like travel and living expenses to see what type of budget you will need. Be very strategic about taking out any student loans because you will be responsible for repaying them after graduation. Use a student loan calculator, like the one at College Ave Student Loans, to understand your total loan and ways to save.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough – FILL OUT THE FAFSA! This is the starting point for all types of federal, state and institutional financial aid, as well as some scholarships. I can’t tell you how many families fail to receive full financial support because they simply neglected to submit this crucial form. You might be eligible for a little or a lot, but you will never know for sure until you send it in and have your situation assessed by each school.