Not every high school student is going to go to college. Some will choose to enlist or take a gap year. Others might decide to go to vocational training or trade school. Regardless of what you end up doing after high school, I encourage everyone to seek higher education, but that higher education does not necessarily have to be college.
With that being said, if you are pretty sure that you want to go to college, but need help picking the right one, you have reached the right place!
In-State vs Out-of-State
On average in-state colleges and universities tend to be more affordable than their out-of-state counterparts. Personally, I strongly recommend students consider in-state colleges and universities before they go out-of-state. This is especially important if you plan on continuing your academic career past your bachelor’s degree. Staying in-state can help you save money up front. However, if your heart is set on an out-of-state school there is still a way to make it financially viable.
For example, there may be tuition waivers for non-residents and various other financial aid options that can help make the experience more affordable. Furthermore, schools that are located in more rural and suburban areas tend to be more affordable than their urban counterparts. If you are looking out-of-state, then consider schools in these areas as well.
Believe it or not, there are some schools that charge out-of-state tuition rates close to their in-state rates! You should check with each out-of-state institution individually. While you are at it, look into how long it would take to qualify as a resident of that state. If you plan on starting the next phase of your life in another state, then becoming a resident before you apply is a good investment. When it comes to comparing out-of-state schools, use the average tuition and cost-of-attendance of your in-state schools as a benchmark for comparison.
Check Transfer Credits
If you are in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit classes, then check to see if your prospective colleges and universities will accept your credits. Then do a deeper check to see under what circumstances will the credits transfers.
If you need a 4 in AP Chemistry but only a 3 in AP Biology to get credit, then that might influence what classes you take in high school. The same thing can be said about your HLs and SLs in IB. If you only need a 4 in SL Economics to get the credit, but a 6 if you take HL then that might influence which HLs and SLs you want to take.
The process is a little different if you are getting your associate’s. Some schools will automatically accept your associate’s degree upon completion. Other schools pick apart your associate’s by class. Sometimes they give more weight to an Associate’s of Science depending on what program you plan to pursue at their institution. Regardless, you need to check which classes transfer (especially electives)!
Personally, I graduated from the IB program. A part of the reason I chose to attend the University of Houston was because they accepted almost all of my IB scores. I also took the AP exams to give myself the best shot of getting as many credits as possible.
In addition, I recommend taking some classes at your community college over the summer before you start your first semester. It’s a perfect way to get a head start on your pre-requisites if you are proactive. Plus courses at a community college are quite affordable! (Make sure you take pre-requisites that will transfer to your home institution!) The goal is to get as many pre-requisites knocked out before you start.
Personally, I went to Collin Community College the summer before I started at U of H. The classes I took transferred and helped me blaze through my pre-requisites.
Transfer credits can make your academic experience more affordable, give you more flexibility in your degree plan, and potentially speed up your graduation date if you want to graduate early.
Check the financial aid packages available for students and on average how many students receive financial aid. You can find this information on collegeboard.org or on the school’s website. I also encourage you to set up an appointment with a financial aid adviser and apply for any scholarships you are eligible for through the school. Never assume you are ineligible for a scholarship. Always check the eligibility and if you are unsure then contact the sponsors of the scholarship.
Most importantly APPLY FOR FAFSA!
How much financial aid a school provides to their students is a good warning sign for you and your family as you prepare to pay for college.
For example, if you want to apply to XXX University, but you notice only about 10% of the students receive financial aid, then that may be a signal to start shopping for competitive student loans or (more preferably) get busy applying for scholarships!
The reason you may see a low percentage of students receiving financial aid from the school is either: the school is super affordable and few people need financial aid to attend (unlikely) or the school is prestigious in nature and most students have the financial resources to pay for the tuition (more realistic).
If your heart is set on a school that seems out of reach financially, please set up an appointment with me. There is still hope yet!
Recreation center. Career center. Student center. Tutoring services. Housing center. Religion center. Student organizations. Counseling and mental health services. Center for students with disabilities. Child care.
These are just a few examples of the type of resources colleges and universities should provide to ensure the academic, personal and professional success of their students. THESE RESOURCES SHOULD NOT BE HARD TO FIND. This is not a game of hide-and-seek.
These resources will act as a lifeline during your academic career. They need to prominent and relatively easy to find online. The contact information needs to be up-to-date with staff on standby to answer further questions. It is vital you keep up with these resources. You should take a lack of ample student resources as a warning sign.
For example, if you know you have a learning disability, but getting in contact with the disability center is giving you a migraine or you know you need extra help in math but there is no tutoring services offered through the school, that is a sign it is time to move on.
Here are some other campus resources to look out for: health center, financial aid, women’s center, LGBT center, campus police, student advocacy, international student support, etc.
This list is not exhaustive and some resources may matter more to you than others but this will give you an idea of what to look for.
You do not need to choose your major before you step on campus, however, I strongly recommend researching the type of programs that are available at the schools you want to attend. Furthermore, take a close look at the programs the schools are known for. This will let you know about the strengths of the school.
For example, the University of Houston is known for having one of the most competitive Entrepreneurship and Sales programs in the nation. This is a sign that their business program is competitive. A prospective student with a strong interest in business may take this information into consideration and decide to apply. If you are more interested in STEM then look for schools with larger STEM programs. The same things can be said about the Arts or any other discipline you are interested in.
Unless you are super sure about what you want, my best piece of advice is to look for a school with a variety of programs so you have the flexibility to try new things.
I was fortunate enough to fall in love with Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston early in my academic career, but another reason I chose U of H was because of all the different programs and specialties it offered.
Diversity and Culture
Culture and fit are vital! Check out the diversity and size of the student population.
Fun fact: my graduating high school class was the largest graduating class in the nation. I knew long before I started applying to a college that I had to go to school with a large population in a relatively urban area or risk claustrophobia. On the other hand, you might feel more conformable at a small or medium size school.
Preferences like these matter.
They will affect your campus experience. You can find this type of information at collegeboard.org or the school’s website.
Diversity is also another factor that can add color (or not) to your academic experience. Going to a school that is inherently diverse makes going to class more engaging. You are more likely to be challenged and exposed to different values and life experiences.
Never underestimate the importance of culture. Keep in mind, this is where you will experience the most amount of growth for the next 4 years.
What I love about U of H is the hustle mentality of its students. U of H has a long working-class history and it shows in the mentality and worth ethic of the students and staff.
Bonus Tip: Community Colleges are AWESOME!
If you are on the fence about attending a college or university or need to take things a little slower then community colleges are an excellent option as well! Traditionally, community colleges operate at a slower pace and they give you more time to figure what direction you want to go in. Plus, they tend to be more affordable than traditional colleges and universities. (If a community college you want to attend costs more than a traditional college or university, then think twice before you enroll. In fact, I encourage you not to.)
Even if you are currently attending a traditional college or university, you can still attend a community college during the summer or winter session.
Personally, when I was home over the summer, I would go to Collin Community College to get some electives out of the way. If you struggle in an area and need extra help, then community colleges are a great way to gain extra skills and practice.
For example, if you know you have to take calculus 2 in the fall, but your pre-calculus is rusty, then sign up for pre-calculus and calculus at a community college over the summer. If you think you want to specialize in something related to biology, but you are not ready to commit then take a biology elective at a community college.
You get the idea.
Use community colleges as a resource to sharpen your skills and stay ahead of the game. Maybe after taking a biology elective over the summer, you discover that you like chemistry more and change the class you were going to take in the fall.
Community colleges are great because they give you the time you need to explore your interest. Some people decide to get their associate’s, others choose only to take the pre-requisites necessary to transfer. Regardless, they are an excellent option for students who need help transitioning. My only cautionary warning is to check with your institution to see if those credits will transfer.
If you start with these factors in mind, it will make the process of finding the right college for you much smoother. If you need more help with this process, feel free to reach out me! Let me know how your search goes in the comments below!