Ranking, selectivity, major, location! Is this college too big, too small? Can I even afford to go to college? Many students and their parents are overwhelmed by the number of decisions they face when choosing a college. Indeed, the process seems mystifying, and families wonder how they can wade through the data -- from national rankings to “best of” lists to college affordability tools. In today’s post, we’ll tackle some of these common questions to help you break free from the endless lists and get a better understanding of the selection process.
It starts with two simple, yet powerful, questions: Why do I want to go to college? and What would I like to do after college? Some students will quickly answer these questions, but if you don’t have an exact major or career in mind, that’s perfectly fine! Think about your interests: do you absolutely love your math and science classes, or would you much rather spend the afternoon lost in a novel or pondering what you studied in history? Envisioning your future, do you see yourself working with adults, or do you want to work with children? A great way to get started is with Georgia Tech’s College Guide.
As you work through your initial college list, other questions may pop up. Some colleges ask you to apply by major, and the requirements for admission by major may vary in selectivity. STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math) tend to be more selective than other majors, and often require a more rigorous high school curriculum. If you are applying by major, make sure you do your research! The University of Texas – Austin and FSU have published resources to help you further examine majors and their requirements. Additionally, while some schools may allow you to change your major once admitted, you may still need to remain within the college to which you were admitted. For example, if you were admitted to the college of liberal arts and sciences, you may not be able to easily transfer into the school of business. Rest assured, many schools don’t ask you to declare a major before junior year. And, did you know that Undecided is the most popular major for freshmen?
Another point to consider is the cost of college. The cost of attending a private college for four years can exceed $275,000. While in-state public universities tend to be financially more attractive at $20,000-25,000/year, merit aid and scholarships can put the cost of an expensive private college within reach. You can estimate the costs by using a College Net Price Calculator. Find one here. Knowing your Estimated Financial Contribution (EFC) will further help you narrow your college list.
Creating your college list comes down to the intersection of fit and match. College fit is the degree to which a college meets your academic, social, financial, and other needs and interests. College match refers to how YOU meet the college's requirements for admission. Begin with the most important criteria: structure -- looking at school size and type; admissibility -- your chances of getting in based on grades, test score, and selectivity; and intrinsic qualities – where you consider those personal factors like motivation and learning style and how they match up with prospective schools.
Written by Kathy Hart & Barbara Leventhal, Educational Consultants with JRA Educational Consulting.