Plan for college: Prepare for your future

Angel Melendez, staff writer

It’s the time of year where seniors are solidifying their future plans. Acceptance letters and scholarships are coming in daily and being shared on the scholarship wall, as well as on the West Counselors Twitter page. According to a recent survey by USA Today, “thirty percent of today’s graduates do not leave high school with a plan in mind.” This can be a scary thought for some. If you are still deciding what is best for you then don’t worry. The good news is that you still have time.

Knowing where to begin is the hardest part. With approximately 5,300 colleges in the U.S to choose from, the choices can be overwhelming. Ask 10 different people for advice on choosing a college and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Whether they are parents, teachers or friends, everyone has their own idea of what they consider to be the best way to start your college search. The input of friends and family is important, but ultimately you need to be honest with yourself about what you are looking for in a college experience and course of study. Finding the best college or university for your needs isn’t easy, but there are a number of simple steps that you can take to help narrow your choices into a handful of top contenders. By breaking the selection process into smaller, more manageable steps, you’ll be able to identify which schools offer the education that best fits what you need.

First, rank what matters most to you. You can do this by determining which defining elements of schools are most important to you in a college experience. Some factors to think about include: college size, locations, setting, religious affiliation, reputation, coed or single-sex, public or private. Next, research colleges that fit your criteria. Once you have a general idea of what types of colleges and universities interest you, the next step is to start researching colleges that fit your criteria. There are numerous types of colleges out there. First, ask yourself if you prefer an online school, a two-year college or a four-year college, or a trade school. Perhaps you don’t know the answer to this question just yet. To get a better idea, try talking to friends and family about the pros and cons of each type of program. Review brochures and visit different types of campuses. Also, do research online to gain insight from experts about what to expect from all three types of colleges.

The most important step is to consider your major or certificate/degree program. Obviously, your intended career path is an important factor in finding a college. If you have a particular major in mind, you should pick a college that offers a corresponding degree program. In contrast, if you are still uncertain about careers that you are interested in, then a school that offers a broad introduction to numerous topics and degrees may be preferable. After you find college programs that fit your career path, it is also worthwhile to compare the quality of specific degree programs across universities. This then leads to review college lists. Many people gauge which colleges offer the best experiences for them based on rankings lists. Sites such as the Princeton Review rank the best colleges based on criteria such as majors, academics, politics, diversity and social scenes. Other college ranking sites include: U.S. News and World Report, Ruggs Recommendations, and Forbes.

The final step is to explore college costs. Looking at cost is a good way to quickly narrow your available options. You will want to select a school that you can afford. Comparing tuition costs for schools that feature your intended degree program is a good way to refine your search. Additionally, learning about the available scholarships and financial aid programs may help with your college selection process.

After reviewing these steps, the next suggestion is to plan a college visit. With late start days and spring

break coming up, there is no time like the present to plan ahead. If you take some of these suggestions into consideration it can help make the entire process a lot less stressful. Don’t forget to discuss your ideas and concerns with your school counselor as well. They are a great source for you and have a lot of information to share. No matter your choice, make sure it’s a choice you are happy with.