Ahh, it seems like just yesterday I received my college acceptance in the mail and my decision to attend the University of Central Florida became cemented in my mind. My college decision and application process was, unconventional towards the end of my journey, but I still went through many of the same thoughts and emotions as others. Now, as a recent college graduate, I'm completely satisfied with my decision and I'm ready to pass on all of my tips that I have learned along the way.
The college decision and application process can be a long and expensive journey. For some students, this process can formally take up to nine months. I say formally because throughout most of our educational career we are informally pushed to pick a college, pursue a degree, and decide on an occupation, even though these feelings and goals change frequently. Up until the college application process officially began, I must have switched my occupational goals and college choice fifty times.
Yet, within the first few weeks of my senior year, I had known the exact college I wanted to go to, the major I wanted to pursue, and every other collegiate detail. By applying to only one school, I saved a lot of money on applications and a lot of headaches during the application process, and I was able to enjoy my senior year. Curious about how my school list went from 50+ to 1? Keep on reading.
First things first- location, location, location. The summer before my senior year I had wanted to go to a big city, maybe New York, maybe Los Angeles; Boston, and DC also sounded appealing. I was 80% sure I wanted to go out of state, but I also liked the idea of staying close to home to save money. Mind you within each of those cities I had about 5 to 7 schools that I liked the idea of attending.
Yet, when evaluating each region and the prospect of living in those areas, I decided that staying in-state was the best option. As I mentioned before, it was the most cost-effective and if I got homesick I could easily return. Thus, my best advice is to visualize yourself living in that area and how that would affect you in the long run. Also, be knowledgeable about the overall cost of living in that city, because $2,000 per month in rent is not unheard of in some areas.
Next, find a school that has a major you love, and also a backup major. Never settle. If a school doesn't have your major, it's probably not meant to be. After all, you're paying a lot of money for college, and the last thing you want to do is waste money on a degree you don't like. You will have a miserable college experience and you will come to regret it. But, people do change, so make sure your selected college has a backup major available, something that is a part of your plan B just in case you want to switch.
Furthermore, take the time to tour the campus. I noticed some colleges looked amazing on paper. They had all of the amenities I've dreamed of, but when I got to the campus, it was nothing like I expected. Other schools that I doubted, looked like a paradise when I visited and I could truly visualize myself walking through the courtyards or studying in the library. Make sure when you visit each school, check out their extracurriculars, the classrooms, and the student living areas. For me, once I visualized myself at UCF, no other school really mattered.
Lastly, the most overwhelming prospect of the US college search is the cost. For a lucky few, the expense of the school may not matter. For the average person, however, the cost of tuition and other college driven expenses are ever lingering and dwelling. Getting a job during your freshman year to support your college education can be overwhelming and extremely time-consuming. So, if you're financially honest with yourself and your situation, you may be able to divert getting a job for your first year. Now, if a school has everything else you need and you couldn't imagine going anywhere else, go there. Live your life with no regrets, because in the end, you will never be able to put a price tag on your college experience and life events. Luckily, student loans are available so just be smart about your spending habits.
However, if you value a debt-free life, look into your school's scholarship programs and apply to as many as possible, and note that most local communities and specific professions will offer students scholarships, so be driven during your scholarship search. In the end, be smart about cost, but do not stress. Never put yourself in a finical situation you don't feel comfortable in, and just remember that everything happens for a reason.
In sum, the college process is scary - but enjoy it. This is a one time experience full of endless opportunities! I hope this guide helps alleviate a little bit of stress, and good luck on your journey!