Navigating The College Application Process

Student with stack of books in front

Now is the time you’ve been waiting for; the time to decide what you want to be when you “grow up.” Well, sort of – if you’re thinking about higher education, you may be considering college or trade school to earn a degree or diploma in a specialized field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2012, 66.2 percent of 2012 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities.

If you are one of the students who comprise this majority, then you are probably already thinking about the college application process. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Sending Your App To A Private College Or University
There is sometimes a cost (about $35-$50) involved with applying to a college or university, although some schools will allow you to apply for free. Also, making a trip to apply in person could save you the application fee – and make an impression – according to U.S. News.

The personal essay is one of the most talked-about portions of the college application. Here is a fun anecdote from Heather Long of The Guardian“One admissions counselor told me that his favorite personal essay of all time was by a young woman who wrote about working at Dunkin’ Donuts for the summer. She described several of her favorite ‘regulars’ who would come in daily – what they ordered and how she interacted with them. It was a funny piece, but it also showed how she handled tough situations, and it almost read like a psychology paper on these various characters in her town.”

Sending Your App To Community College Or Trade School
Applying to a community college or vocational school typically is a less-involved process, although it will still require some research. Oftentimes you can apply for free – but it really depends upon what your schooling interest is.

The websites US News and College Board offer additional information on the college app process and financial details, although there are many other resources as well. Check out the other articles in this section for more information.

Picking A Major

Students walking into school

When it comes to actually paying your tuition bill, you don’t want to end up with more expenses than you need.

This is one of the reasons why you may want to narrow down your major before reaching college campus, or at the very least, shortly after taking the gen ed requirements. Maybe you know someone who went to school and dropped out – those Student Loans aren’t forgiven.

Take your dollars further by taking only the classes you need. The less debt you have after graduation, the better. So how do you narrow down your choices and decide on a major? Let’s consider the following:

1. Think about what you really like to do, no matter how off-the-wall the activity may be. Do you like to hike? Head to your local National Park and take a nice long hike. Being in nature clears your thoughts and helps you focus on what your next step will be.

Or, if you love watching the Food Network, consider baking something for a group bake sale, and give the proceeds to charity. If you are more creatively motivated, consider singing in the choir or taking art classes.

Investing time in your hobbies may help you pare down what you really like to do, so when it’s time to pick your major, you may have a better idea where your talents lie.

2. Don’t be overly hard on yourself. If you need some time to make this important decision, that’s okay. Just focus on doing the best you can in your classes, and take part in some extracurricular activities so you can have some fun, too. The more variety, the better – but be sure to not overextend yourself and burn out. It’s easy to do!

3. Ask a counselor.  Most (if not all) accredited colleges, universities, and trade schools will have a counseling (or guidance) department that offers advice and testing to shed some light on which major you may want to pursue. Schedule a meeting; if you don’t jive with the first counselor you meet, don’t be afraid to talk to someone else. A variety of opinions will serve you well when making this important decision.

Most importantly, allow yourself to have some fun! Stressing too much leads to poor school performance, sleep difficulties and many other problems. Enjoy this time while you prepare to take the “real world” head-on.