Understanding College Speak


Words, phrases, and what to know when embarking upon the "College Game."

The college admission process in itself can be scary and daunting. It is like the first day of high school—all of those new people, words, phrases, buildings, foods, and experiences. To make the process a bit easier and less stressful, here is a guide to the intricacies of College Speak 101.

Private vs. Public?

Typically a private school will be a smaller size than a public school, and sometimes a private school has a religious affiliation to it. However, the main difference is how the two schools are funded. Public schools receive the majority of their money from the state, while private schools receive most of their money through donations, endowments, etc. A private school will also cost more if you’re just looking at numbers. Keep in mind, though, that private schools can usually provide you more aid (merit and need-based) than public schools, so the cost is often about the same.

Two-year vs. Four-year?

A two-year college usually enables you to get your general education requirements done before entering a four-year school. Completing a two-year school’s academic plan typically leads you to an associate degree. At a four-year school, you can complete your general education requirements as well as your specific major/program requirements at the same time. In order to decide which type of school is the best for you, consider the following. First, visit both! Then look at the four-year university’s costs, and inquire about the difference between transfer and first-year student aid at four-year schools you’re considering. You also need to decide what type of residential experience you’re looking for (do you want to live at home, in an apartment, or in a residence hall?). Think about location; do you want to stay close to home or venture father away? There’s a lot to be mindful of—make sure to weigh all of your options.

Community College vs. Technical/Trade School?

You really do have a lot of choices when considering how you would like to further your education. Maybe you want to enter the workforce as soon as possible, but still want some advanced training to have a leg up on the competition. A community college is going to give you a well-rounded liberal arts background so that you’re prepared to enter a four-year school and (for the most part) start your major classes. A technical or trade school could be a commitment from three months to two years; the classes you take and the skills you learn there are meant to directly prepare you to enter the workforce as soon as you’re done. Examples of professions that utilize trade schools would be beauticians, chefs, electricians, or plumbers. There are lots of options here—the important part is that you further your education!

ACT vs. SAT?

Most schools across the country require some type of standardized test score from you. The ACT and SAT are ways for colleges to have a piece of information about you that can be compared “apples to apples” with other students. It’s typically recommended that you take both tests spring of your junior year, and whatever test you do better on, take that one again early fall of your senior year. The sections on the ACT are English, Math, Science, Reading, and Writing (optional). Scores range between 1-36. The sections on the SAT are Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Scores range between 600-2400. You can get an idea of how well you’ll do on these tests by taking practice exams; take the PLAN for the ACT and the PSAT for the SAT. Know your scores when going to visit a college campus.

Who is this admission counselor person?

At every school you apply to, there are people whose sole job is to work with you and your family throughout the college search and decision processes. Their title may vary by school, but you will be assigned a counselor based on your major, your last name, or where you’re from. So, why should you learn to love these people? Well, they are the men and women who review your application and help decide whether or not to admit you! You might see them at your high school or area college fair, you can meet with them when you visit a campus, and they’re your “information desk” for the particular college they represent.

What types of visits can you make on a college campus?

This answer will vary by college. Make sure you check the “visit” section of a college’s admission website. Typical visits include:

Visit Day/Open House: This is usually a half- or full-day event on a campus. There will be a lot of students and families in attendance. Usually the students are juniors or seniors in high school, although sophomore year isn’t too early to start! Most of the time, you have opportunities to go to different sessions on some of the following topics: admission, financial aid/financing your education, academic majors, athletic opportunities, studying abroad, honors work, and student life. Typically you get the chance to go on a campus tour led by a current student, as well as eat some cafeteria food.

Individual Visit: The campus won’t be so busy with this type of visit. It also gives you more flexibility within your schedule—simply call, e-mail, or visit the admission office’s website to set up a time and date. You will usually get to meet with an admission counselor (either individually or in a small group setting), get a campus tour, and perhaps set up one or two appointments of your choosing. Some schools will set up appointments for you while others will give you the resources to set up your own. For example, maybe you’d like to speak with a professor in your intended major or with a coach of a particular sport. And don’t forget to eat a meal on campus!

Overnight Visit: Some schools offer you the opportunity to spend the night on campus. They will set you up with a student host who will show you around campus in the evening and let you stay with him/her. The next day, you will typically have something similar to the individual visit; you can meet with an admission counselor, sit in on a class, and speak to a professor.

College Fairs/High School Visits: Don’t forget that sometimes the school comes to you! Oftentimes, admission representatives will be at your area college fair or come to your high school. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the school and make a personal connection in your own backyard.

Hopefully this lesson in College Speak 101 helps you as you start your college search journey! Remember that every school will do things a little differently, but in the end, they’re all there to help you make the right decision for yourself. Best of luck!

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