When fall rolls around, seniors will be starting the last leg of your high school career, but you may not know what your academic future holds. It’s challenging to pick the right colleges and universities to apply to when you’re unsure how to start your higher education journey. Here’s a quick and easy guide to learn which things are most important to consider before applying to college—hopefully leading to a much easier experience.
1. Potential career options
People go to college to prepare for their dream careers. So you have to ask yourself, how do you want to earn a living in the future? There are a few ways to narrow down your major and career options, including:
- Listing your favorite hobbies
- Considering your strongest skills
- Researching the income potential for different jobs
Give yourself time to sort through these factors. Your various lists and research will bring you to a handful of career possibilities that you can keep in mind when applying to college and choosing a major that could help pave the way to that career path.
2. Your long-term goals
Long-term goals can be viewed as milestones you set to achieve not in a few weeks or months but in a couple of years or more. As such, your potential college and future career should also serve your long-term goals. You wouldn’t feel fulfilled if you wanted to defend people in courtrooms but became an office manager. Think about your priorities and what you want to do in life to align your goals with a college that can lead you to a suitable career.
3. Your high school résumé
Résumés are crucial for high school students these days. Colleges often require them of college applicants because they expand on a person’s character beyond a personal essay. And don’t worry—you don’t need a part-time job or an employment history to create a high school résumé. Instead, your résumé should showcase your recent accomplishments and extracurricular activities so college admission boards can get to know you better. Include essential information about yourself such as:
- High school stats like graduation date, GPA, and SAT or ACT scores
- Community service experience
- Academic awards, honors, or recognitions
- Organizations and leadership positions
You should also include special skills and hobbies related to your future college experience or career. Mentioning that you create community clubs with your friends, are fluent in multiple languages, or know how to code will impress admission officers.
4. SAT/ACT test-taking strategies
Many universities and colleges require applicants to have SAT or ACT scores within a specific range. You may achieve high scores after your first attempt, but students often take standardized tests more than once. Get your best scores possible by reviewing helpful strategies like starting with familiar questions and leaving answers blank if unanswered questions don’t count against you. You won’t have to spend extra time or money retaking the test if you walk into the room prepared with the best test-taking strategies.
5. Potential schools and degree options
There’s a world of colleges and universities that could be your future academic home, but that doesn’t mean all of them are the right fit for you. Make a list of schools with degrees that interest you or could help you start your desired career. Picking your preferred program options will make it easier to find the right school. But also remember choosing a college is more than just the name on your degree certificate. Where you go to school will also touch numerous aspects of your life, from your academics and learning style to your social interactions and beyond.
6. Extracurricular activity opportunities
Everyone deserves to (and should!) have fun in college, so check potential universities for a list of their available extracurricular activities. There are many types of clubs and organizations to choose from, like sports teams, educational clubs, volunteer opportunities, and hobby groups. You’ll make friends and feel at home on campus more quickly by bonding over your favorite activities, so make sure your colleges of interest also have activities of interest.
7. Distance from home
Every high school student should consider how comfortable they’d be if they moved a few hours away from their family—or maybe even across the country. When it comes to college, ask yourself: How far is too far for me? How close do I want to stay to my hometown? A little bit of distance from home will help you develop your sense of independence. College students who go further from home tend to develop life skills much quicker as they learn to rely on themselves more than on their parents, guardians, or other loved ones.
8. University boarding options
Another question to ask: Do you want the traditional dorm room experience with a roommate, or is dorm life not for you? You might wish to have an on-campus apartment or off-campus housing if you have a car and desire even more independence. Or if you’re comfortable with your level of independence and want to save some money, you may consider living at home and commuting to school. Considering your housing preferences also narrows down your college options because campuses have different living arrangements, prices, and levels of ease with transportation, both on campus and locally.
9. College and university size
Smaller classes are great if you do better academically when working alongside your teachers and engaging in small group discussions. Bigger, lecture-style courses are better for students who want more independence or learn better through listening and reviewing their own notes later. Think about the class sizes in courses where you’ve excelled in high school to determine the best college size for your future success. Understanding the type of college that will work best for you is easier when you understand your learning style.
10. Financial options
Once you have a list of schools in mind you want to apply to, find out how expensive it may be and what kind of scholarships or grants they offer. You should list the cost of things like:
- On-campus housing
- Meal plans
- Personal expenses
Other miscellaneous costs like on-campus parking and student fees will also affect your financial situation. Calculating how much you’ll need to pay for your preferred college experience and how much aid those schools are willing to offer you will affect where you apply and ultimately enroll.
Now that you have a good list of things to consider before applying to college, start researching your colleges and universities of interest. Gathering as much information as possible will help you make the best decision when it’s time to start completing and sending in your applications.
When you’re ready to really dive into the process, use The CollegeXpress Ultimate Guide to the College Search to make it as easy and informed as possible.