So many of my daughter’s friends chose a college based on all the wrong reasons: a boyfriend was going there; a parent was an alum; it was close to home; it had a prestigious name; the football team was rated; or they simply waited until the last minute and were out of options.
Many times, students and parents just let the college decision happen. They automatically assume that once they decide to go to college, they will be able to get in somewhere, even if it’s a local community college. But you should take charge of your college search and find a place where you can get a college education that is a good fit for you academically, socially and financially.
Here are three ways you can take charge of your college search:
1. Establish relationships.
Start early establishing those relationships that will help you in the college admissions process. You will need recommendation letters from teachers, counselors and even business professionals. You should also make contact with admissions and financial aid personnel at the colleges you are considering. These relationships will demonstrate your interest and keep your name at the forefront of their minds when they receive your application.
You should also establish relationships on social media with the colleges you are interested in attending. By doing this you can ask questions, gather information, chat with current students, and express interest in the college as well. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
2. Choose to choose.
Don’t let the college decision just happen. Make a decision to choose the colleges. At the beginning of the process, create two lists. The first list should be populated with your “must haves.” What is most important to you when choosing a college? The second list should have your college choices: colleges that match your “must haves.”
Take control of the process from researching, to touring campuses, to applying, to final acceptance. When the financial aid awards arrive, it’s up to you to evaluate your financial aid awards and determine the best value. You don’t want your college education to be an “impulse” buy.
3. Be wise about funding.
Part of taking charge of the process, is taking charge of the funding. Know what your budget is and what you are willing to spend. Don’t bury yourself in college debt. Look at the repayment calculators and evaluate your earning potential upon graduation. Don’t take the “I’ll-think-about-that-when-I-graduate” approach. If you take out too much debt, you won’t be able to repay. Most starting salaries for college graduates are small. Take that into consideration when you opt to use student loans to pay for college.
Most importantly, fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This one form qualifies you for government grants and loans, state grants, and school aid like grants and merit scholarships. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you will be missing out on all this money. Colleges won’t consider you for aid if you haven’t completed the FAFSA. The grants and scholarships will greatly reduce the amount you have to borrow and it will never have to be repaid.
If you follow these simple suggestions, you will be the one in charge of your college search. Don’t leave the process to fate, luck or romance. It’s your future. It’s your decision. It’s your education.