The college application process can feel like a task of overwhelming proportion. With so many different schools, and so many different factors to consider, where does one even begin?
Prospective students often get buried under piles of pamphlets — pretty pictures of verdant quads, students and professors laughing over textbooks — with little information to determine if the school is right for them.
This is the first bit of advice: don’t choose a school based on their brochure.
Thick paper and slick graphic design only indicates how much the school paid for their marketing materials, and you want your tuition dollars to be better spent — unless of course you want to study graphic design.
Which leads us to the next piece of perspective to consider: start with the end in mind.
Within the all-consuming rigmarole of classes, friends and extracurriculars that is the life of high school upperclassmen, it can be challenging to zoom out and get a clear view of the big picture. How can anyone know what their life will be like 5 years from now, much less 5 months?
It is okay to be unsure. Very few people ever have a clear plan all laid out. Nonetheless, decisions must be made with incomplete information, and educated guessing is a fundamental life skill that everyone is advised to cultivate.
To begin with the end in mind requires a combination of imagination and practical planning that begins with your high school career. Choose your classes in high school based on what you think you may want to be when you grow up. Get a feel for what intersets you. Likewise, long before you make a final decision on what college you want to attend, you’ll want to do your absolute best on standardized entrace exams such as the SAT or ACT. High SAT and ACT scores not only help get you in the door. Great grades in high school and on your standardized tests help you qualify for scholarships that will help take you where you need to go to get that degree of choice! Once you’re there, you have more practical choices you’ll need to make. For example: don’t apply to technical schools if you want to be a poet. Likewise, don’t apply to an intimate liberal arts school if you want to be an engineer and tailgate at nationally televised sporting events.
In life, we have choices within choices. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut or a fireman or the President of the United States, but everyone gets to be someone.
Based on who you are so far, imagine the person you’d most like to become.
Paint a detailed picture of this person in your mind, and then fill in the background. Are you living at home or in another state? Are there mountains or ocean nearby? What color is your school hoodie?
Having engaged your imagination to create a list of schools that meet your highest criteria, it’s time to get practical. The admissions process is a crapshoot, but assuming you can get accepted, the next most practical concern is how to afford the whole adventure.
Knowing there are innumerable ways to reduce the cost of college, do not eliminate any school from your list based solely on the list price. For example, you may have your heart set on a school far from home, only to become disheartened when you see the cost for out-of-state students.
But don’t lose hope yet—in many circumstances it is possible to qualify for in-state tuition, saving you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of four years.
Given the amount of money at stake, most schools create a complex set of ever-changing bureaucratic hurdles for students to jump over before qualifying as in-state residents. The stacks of paperwork and harsh penalties for impropriety are often enough to scare students away from even trying. That being said, if you are sincere in your desire to reside in the state where you attend school, then you have nothing to fear.
Part of your practical research during the application process might include a call to In-State Angels. They are an organization that helps students around the country qualify for and maintain in-state status as fast as is legally possible. They work with approximately 150 different schools to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
If you’ve already generated a list of schools, check to determine the viability of qualifying for in-state at each institution. If you haven’t even started yet but know you want to get out of town, it might be wise to consult their list of schools and use those as a jumping off point, knowing you’ll have professional assistance available so when it comes time to register for classes, you can do so as a resident of that state.
The years spent earning a college degree generally result in some of the most rapid personal growth a person will ever experience. Don’t let something so fickle and flimsy as money play too big a role in shaping this vital period of your life. Imagine your greatest potential self, then work backwards to build the framework that will get you there. Best of luck!
This is a guest blog written by David McConaghay. David is a writer and professional enthusiast based in Boulder, Colorado. He is passionate about health, wellness and social justice. His articles have been featured by Huffington Post, GaiamTV and Elephant Journal. He supports In-State Angels based on his passionate belief that everyone deserves affordable access to higher education. You are invited to follow him on Twitter @DaveTelf.
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