Preparing for college can easily be one of the most stressful, confusing, and mysterious things you have encountered in your academic career so far. There’s a ton you have to know, and it never seems like you ever get the “big picture.” Oftentimes, we wonder to ourselves, “How do I make sense of all this college jargon? Where do I even start?”
A great way to start researching is to talk to your school’s guidance counselor- it’s their job to help you succeed! You can also try attending a college fair. College fairs showcase a variety of colleges in one location. Once you have a specific college (or colleges) in mind, the first place to go is to that school’s Undergraduate Admissions webpage. Undergraduate Admissions websites contain lots of information about admissions, and will also provide you with contact information, in the case that you have questions about college admissions.
Also, be sure to check online for other resources you can use to help make the selection process easier. A useful website for exploring colleges is www.cappex.com. Cappex allows you to enter your academic interests and college preferences and sends you links to colleges that they think might be good matches for you. So before you ultimately choose where you want to go, make sure to check out the many different resources to help you make the best choice!
However, we may not know what the “best choice” is if we’re not sure about what we’re looking for from our college experience. One of the most important things you should consider is what you may be interested in majoring in. When researching colleges, check to see if the school you’re looking at offers the major you’re interested in. However, keep in mind that most college students change their major at least once or twice- keep yourself open to new opportunities!
College is about more than academics though. Each college has a unique personality that draws certain types of people to it. Some are known for their tough, but engaging professors; others are known for their fun-loving, easy-going students. What’s the best way to figure out if a certain college’s atmosphere is right for you? Try going on a college visit! A college visit is the perfect time to ask questions to admissions officers, students, and alumni volunteers.
Once you’ve discovered a couple of colleges that you can envision yourself at, you should consider cost. The very thought of the cost of a college education can make you (and your parents!) feel faint. However, given some extra research and some hard work, you shouldn’t fear, because there is a huge amount of financial aid available to students. Financial aid falls into two categories: need-based and merit-based.
Need-based aid is awarded to you because of your family’s financial circumstances. The amount your family can pay, based on your most recent tax returns, is called your family contribution. Colleges can meet a percentage of this with loans, grants, or work-study programs, or any combination of the above.
A grant is financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. Think of grants as a gift. However, many colleges use student loans for need-based aid. A student loan is basically money loaned to you to pay for your education that you must pay back. Work-study programs involve working on campus to finance your education. You might work in the bookstore or library, and earn wages that go directly to pay for your tuition.
The other category of financial aid is merit-based aid. These are scholarships awarded to the candidate that best fits the requirements. The Dr. Bob Hanson Scholarship, the Dustin Heavilon Memorial Scholarship, and the Dr. Tom D’Apolitio scholarship are examples of merit-based aid given by Tennessee TSA to high school seniors. Your guidance counselor can tell you about scholarships that you might be eligible for. Some scholarships require a certain GPA, standardized test scores, an essay, or a letter of recommendation, so be sure to check out the requirements for a scholarship to see if you qualify.
One especially popular scholarship in Tennessee is the HOPE Scholarship, sometimes referred to as the “lottery scholarship.” This scholarship is available for use at just about every college in Tennessee- even private ones.To learn more about the HOPE scholarship, visit http://www.tn.gov/collegepays/mon_college/hope_scholar.htm
Another popular scholarship is the PSAT, administered by the College Board, which is the same organization that produces the SAT. The PSAT is a standardized test that will help familiarize you with the standardized testing environment and the type of questions that you can expect to see on the SAT. In addition, this test will gauge your performance on standardized tests and will even show you how you stand, compared to your peers.
The PSAT may be taken at any point during your high school career, but is most important when taken in the 11th grade. The score you earn during your junior year may qualify you for scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Program. If you qualify as a semi-finalist, you must submit an application to become a finalist. This application process is not particularly selective, as approximately 94% of semifinalists become finalists. As a finalist, you can earn scholarships worth up to $2,500 from the program. In addition, many colleges automatically award National Merit Finalists with supplementary scholarship money.
Two other major standardized tests that you can take are the ACT and the SAT. The SAT is similar to the ACT, but there are a few major differences. The ACT tests the actual subject material you have learned during high school, whereas the SAT tests your reasoning skills. The SAT also penalizes test-takers for wrong answers, whereas the ACT does not.
These two tests are both incredibly important for your college career. However, the ACT is more commonly used in the Southern United States. In fact, in the state of Tennessee, every public school student is required to take the ACT at least once in order to graduate. Make sure you are well prepared for these tests since they are a vital part of your college application! You will probably want to take your standardized tests your junior year, or the fall semester of your senior year, because you will have to include your scores in your college applications.
We know that applying to colleges can be hectic and confusing, and we hope that this blog has helped to clarify the process of researching and exploring potential colleges. Hopefully, you’ll begin to think about what you want from your college experience, and what steps you can take to enable yourself to go to your dream college! In next month’s blog, we’ll cover how to actually apply to college, from filling out the application to writing essays. November’s blog will help you to use what you’ve learned through TSA to make your college life outstanding.
Jae-Young Son, State President