The perfect college fit

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A high school student’s guide to selecting the right college

The United States has more than 4,000 colleges and universities, including everything from two-year community colleges to huge state universities, small private liberal arts colleges, and elite private universities.

How can you possibly find the one that is right for you?

In truth, there isn’t any one school that will fit you. You probably could be happy and successful at several schools. Nevertheless, you must make a choice. So how do you do it?

First, start early. Your parents, your counselors, maybe even your friends will tell you college can be the most important four years of your life. Deciding where you want to go is something you need to take seriously and not decide on the spur of the moment.

Make time for research

It’s a good idea to start exploring colleges in your junior year of high school, if not sooner, and to apply to schools early in your senior year.

Begin by considering which is more important to you – the programs offered or the type of institution. Some students know exactly what they want to study, and search for schools that have the leading programs in their field. Others choose the type of college they want – large or small, urban or rural, private or public  then explore those.

Don’t overlook community colleges, such as Tidewater Community College. Affordable tuition, excellent faculty and easy transfer options make community college the perfect start for students who plan to earn four-year degrees. Two years at a community college can shave thousands of dollars from your tuition bills, limit the need for loans, and boost your GPA, allowing you to transfer to your dream school.

You really can’t get the feel of a college from a brochure. Go on campus. Have lunch in a student cafeteria. Walk through classroom buildings.

Get ready to apply

By this time, you should have identified several schools that meet your criteria. Narrow this list down to ones you want to investigate in depth. Create your own college calendar so you can keep track of when applications are due, when you sent your application in, and when admission decisions are made.

Contact the institutions directly and ask for more materials. Watch how quickly they respond to your request to see how they treat prospective students.

Then plan some site visits. You really can’t get the feel of a place and figure out if you will fit in from a brochure or CD. Go on campus. Attend an open house. Talk with people in the Admissions Office. Have lunch in a student cafeteria. Walk through classroom buildings.

You will find you respond differently to different places, and this is good. It helps you make the decision of where to actually apply. Don’t ignore your instincts. Include them as one more piece of information. “Students should also think about how prepared they are to leave home,” said Karen Campbell, TCC associate vice president for recruitment, admission and enrollment.

Application time

Filling out an application is not fun. It is a challenge that you may repeat several times. Almost 300 colleges accept the Common Application, and that should make the process easier. Seventy percent of students apply to three or more colleges, according to the Higher Education Research Institute. “Also remember that you’ll be paying application fees of $50 or more to most institutions,” Campbell said.

Applying to TCC is free, and you’ll have the option of taking summer classes even if you decide to enroll at another college. That could save you time – and money!

After you have done your work, and submitted your applications, the waiting begins. Keep an open mind and consider that 84 percent of all colleges accept more than 50 percent of the students who apply, according to statistics from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

If your dream school says “no thanks,” it may feel like a blow. It doesn’t have to be. After two years of community college, your dream school may again be in reach. Campbell said she spoke recently to a TCC student who had been distressed at not getting into the school she wanted, “but she ended up being happy and involved in the TCC community.” If you earn an Associate of Science in General Studies and meet certain academic qualifications, you are guaranteed admission to any public college or university in Virginia.

The 10 worst reasons for choosing a college

1.    My girlfriend/boyfriend is going there.
2.    Most of my friends are going there.
3.    My guidance counselor (or my computer) told me it was the right school for me.
4.    It’s a party school.
5.    It accepted me, and I want to stop applying.
6.    It’s the only school I know about.
7.    My parents went there.
8.    It looks cool in the virtual tour/guidebook.
9.    It’s as far away from home as I can get.
10.    It’s got all this prestige.

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