Going to college is now more common than it used to be a few decades ago. This is especially true nowadays, when the number of higher education institutions has increased drastically – almost every larger town worldwide now has at least one college or university. Picking a good college is as simple and as difficult as finding relevant information on a Google search. You need to know where and who to ask, which reviews are certified and which ones are plain (self-)publicity and – most importantly – which one you can afford (this includes scholarships, if you are eligible, of course).
So what should you do? Choosing one college over another can greatly affect your whole life – so you’d better make a good choice! In all respects, this is probably your first really grown-up decision, or it should be, anyway. There are a few steps you should follow to be able to make it in the real world.
*First you should talk to somebody experienced who knows how the business works, as well as with people who have already gone through this stage of life. Like elder siblings – even your parents! (your teenage years are almost over, you should stop being a rebel and listen to the ones who have been in this world a little longer than you!) -, friends, etc. For a better grasp of college life and admission you should also talk to somebody who is up to date with every single detail – like your school counselor (if your school has one), or a (favorite) teacher who is willing to help you honestly who is – most importantly – unbiased and concerned over your own good. Questions you should ask: What do I like to do? What skills do I have? In which field do I feel most at home? What is my current school situation (grades, honors, extracurricular activities, social implication or sports you practice)? What exams do I need to take (in the US you should probably ace your SATs, in Europe your Baccalaureate, in Great Britain your Cambridge, if you want to go to a foreign country you may need to take a language exam for that specific language: Cambridge again, Shiken, EW56Bhttp://www.ciep.fr/en/delfdalf/index.phpWH6PDexams EW56Bhttp://www.google.ro/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=language+tests+for+college+admission#sclient=psy&hl=en&source=hp&q=%22language+tests%22+for+college+admission&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=2c64b72d8aaca2e6&biw=1366&bih=621WH6PDyou pick the best college for you (like EW56Bhttp://collegeboard.com/WH6PDUK for the United Kingdom, Education for the rest of Europe, Universities and Colleges for Canada, or Universities for a worldwide search for best colleges and universities). Of course, if your school is already connected to the higher education network, your search will be easier and safer. The best way for you to make sure you go to a legit and well-ranked university is either further research or talking to somebody who is in thee system or at least aware of how things work and who’s who in the college and university world. At this point, if you already picked a (starting) subject, you can search for specialized colleges or for the college who has the best reputation in the field. Don’t forget to check the prices and possible scholarships given by each college. Consider the fact that, besides the tuition, you also need to pay for accommodation (even if you don’t live on campus, you may still need to pay some sort of rent – unless you go to college in your hometown, which may not be the best way to enjoy college life, but is sure is cheaper), food, books, supplies, leisure, and other things you may or may not need during your college life. Therefore, also consider the location and prices around your college: large towns are generally more expensive, but have more opportunities, while small towns and villages may be cheaper, but you may not find everything you need in your neighborhood. You should have at least 20 choices at this point (not too many, but enough to be sure you will surely be accepted by one or two). Right now you can ask yourself: “What do I really like to do, or what am I good at if I don’t know what to do?” (Remember, that, especially in the US college system, you have at least two years to decide what you want to do, and until that, you should concentrate on getting good grades, therefore choose classes that can help you with that!), “How much money can I spend per total for my studies?” (Don’t forget to add extra expenses to your tuition when you calculate!), “Where do I want to study?” (This question is closely connected to the one related to money, you can rephrase both as “Where can I afford to study?”.). You should start this step at least a year before the actual application – you can always update your info if you have the basics!
*Now that you’ve picked favorites, start seeing what they’re actually about. If you can afford it, visit the campus, ask for a prospectus, ask students and alumni, read, listen, learn about what they offer, their national and international rank and reputation, etc. At this point, you can already eliminate the ones that are not compatible with you. You should have up to 5-10 choices now. Ask yourself: “Of these colleges, which one do I like?”, “Which college gives me what I need?”, “Which of these colleges can give me what I need and I can afford to pay for my life here?”, “What is my future if I enroll and graduate from this college?”. At this point, if you need it, you can also start searching for extra scholarships – the way you started searching for colleges during the first phase. You can also think about who can write competitive reference or recommendation letters for you: teachers, coaches, official acquaintances, employers, or anybody who can provide positive information about your academic or professional skills and experience. These things should be done about six months before the actual application, and shouldn’t last too long.
*You have picked your favorites and now you have to prepare your applications. Carefully consider what they ask, except for the form – which is pretty complex itself! You might need to create a CV or a resume, a cover letter, to give a language or skill test (or audition!) – you may need time to prepare for these, so don’t start this step two days before the deadline. Most Western universities might also ask for an essay or personal statement too, so be sure to prepare a competitive one and have it proofread by several persons, yourself included. If you want to study in a foreign country check for their special International Student requirements – they usually ask for extra taxes as well!, including language tests, visa, resident card, with the university and the country’s embassy or council in your town or country. You can also ask other co-nationals who have traveled, worked and studied in that country – or even at that university. Some extra insight is always useful! This step should closely follow (perhaps even a few weeks’ only distance) the one above. You should ask yourself: “What are the details of my application?”, “Do I have all the required materials or do I need to provide/produce/request more?”, “What do I know about the place I’m gonna study in?”.
*From this point on, you’re in the realm of formalities and actual applications. Contact the Admissions office of your college of choice – if any and inquire about what you need to provide, deadlines and when you can expect an answer – most information is on the university’s website, but it’s always good to ask about something you are not sure about. You can apply online or by snail mail – online is faster, but be sure to have printed copies of your application, as they may require them on a later stage of your application. Carefully follow the steps and, if the application doesn’t give you a checklist, create one for each application and make sure everything is correct and present. Send the applications and hope for the best! You should ask yourself: “What do I need to do, write and provide?”, “Is all text correct and devoid of typos or grammar mistakes?”, “If I needed translations, are they correct and certified?”, “Do I have the best scores possible for me, or do I have to take the required tests again?”.
*Right now you can wait for answers. From this point on you should only consider the ones that accepted you and forget about the ones that said “no.” See which said “yes,” and consider all aspects related to each one and go for the one that suits you best and you’re convinced it can be the start of a good+ professional future. After you have eliminated the extra candidates and have a winner, start preparing for any technicality, formality or other type of thing you need to solve before and after you arrive to your new home for 3-4 or more years. If you’re travelling to another country, use your knowledge gained before and get any paper or visa you may need to travel, study and live legally in your new country of residence. You should ask yourself: “Is everything okay and ready for me to leave and start a new life?”, “What do I need to pack?”, “What options do I have for lodging and roommates?” “Do I need to register for classes already or can I do that there?”, “If everything is alright, when can/should I leave?”.
From this point on, the ball is in your court and make the best of your college life so that you can have a bright future! Good luck!