The big “C” word, where you hope to be getting much better grades than C’s! Colleges in the United States are older than American independence and were first started to train men to be clergy. In the 1800s, women sometimes went to college, mostly to learn upper-class cultural rites and to find husbands in an advanced finishing school atmosphere. Today there are over 1,800 college majors available to men and women alike across the United States, found across 5,300 colleges, which include both two-year and four-year schools.
Choosing a college is a little like shopping in general, because you are buying something, but unlike most purchases, like shoes, college is an investment, which means you are spending money to someday make more money back than the money you originally put in. Think of it like buying nice new shoes for a job interview. You spent the money on the shoes so that you get the job and get paid to work there. One day of work later, you could buy several new pairs of shoes from the money that you earned. When you buy the interview shoes, you want to buy the right shoes for you and the right shoes for the job. Also when shopping for a college, you want to attend the right college for you and the right college for the job you are seeking. Read on to find out what the right fit would be for you, and what the right college would be for your future employment!
1. Can you go to college for free? The best investment can sometimes be when something starts out as free! College scholarships are offered to all kinds of demographics, but usually having good grades is the best opportunity to potentially go to college for free. Maybe it isn’t your first choice school, but you could end up saving a lot of money, and it could look impressive to future employers, who will potentially have a greater chance of hiring you to make more money.
2. Is someone else paying for college? If someone else is paying for college, you could still look for scholarships, but you don’t necessarily need to go to a school just because they offer you a scholarship. Say you can go to your local community college for free, but you also get accepted to Harvard without a scholarship. Harvard is expensive, but a school with such rigorous coursework could impress certain professional fields more than a free ride at community college, but this is not always necessarily the case.
3. Are you going to pay for college, and will you have to take out loans? If you are paying for college, you want to make sure that you can get a job that will make enough money to offset your costs. How much does college cost? At a public university, it could cost $15,000 a year or more. That means, for one year of school, you will have to take out a $15,000 loan, which means you spent $15,000 and have a certain amount of time to pay it back. Over four years, that is $60,000 spent on school, without taking into account living expenses like a dorm room, on campus food, and books. If you make $30,000/year as say a gallery assistant after college, it would take two years to make back the four years of expenses for college without spending money on anything else. However, the cost of living as a gallery assistant is probably $28,000/year at least, so you might only have $2,000 left to pay back your loans. Then it would take 30 years to pay back your college expenses. If you live at home after graduation, it might take less time to pay back your college debt. At a private university like Harvard, it could cost over $40,000/year in tuition money, again without living and academic expenses. In other generations, people worked part-time jobs, and summer jobs, to pay their own way through college, but college tuition since then has skyrocketed, and wages and opportunities for work of this kind have plummeted. In fact, it’s likely now that a starting gallery assistant would not be 23 years old, but would be closer to 25, after a couple of years of experience at unpaid internships.
4. What kind of job would make you happy, and how much money will you need to make? If you have to pay money back for school, you’ll want to look for a higher paying job. Not that we all don’t like buying shoes, but in general, before you apply to college, you should think about what kind of job would make you happy! Happier than shoes! You might spend a lot of time at your job, maybe with only two weeks of vacation a year. Make sure it’s something that you’re good at, or at least would apply yourself to diligently and happily to make it work. Most importantly, look at job postings now to see what job titles are available and the salary that these jobs offer!
5. Will you go to graduate school? Graduate school, like a Master’s degree or a Doctorate, is one year, two years, or more of education and more expenses, but you could have an even higher paying job in the field sometimes.
6. Are you comfortable being close to home, or are you more adventurous? By the time you are applying for college, most people have done some traveling with their family. Going to college usually means traveling alone. Do you like traveling? Have you ever moved? Can you afford plane tickets? Are you willing to bring less with you to school? Would you rather be close to parents/siblings/pets? Are a lot of your friends not going to college or are going to community college in a way where if you don’t go too far, you could stay by your local friends?
7. Would you prefer a rural, suburban, or urban setting? Many of us have seen all three before applying to college. Do you like the smell of agriculture, the suburban car life, or the urban bustle? Rural areas are usually the quietest, but urban areas can have a lot of job opportunities in a close range, and suburban areas are often in between, usually with the possibility of easy city commute.
8. Would you prefer large or small class sizes? Some colleges have auditoriums with 50 to 100 students, and other colleges have classrooms the size of high school or even smaller. Some people insist that a small class size promotes better learning through encouraging greater participation, while other people insist that large class sizes promote better responsibility.
9. Do you want to live on campus or off campus? Some schools offer dorms where you can live in a camp-like setting with all of your new friends, but sometimes these living situations are not quiet enough for studying. You can always go to the library, however. On campus housing is an often convenient location that’s within walking distance to classes. Off campus life usually means that you have an apartment, but sometimes apartment buildings aren’t very quiet either!
10. Do you want to be in a fraternity or sorority, or maybe have no Greek life on campus? Fraternities and sororities are camp-like clubs where members live, eat, party, and study together. However, some people think that these clubs can be a little exclusive, and if half of the campus is in one, it means that you’re less likely to be friends with half of the campus.
11. Do you want to study abroad? Some colleges offer a program where you can get college credits at that school but learn in a different country, together with people who also attend your school back home.
12. What are your grades and test scores like, and what does the school typically accept? Schools often show their expectations for the sort of grades and test scores which would make an applicant one that they would accept, and the point is, if it’s a school with difficult coursework, they want to make sure that the students they accept have proven success with difficult coursework in high school. However, read on!
13. Can you transfer to your first choice school after a semester at another school to finish your degree at your first choice school? If your first choice school, say Harvard, rejects your application, you still might have an opportunity to attend! Do well at a community college, or another four-year school and then show Harvard how well you’ve been doing with a transfer student application.
14. What majors does the school offer? I mentioned that there are 1,800 college majors found in the United States, but these are not offered at all 5,300 schools! Once you know what kind of job you’d like and you’ve researched the majors that they prefer for the position, you can research which schools offer the major.
15. What classes does the school require? Some schools have required classes, like two years of a language, or four semesters. If you’re awful at learning languages or wish to spend the time studying something else, make sure to attend a school that does not have a language requirement.
16. Do I want to apply to the same school as a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend? In every movie about high school romances, the couple breaks up at the end of the summer, senior year. Why? Nobody knows! Just go to school together. Or in the same area. There are 34 colleges in Boston besides Harvard!
17. What kind of activities would I like to do at school to unwind, edify myself, and feel a sense of community? There’s not just Greek life on campuses! Harvard offers over 450 student organizations, including varsity water polo, ultimate frisbee club, debate team, over 20 dance companies, and public service clubs. Schools often list their sports and clubs on their websites. If you don’t want to directly participate, many of these sorts of clubs are the performing kind, so you could attend in the audience!
18. What kind of weather is right for me? Boston gets pretty cold and snowy in the winter, so if you don’t like wearing a winter coat for eight months of the year, Harvard might not be for you!
19. What did the college tour feel like? Old fashioned people always say that the best way to find out if a college is a good fit for you is to take a tour of the campus. Basically they hire students to learn everything about a college, and you and other prospective students walk around for miles, into buildings, sometimes into a dorm if they’re cool, and into the cafeteria, where all the students ignore you because they’re used to tours.
20. Is an online school right for you? Going to an online school often means lower tuition, because the school didn’t need to buy a campus and also reduced living expenses for you if you weren’t already going to live at home. Online schools require a lot of discipline, and perhaps less social life with your classmates, but often, and increasingly, people respect online degrees the same as in-person degrees. Will Harvard be online in the future? Harvard indeed had online learning during covid!
What will the future of education be? What will the future job market look like? Unlike shopping for interview shoes, when your interview is in three days, shopping for college is predicting being happy with your purchase in 50 years. So, if somebody tells you you shouldn’t go to a particular school, you can definitely respond, “Nobody knows.” Nobody knows, but you can plan on, no matter what, knowing so much more by attending college!