The vast majority of students do not know with any certainty what they will study in college. Research shows that 90% of all college graduates do not major in the field of study they intended to pursue upon entry. Consequently, you should not feel as though you must determine your major now. In fact, many educators point to the opportunity to study in many areas and explore one’s interests as the primary value of an undergraduate college education. Despite this uncertainty regarding one’s course of study, it is common to have strong interests in a general area. For instance, a student may not know her specific field but be relatively sure that she will study a science. In this case it is important to evaluate a college’s facilities and offerings in the sciences. Be aware also that most colleges have majors in subjects never before offered to you in high school. Some popular majors, such as Political Science and Psychology may just have been touched upon in other courses. Others, such as Sports Medicine or Landscape Architecture, may be totally new. Take time to explore your options and be realistic about your talents. For instance, if you have never done well in math, engineering is not a good choice, even if the job future in that field looks bright. Also, recognize that it is not necessary to major in any one field to move on to professional graduate schools. Medical schools will admit English and arts majors. Biochem majors can go to law school. Be sure to pursue a course of study that is of genuine interest to you, not just one you think might lead to a good career.
SUPPORT FOR LEARNING CHALLENGES
Students with a learning difference may want to factor this into the college search. You should research the services available at the colleges that interest you (academic service offices, levels/types of accommodations, etc.), you will find strong programs at most schools. Some students may want to consider attesting to their disability in their admission application materials if they feel the disability has had an impact on their high school academic career. This is a highly individualized decision, and your counselor can help you navigate this and other related issues. The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder also is an excellent resource available in bookstores.
In some ways size can be closely related to academic characteristics. Bigger universities often offer a wide range of potential fields of study and faculty who are leaders in their fields. At the same time, one may find larger classes geared solely toward a lecture format, a predominance of graduate teaching assistants and faculty who are less inclined to work individually with students. You will hear a number of generalizations regarding school size. It is important to remember that there are some valid reasons for these generalizations and there are exceptions to each of these stereotypes. The issue for you is to consider how you have found your best success up to this point. Recognize also that size may play a very important role in other non- academic areas. A big university may provide the diversity you seek in a student body. On the other hand, a small campus may better allow you to participate in activities or sports.
One of the areas in which students have the most choice is in location. There are more than 3,000 four-year colleges and universities across the country. Our nation has the most diverse and complete system of higher education in the world, envied by people around the globe. Do you want to be far away or close to home, or somewhere in the middle? What type of climate do you prefer?
You will be living, working, eating on your college campus for four years. It’s important to think about how you will like LIVING at your school. In addition to considering the area of the country you might look to for college, you also should consider the environment of the college. City, suburbs, or rural? Mountains nearby or city life (or both)? An avid outdoors person would naturally prefer the mountains of Colorado to the city setting of Los Angeles. Students who are happy in their surroundings usually have correspondingly positive academic experiences.
Given the high cost of education today, this is an area that can’t be ignored. Public institutions will usually be less expensive than private but even within either the public or private ranks, there can be tremendous variance in price. Pay careful attention, though, to the full cost of attending any school. Lower tuition may be offset by high living costs, longer periods before graduation or crowded classes. Conversely, expensive private colleges often have substantial financial aid given both on a need and merit basis. The most important point is not to base everything on the “sticker” price of a school. Investigate any available aid, and learn what the added benefits of the higher cost institutions are, if any. For some, the difference may be well worth the expense. Others may be served equally well at a lower-cost option. An informed choice is the goal in this area. Research on cost and available scholarship aid is best started early and done in conjunction with the rest of admission process. Please see section on Financial Aid in this Handbook for more detailed information.
SPECIAL TALENTS IN ARTS AND ATHLETICS
Are you a student of the performing or visual arts? If so, research which places and programs most interest you in that regard. Many students have developed their artistic talents to such a high degree that they are able to prepare portfolios, CD’s, or videos of their work to include as a part of their application. Some colleges will evaluate such materials within the admission office; others will pass the materials along to the appropriate department (i.e. art, music, drama, and writing). Depending on the level of your achievement, your “special talent” may well make a difference in your admission process at a school where you may otherwise be a borderline applicant. In all cases, you must take care that the materials you send are accepted by the admission office (some schools will not accept them or have a process separate from the admission office). Your materials should be well-identified with your name and social security number, and as professionally presented as possible. Members of the EPS Arts Department will happily consult with you as you consider and prepare any work of this sort. Many selective music and drama programs, and schools of the arts, require that applicants audition or present a portfolio for their limited spots. This is usually an indication of the competitiveness and intensity of the program. In such cases, the audition/portfolio can often be the deciding factor in the admission process. Students should consult with their music/drama/art teachers for information on topics such as national “portfolio days” and preparing for auditions. In all cases, you should plan on meeting well in advance with your arts teachers for guidance. The process of preparing for an audition or developing a portfolio can take several months, not just a few weeks, and it is important to honor your teachers’ time and effort as much as their expertise.
Are you interested in competing in athletics at the college level? If so, it is wise to engage in an open and frank dialog now with your coaches to determine programs that might best fit your skills. A big part of this is establishing initial contact and updating coaches on significant developments in your performance while in-season. We will work in conjunction with you and your EPS Athletics coaches to develop your prospective college list. This process is lengthy and involved—similar to our comments above regarding students in the arts, it is important for you to honor your coaches’ time and effort as well as their expertise by communicating with them early and often. Once you apply to a particular school it is also a good idea to connect with college coaches to reaffirm your interest in being part of and contributing to their program.
QUESTIONS TO HELP EVALUATE YOUR COLLEGE PREFERENCES
- Why are you going to college? What do you want from your education?
- How do you want to grow and change in the next few years? What kind of environment would stimulate or inhibit the growth you would like to see?
- What satisfactions and frustrations do you expect to encounter in college? What are you looking forward to? What worries you most? What do you hope to gain from college? Is there one overriding consideration shaping your choice of college?
- Which interests do you want to pursue in college? Do your interests require any special facilities, programs, or opportunities? Consider all your interests in terms of fields of study, activities, community and cultural opportunities. Are you more interested in career preparation, technical training or general knowledge and skills of inquiry thinking?
- What degree of academic challenge is best for you? What balance of study, activities and social life suits you best? How interested are you in the substance of intellectual life: books, ideas, issues and discussion? Do you want an academic program where you must work and think hard or one where you can make respectable grades without knocking yourself out? How important is it to you to perform at the top of your class or would you be satisfied to be in the middle or bottom of your college class? How well do you respond to academic competition from others?
- How would you feel about going to a college where you were rarely told what to do? How much structure and direction do you need?
- How would you enjoy living in a different part of the country? How often do you want to be able to go home? What kind of change in your lifestyle and perspective might be exciting or distressing and overwhelming?
- What kinds of surroundings are essential to your wellbeing? Are there certain places, activities, countryside terrain, weather or pace of life that make you content? Do you prefer a fast-paced environment where something is happening most of the time, or an organized environment where you can join a wide variety of planned activities, or a more serene and relaxed environment where you can go your own way?