Preparing for college during 11th and 12th grade can be so difficult for families. I’ve counseled many young folks in high school through the maze of applying for college. I’m sharing my college tips for them. See Part 1 here for tips on early decision, official transcripts, college entrance exams, and FAFSA. There are even more resources in the college planning series!
The college athletic foundations are doing their jobs. I can’t tell you how many students tell me their first-choice college based on a football or basketball team they love (occasionally baseball!). You need to be thinking about the career you would like to have and what college majors can get you to that career. Each university has a list of academic departments and the degrees they have for undergraduates.
For instance, my young friend M had a summer internship with a chef in a nice restaurant and is very interested in nutrition. So she wanted to major in food science. However, not many colleges have a food science department. So she had to brainstorm other related fields (Google can be helpful) and look for majors at other schools that could still lead to her possible food careers. Nutrition, food chemistry, public health, hospitality management, hotel administration, and hospitality & tourism all are possible majors for her interests.
Another young friend wanted to be a veterinarian, so she insisted that she had to go to a university with a veterinary college. However, vet school is a graduate program (as are medical school and law school.) She first needs to get an undergraduate degree that gives her a strong biology and physical science background so she can be competitive when it’s time to apply for vet school. Very few universities have vet schools. She has a lot more choices of colleges that have a life science degree.
Go to a university website. Look for a link called Academics (you might have to click Current Students first). Then look for a link to Undergraduate majors or degrees or you may have to go to each Department. A degree will be labeled with a B, such as BA (Bachelor of Arts), BS (Bachelor of Science), or BSBA (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.) OR you can try using the search box on the front page of the university site and type in “undergraduate majors.”
Other information you might need to make your decision: how many students do they have in that undergraduate major?; how many faculty are in the department?; do they give data on job placement of their graduates? I recommend that you apply to 3 to 5 schools. If you have an absolute favorite first choice, you can apply early decision or early action (deadlines are usually in October or November.)
College to future career
Once you graduate from college, you will need a job! Hiring managers for bigger companies look to hire students from “name” universities. Parents may wonder if they pay $43,000 per year versus $9,000 per year for tuition, will there be a good return on the investment in the student’s education? When hiring, business may look at the student’s internships, work experience, leadership experience, and the student’s college’s national rankings in discipline (what they majored in). Study abroad can help you stand out with companies looking for global outlook. You need to ask what companies have visited campus to do recruiting. “Talent acquisition” staff from industry may not ever visit students at smaller schools.
Sign up for FAFSA
Another college preparation step to take is to sign up for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) Most college students receive financial aid either as scholarships or loans. Even if you do not want to get a loan, most colleges require your family to sign up for FAFSA to be automatically considered for need-based or other scholarships. I recommend completing this in January of senior year if possible.
Colleges vary widely on costs. Usually a community college or trade school will cost less than a state university. A state university will cost less than a private or out-of-state university. Make a spreadsheet or chart to find the cost of the colleges you like. The answers might help you narrow down where you apply.
You can use this printable to help you with this analysis.
Go to each university web site and search for “tuition” or “financial” or “expenses”. This information may be in the Admissions section of the site or Financial Aid or Cashiers office. Costs will include: tuition (are you in-state or out-of-state?); fees; books (the national average is $1200/year!); supplies (laptop, dorm outfitting, school supplies); housing (residence hall or apartment?); food (many colleges require freshmen to purchase a dining hall meal plan); transportation (getting around college town and transportation home for holidays – will you need plane tickets?); and personal money (clothing, entertainment, drug store). Double check if the numbers are per semester (you’ll have to multiply by 2) or annual.
Do this for each university you are considering and compare the totals. You can save with: an in-state school; a school close to home (no plane tickets); living at home. Now it’s time to have a serious discussion with your family. If money is tight, some of my students have benefitted from including the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in the money conversation. Be sure to go to the US Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator to find your schools and calculate how much other students like you actually pay for college.
Once accepted, many students have to take a student loan to pay for college. Be cautious in borrowing. A good rule of thumb is to estimate what your salary might be in your chosen career and don’t borrow more than that amount. For example, an aerospace engineer might make $100,000 or more per year while a first year public school teacher in NC might make $35,000 or less.
Hopefully, you will qualify for scholarships, which do not have to be paid back. First, look at your university’s financial aid website. They will list scholarship opportunities that are unique for your school. Some of the big ones require you to be nominated by your high school during your senior year. [For example, in North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill has the Morehead Scholars and NC State has the Park and Goodnight Scholars.]
You may also find that there are scholarship possibilities depending on your major, your hometown, or your parent’s employer. I know not everyone can go to schools like MIT, Stanford, or Harvard. But many students who have the abilities to get accepted receive generous scholarship packages and pay affordable amounts to attend.
Think about the scholarship search as though it is your job. You need to spend quality time working on this during your senior year. Search online, but also check with your guidance counselor for possibilities. You may need to achieve several small scholarships to get the money you need for college.
- Scholarship search from Unigo
- Scholarships for printing or graphics program
- Scholarships from Geneseo Migrant Center
- Search for scholarships at Outside Scholarships
- Scholarship search from Fastweb
- 30 unusual scholarships from Mental Floss
- College scholarship search from Her Campus
- My College Dollars from Get Schooled customizes scholarship search
- Scholarships from Society of Women Engineers
- Finding scholarships from Sarah Fuller
Do you have a child in middle school (ages 11-13)? Here’s Part 3 for middle school preparing for college! Here’s the college preparation series landing page. I’ll be looking for questions in the comments below or contact me at lisa[at]thecasabouquet[dot]com.
- The Economic guide to picking a college major from 538
- Explore careers and majors with Big Future from the College Board
- Occupational Outlook Handbook from US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- SALT offers financial planning for students
- What every mom needs to know about paying for college from Living Well Spending Less
- Employment projections including annual wage from US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- College Salary Report from Pay Scale
- Ranking of colleges by best value from SmartAsset.com
- Navigating college admissions from My Family Thyme
- Game apps to help teach preparing for college from Edutopia
- Get Schooled, a college planning website for kids
- Net Price Calculator from the US Department of Education
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from the US Department of Education
- 529 plan info from Saving for College
- How to pay for college from CNBC College Game Plan
- Student loans are not free money from Save to Splurge
- Scholarship selection process from Femme Frugality