No single college is right for everyone. To make your decision, consider “college fit”: how well a school meets your academic, financial and social needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
- GPA and test scores required
- Programs and majors offered
- Cost and debt
- Graduation rates
- Job placement rates
- Graduates’ average salaries
- Size and location
- Extracurricular activities
- Student-to-faculty ratio
- Housing options
Research schools and rank them by college fit. Once you narrow down your list, you can approach college applications with a clear focus. Find more information here.
Sometimes your first college choice isn’t the right fit, or you might start your education at a two-year college with intentions to continue at a four-year school. For a smooth transfer, start planning as soon as possible.
Here are some tips:
- Keep your grades up. Continue to go to class and turn in assignments. The college where you transfer will want your most recent transcripts and might have a grade requirement.
- Select a new college. Determine what factors contributed to your decision to leave your current college, and take them into consideration when selecting a new college.
- Go on a campus visit. Your experiences on your current college campus might help you identify the benefits you want and need from a new college experience.
- Talk to advisors. Work with advisors at both your old and new campuses. Ask if your classes will transfer. To make certain, you can request that your prospective college review your transcripts before you apply. Also check into the student service organizations and activities on your new campus.
- Apply for admission. Check the admission requirements at the college where you intend to transfer. If you want to transfer course credits, you’ll need to submit your most recent transcript. Ask your admissions officer about placement exams, registering for classes and signing up for orientation.
- Secure your housing. If you plan to live on campus or in an apartment, you’ll need to get the process rolling as soon as possible so you have a place to live when classes begin.
- Apply for financial aid. You cannot simply transfer current financial aid to your new college. You’ll need to add your new college to your FAFSA to receive a new financial aid package. You also should notify your current financial aid office of your plans to transfer. Some types of financial aid cannot be awarded by the new college until the old college cancels your aid. Contact current scholarship donors to see if scholarships can be transferred. If you plan to borrow, you might need to complete new loan applications.
If you’re looking ahead to your second-to-last year of high school, here’s a to-do list for you. Check these items off during your junior year, and you’ll be squarely on track to get to college.
- Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
- Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
- Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
- Attend college fairs and go on campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
- Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
- Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
- Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
- Fill out the FAFSA4caster at ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.
Finishing the final classes of high school or college can feel impossible. Many students start to miss class, evade homework and let their grades slip—all classic signs of senioritis. How can this “disease” be cured?
- Stop it before it starts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you notice yourself starting to tune out, find ways to stay motivated. Have friends and family hold you accountable, and set goals for yourself.
- Remember that grades still matter. Colleges can reconsider admission decisions if your GPA plummets. They can also reconsider financial aid packages they’ve already offered. Scary, right?
- Set small, specific goals. Don’t let the big picture (graduation, scholarships, etc.) scare you. Take things one step at a time. Just focus on doing well on your next big exam, attending all your classes and getting enough sleep.
- Ask for help. Talk to a teacher, parent, school or someone else you trust. Tell them how you’re feeling and describe issues you’re facing. They might help you in a variety of ways like giving homework assistance, cooking meals or even just offering encouragement.
- Take time to relax and sleep. Burning the candle at both ends all the time doesn’t solve concentration issues. Having trouble staying awake in class? Schedule nights where you have plenty of time to wind down with a book or movie and go to bed early.
- Keep yourself challenged. Are you slacking because you’re bored with school? Get involved. Find inspiration that will get you out of bed in the morning. Volunteer for a student organization, offer to help a teacher or plan some senior activities. This is a great opportunity for self-improvement.
- Keep your eyes on the prize. You wouldn’t give up running a long race if you could see the finish line, would you? End your high school or college career on a high note. You’re almost there! You got this!
Some students take a year between high school and college to work, volunteer, travel or save money. Many educators say that kids who take a break after high school are more mature when they arrive at college and are more engaged in their education moving forward. This is particularly relevant to students who burned out in high school from years of AP classes, test prep, volunteer projects, sports, music lessons and other extracurricular activities.
Still, gap years can be scary for parents and other adults who care about a student’s success. Many fear that one year will turn into two years and will eventually lead to their student never completing a degree.
When considering a gap year, students should take these three steps:
- Apply to college and defer enrollment. That way, there is something waiting for you at the end of your gap year. Some colleges also might let you defer their scholarships—check with the financial aid office.
- Make sure you apply for financial aid during your gap year. File your FAFSA, apply for scholarships, grants and loans, etc. Remember, you can file your FAFSA starting on October 1 and the earlier you submit it, the better.
- Form a concrete plan. Studies show that students who have a concrete plan are much more likely to start college after their gap year. Ask yourself: What will you accomplish during the gap year? Sitting on the couch playing video games doesn’t count. Will you have a job? How will you pay your bills/save money? Will you volunteer? Will you do an apprenticeship or study abroad?
You can find more information from the American Gap Association, gapyearassociation.org.
When you are selecting a college to attend, you want to know how much it’s actually going to cost, if you’ll make enough to pay off loans, what the current students are like, etc. Gathering all this information takes a ton of time, especially if you’re not sure where you want to go. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education offers a valuable online tool to help you compare schools and make an informed decision. For any school that offers post-secondary education in the United States, the College Scorecard, collegescorecard.ed.gov, will show you:
- Costs—Not the published costs, but the average annual costs that students actually pay, broken down by family income and compared to the national average.
- Loan debt—How many students take out federal loans, graduates’ typical debt and monthly payments, and percentage of students paying down debt compared to the national average.
- Earnings after school—Average graduate’s salary compared to national average, and percentage of graduates who earn more than students with only a high school diploma.
- Student body—A demographic breakdown of the student population by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
- Success rates—Retention rate after one year and graduation rate, compared to the national average.
- Test scores—Standard range of SAT and/or ACT scores for students who are admitted and enrolled.
- Academic programs—Available areas of study, as well as the most popular programs offered.
This combination of factors gives you a more complete picture of your investment and potential payoff from attending a specific school. A school with high costs, high loan debt and low graduation rates, for instance, might not offer your best chance of success. A school with high costs might be a more reasonable choice, however, if it also offers high graduation rates and high salaries for graduates.
While these might be important factors, the most important pieces of the equation will be how a school fits with your needs. The College Scorecard lets you look up specific schools or search based on criteria such as location, size and degrees offered. It also offers predetermined searches such as “Affordable Four-Year Schools with Good Outcomes” or “Find a Community College in Your State with High Salaries.”
Happy college hunting!
Letters of recommendation can help your school and scholarship applications stand out. They bring your application to life and illustrate who you are as a student and person. Asking someone to write a letter can be nerve-racking, but here are tips for a smooth, respectful request:
- Pick the right person. Approach someone who knows you well. A letter from the local mayor might be impressive, but if she’s your neighbor’s cousin’s workout buddy, that’s a flimsy connection. Choose a person who knows, personally, why you are a good candidate. A teacher you’ve known for years or an extracurricular advisor is a good option, but you don’t have to limit yourself to school. A religious leader or the organizer of a community project where you volunteered can also provide strong recommendations on your behalf.
- Ask early. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to request a letter. Teachers and other school professionals are often flooded with requests at that time. Request it early, and give them plenty of time to complete it.
- Ask in person. If possible, pop the question in person and explain what the letter will be used for and when you need it. Make sure the person knows why you are asking them. Say something along the lines of, “I really enjoyed taking your class this year and I feel that you know me pretty well now. Would you mind writing me a letter of recommendation for a University of Iowa history scholarship? I’ll need it by March 31.”
- Give them everything they need. Make your letter writer’s life easier and send them all the details they need. Spell it out for them. Is there a word or page limit? Do you need more than one letter? Do they need to submit the letter online? Send them the scholarship description and highlight characteristics and achievements you think they could attest to. Most people want you to have exactly what you need to be successful.
- Send a handwritten thank you note. Your letter writer is probably busy and went out of their way to help you. Let them know how much you appreciate their time and effort.