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“Despite it being one of the most encouraged plans for life after high school, college is a financial commitment that goes beyond four years of education,” writes VOX ATL alum Destine.

Pictured: Destine and friend Niesha at Benjamin E. Mays 2018 graduation

Ten Things I Wish I Knew When Choosing A College

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There’s no right or wrong way to decide how to spend your life right after graduating from high school. Despite it being one of the most encouraged plans for life after high school, college is a financial commitment that goes beyond four years of education. Although I am more than content with my college decision I would have been a lot less stressed if I would have narrowed down what I need first so that I could bring the right questions to my counselors and the adults around me.

More Than One Roommate Can Be Better Than One

Coming into college having a roommate was both an exciting and apprehensive aspect of college life for me to process. Schools that have giant applicant pools often choose to double up dorm rooms in order to accommodate demand. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where a dorm room originally intended for two students has now been rearranged to fit three people. If you are someone who loves spending time alone in your own space but don’t have enough money for a single room you may want to consider smaller schools or schools with a cut off number. However, in my experience, I opted for a low-cost room with two other roommates and learned a lot from having two roommates who were complete opposites. I was lucky enough to not be in an uncomfortable situation, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience when it came to always being aware that I am respecting the other person’s space.

Location Makes A Difference

Depending on the kind of atmosphere your school is in, location can have a big influence on your mental health throughout college. It’s important to consider when going far away from home if the new environment that you are going into will motivate you to grow. Something as small as how much sun a certain city or town gets can be a determining factor, especially for someone who may struggle with seasonal depression. Some campuses are also more a part of their surroundings than others. Many students see the college experience as something that should feel unique to the next four years of your life. My school’s open campus helps me a lot as a person who often likes to have a getaway beyond an educational atmosphere.

Start Looking for a Work-Study Immediately

College is super expensive…but you knew that already. When looking at your financial aid package, keep in mind that work-study may be listed but it is not always guaranteed. One of the best ways to make money to pay your tuition without losing too much vital study time is to look for work-study opportunities early. I went to my school’s job fair early and that’s where I found the work-study position I have now as an usher at the performing arts center on my campus. With big schools, it can be extremely hard to find open positions at the beginning of the year with so many new students looking for work-study positions.

Classes Matter More Than Grades

We all go to college with the intent of being successful once we finish. However, being completely engaged in school 24/7 can be difficult despite how motivated you are. Unlike high school, you typically can choose between a multitude of different classes to fulfill graduation requirements for your major. For some of the most challenging courses that I took during my freshman year of college, I did not get the highest grades. However, I got the chance to interact with a professor who was very engaging and offered to write any recommendations I needed and assisted me in obtaining more scholarships throughout the school year after noticing my interest in the course material.

GPA is Something Different

Grade point average weighs differently at certain schools. A 3.0 at your high school now may be a B on paper, but weigh as a B- at the institution of your choice. If you know that you want to maintain a specific GPA then it would be helpful to check the grading scales of the schools you are considering. If you are offered an academic scholarship where you must maintain a certain GPA then a school’s grading scale can be the difference of how stressful it will be to afford to stay there.

Financial Aid Is A Living, Breathing Document

The amount of financial aid and cost of attendance you get can vary year after year. In my experience, I earned most of the money I needed for fees outside of tuition by applying for over fifty scholarships and saving a particular amount of work-study money each semester to pay for my housing. I only received three out of the fifty but all that time I took applying helped me avoid scary student loans. If you don’t have the money to avoid student loans at the beginning of the year then you can also pay off student loans as you go along later in the school year. Even if you stay in-state, financial aid is never black and white. There are always hundreds of dollars beyond tuition that institutions expect you to be able to pay out of pocket or with loans. The key to getting money that may not be apparent to you at the time it is asked is to plan as much as possible.

Read It Over and Over and Over Again

Acceptance letters often say a lot more than whether or not you have been saved a spot in the student body. For example, schools like NYU have multiple locations around the world. You may be accepted into NYU Shanghai instead of the NYU Manhattan campus. Also, make sure that you applied for the right semester and don’t end up starting in the spring than in the fall if that was not your initial preference. A lot of high school seniors I know ended up having to change their plans after making mistakes on their applications that they didn’t catch until the last minute.

Do Not Aim to Please Everyone

You are going to hear a variety of opinions from family and friends about where you should go. Although it doesn’t hurt to take what people you trust are saying to you into consideration, it is also important that you go with your gut first. No matter how much a cousin or your mother may want you to attend their alma mater, don’t feel pressured to make yourself fit into the mold they see you in. Remember that having the option to get a college education is a privilege in itself so you’re already headed in the right direction.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

When choosing a school, it’s the aspects of college that we do not anticipate that shape us the most before we come back home. Try your best to pick a school that challenges you. For some students, this may mean going to another side of the country, but others can also find their challenge only miles away from where they grew up. For me, being in a completely different environment from where I grew up meant that every day threw me out of my comfort zone. Being challenged every day is one of my favorite parts of the college experience because I can put myself into the headspace into a student who grew up in an environment I would otherwise know nothing about.

Put your Gut First

Going on college tours are important for getting the feel for a school and the kind of students they accept. However, if you can’t make it to the campus make sure that you speak with alumni or current students at the school you are interested in beforehand. Try to avoid deciding on a school solely on stature or what is on paper because your experience there can turn out to be completely different. Many schools host free meet-and-greets with alumni in different major cities every year for students who are interested in applying.


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