Advice for College Planning from a Sixteen Year Old

Some time ago, I asked my sixteen year old daughter--a junior in high school (11th grade)--to share her responses to the following questions about college and preparing to run the race, so to speak. Here are her responses.

1)What web sites do you use to select schools and find scholarships?
When looking for colleges, I like to use collegeboard.com, because it focuses mainly on the schools, helping you compare specific colleges/universities and has a survey that helps you match colleges to what you want, instead of matching yourself to the colleges. I also find zinch.com very helpful, but more so with finding scholarships, although it does send colleges you wish to learn more about your information upon request and has also showed me a plethora of colleges and universities I didn’t know about.


2) Why did you use those web sites over others you had access to?
With collegeboard.com, it was the first website I had ever learned about that gave access to such a wide variety of colleges and universities in an organized manner. Not only did collegeboard.com set me up with colleges I would like to go to based off of what I wanted to do, but it also compared the work I had done so far in high school to the requirements of the college I was looking at. Zinch.com, as opposed to fastwebscholarships.com, scholarships.com or scholarshipexperts.com, not only makes the experience fun and likeable, allows you to make a profile that asks goofy but questions that require creative answers for not only colleges but scholarship judges to look at, but it has the most organized way of showing you scholarship opportunities, depending on how you want them to be organized. Zinch also encourages you to make friends or “dweebs” with other college-bound students who are driven, allowing us to learn and support one another online, while also competing for the same scholarships and scholarships that are almost tailor-made for you.


3) What pressures are you under to do well on college entrance exams?
When I think about all the college entrance exams I need to take and how they can affect where I get into school, I feel the pressure mounting and often will go into a type of test-prep “blitz” where all I want to do is practice for those tests. Then I remember that colleges don’t just look at your numbers but the extracurricular activities you do, what type of person you are in your community and any special talents you have that you pursue. All the college websites say it: You’re more than just numbers.      


4) How do those pressures influence your decision-making about which universities you want to go to?
Those pressures don’t often influence my decision-making into which universities I plan on attending. My goal is to go to an academically rigorous college/university that also includes an extensive arts program with multiple options available to me through such programs. Due to this, I know that while high scores on my college entrance exams are important, I also know that they will be looking at my participation in the art community and what I do with it. This lessens the impact on where I want to go based off of my scores.


5) What exams do you anticipate taking over the next year and a half?
I will be taking the PSAT soon, in hopes of making National Merit Scholar, several SAT tests, various Advanced Placement tests and perhaps an Accuplacer for Dual Credit.


6) What is the outlook towards college entrance that other students in your class have in light of their inability to pay for college and/or do well on college entrance exams to earn scholarships?
While I know several students who apply for scholarships and try to stay on top of things, many peers in my class are not taking the chance they have to get free money and sort of have their heads in the clouds about where they think they will go. Some are fine with the idea of taking out as many loans as they need while others I know will simply go to a community college because they didn’t want to do the extra work that could have helped them go further. As for the college entrance exams, those are on everyone’s mind. Even the students who aren’t appearing to be studying are asking questions all the time and everyone wants to know everyone else’s score, trying to gauge who might make National Merit Scholar and how they’ll do on the SAT.


7) Have your counselors ever asked how you felt about going to college or finding scholarships/financial aid to go to college?
Well, at my school, we have a place called the “Career Center”, where a student can go to request transcripts, find out about scholarships and uncover other college-prep possibilities. I’ve also talked to my counselor about which colleges I planned on going to at the time, but these are only when I make an appointment to talk to her about some school-related activity; at my school, if you want to learn about financial aid and finding scholarships, you have to go ask because the counselors aren’t going to come to you, except for the basics: PSAT, SAT, AP Tests and Dual Credit.


8) What do you wish you'd known starting out that you didn't know when you began looking for colleges?

I suppose that I wish I had known what I really wanted in a college. I know now that I want a college with high academic expectations, a solid study abroad program and an excellent arts program. I also know that I have two specific locations in mind: Texas and the East Coast and that I want to go to a moderately sized school, as opposed to a tiny one (5,000 students or less) or a large one (15,000 or more).  But when I first started out, I didn’t know what I wanted, where I wanted to go or if size mattered to me.

I didn’t understand what financial aid was, and whether the rumors were true that applying for it would eventually bury me in loans. When I filled out college surveys, I often checked ‘yes’ to everything; I had yet to develop a preference or know what any of these things meant to me. I suggest that anyone starting their college search sit down with a parent, a teacher, a counselor or anyone who has been to college and has an interest in furthering your education and make a list of want you want in a college. What’s your dream college? Is it small, with a small group of people you see day after day? Or is it huge, where every day you meet someone new? Talk to your parents and find out what you are able (or willing) to pay. Decide to start looking for scholarships immediately, no matter how young you are. Make a list:

-Size (Once again, small, moderate or big? Look out for words like ‘urban’, ‘suburban’ and ‘rural’ – these typically indicate their size because they tell you they are either usually either in a city or out in the country):

-Location (Do you enjoy your warm weather? Are you secretly a polar bear?):

-Programs (A large arts program? Focus on science programs? Rice University has a very competitive architecture program. If you know your passion, look for a place that has a strong specialization for it):

And make sure to work on this list BEFORE you start checking places out, or else you’ll get swept away by a college that boasts their specific program in just the right way. Remember, colleges and universities are the best advertisers, because they know you’re not just shopping around for a new car.

You’re shopping for your future and they’re going to try to make a future with them sound as enticing as possible.



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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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