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How to Get Into & Pay for College

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How to Choose the Right College

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By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe can answer your question in Expert Advice.




Don't forget to ask about the parties.

Do you want to have three Greek letters shining on your chest everywhere you go? Does the school even have a Greek system? (Harvard doesn't!) Some students are inclined to join a fraternity or sorority, while others feel that their existence on campus is overbearing for those who choose not to go Greek. It's important that you learn about this and other social aspects of your potential college. What do students do on the weekends? What extracurricular activities does the school offer? How close or far is the campus from a major city where you might go to find more cultural and entertainment venues? Are there campus life associations, service clubs or ROTC opportunities?

The social opportunities on a campus are extremely important. No matter how strong your college is academically, if you don't like the social scene, you won't be happy at that school. Be sure to consider the "big picture."




Investigate the type of digs you'll be living in.

When you consider which college to choose to attend, remember that you’ll be living in that situation for four years or more. Think of yourself as a total person, not just a student. You want to find a place to live that suits you. After all, you want to enjoy coming home after classes.

Here are some questions you will want to explore: Do most students live on campus or commute? Whether students spend most of their lives on campus or off makes a big difference in the social atmosphere of the college. Can you live with strangers? Can you bathe near strangers? If you lived in the dorm, would you have roommates? How modern or ancient are the dorms? Does each room have its own bathroom or do you use a shared facility? With overcrowding a problem at many colleges, you should also ask what your chances are of even getting on-campus housing.




Snuggle up with a college directory.

One excellent place to find the answers to some of the questions you have about a college is in a book or website that profiles colleges. Often you can find information about the student population, activities, majors offered, costs and financial aid, as well as some useful statistics such as how many freshmen are admitted each year. If you’re into numbers, these directories can be quite useful.

What these directories don't tell you is the personality of the college or what life is like on campus. To get that information, you need to talk to some real people who actually are from the college—alumni, recruiters, advisors, current students and others—but you want to wait to do that until you have narrowed down your choices to a "short list". That’s where the directories come in. You can utilize the directories at the beginning of your college search to help you make initial selections. Then you can use other sources to pare down the list.




Attend a college fair or talk to the college rep.

Most colleges have brochures, catalogs and web sites. While these are definitely valid places to begin when you are first researching various colleges, they are just that—a good start. But before you make a life-changing choice like the selection of the college you want to attend, you should also talk to real people. Go to college fairs and speak with the college representatives. Typically high schools sponsor college fairs in the fall and college reps visit schools for quality one-on-one sessions with prospective applicants. Take advantage of these opportunities and be prepared—take a list of questions with you so that you don’t get home later and wish that you had asked about a certain aspect of the college that you forgot to mention.

In addition, there are national college fairs sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling http://www.nacac.org and other similar groups. They may be held at a hotel or convention center and often bring together a large number of colleges. When you go to a college fair, don’t be shy about asking the representative all of your questions about the college—that’s why they are there.


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