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HOW TO MAKE A GOOD COLLEGE DECISION 


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Whatever your reasons are for going to college, deciding where to go is one of the most important decisions you will have to make in your life.

Personal Qualities
One good way to begin your search is to start with yourself. What are your needs, preferences, interests and requirements? Do you learn best in a competitive or relaxed atmosphere? Do you work best independently or with others? Do you want to go out on your own or stay with family and friends?

How about extracurricular activities: What clubs, sports, or cultural groups do you belong to? Which ones are important to you and why? Have you thought about what fields of study you are most interested in? Are you still undecided about your career field?

If you're not absolutely certain what you want career wise or what your major should be in college, don't be alarmed. Many students change their minds completely about career direction and college major at least once while in college.

Once you've checked your reasons for going to college, your interests and abilities, you'll want to find out what colleges are out there to meet your requirements.

Get a Head Start
Start reading about colleges and careers. Go to your school or public library. Seek out people who can help you. Talk to your high-school guidance counselors, teachers, parents, college students, alumni, and college admission counselors. Discuss your ideas and plans with them. Read books and directories. Keep an eye on your high school bulletin board. Gather all the information you can. Think about what is most important to you as you plan for your future education and career.

Be Picky
There are more than 4,000 colleges in the United States to choose from. Colleges and schools you know little or nothing about now might offer everything you are looking for. Think of how much time you would spend before buying a stereo or a car. Then consider how much more important it should be in spending time on selecting a college.

Learning More
The primary source of information about a college is its catalog. Most catalogs have the information you will need to know to continue your search: admissions policies and procedures, course offerings, facts about student life, degree requirements, costs, financial aid and all application deadlines.

Once you have narrowed your choices, try to find out the essential facts about the character and atmosphere of a particular school from first-hand sources.

Talk to college representatives who visit your high school. Go to a local college fair.

Plan ahead and visit the college campus. Try to schedule your visit when school is in session and, if possible, make it an overnight stay in student or campus housing. Talk to students. Eat in the dining hall and student center. Pick up the college newspaper to see what currently concerns the student body and to get an idea of the range of campus activities.

Make an appointment to speak to someone in the admissions office. If possible, bring along an unofficial transcript of your grades and SAT scores to show the admissions officer.

This is no time to be bashful. Don't be afraid to ask the officer what your chances are for admission. The college-selection process is a two-way street and you need to know as much - or more - about a college as it needs to know about you.

If you can't visit a college, write for the names of some recent graduates who live in your area. Graduates are often happy to talk with applicants and it is important that you meet with former students who know what the college is like today.

Finances
College is expensive. When you're investigating colleges, you'll want to find out about both costs and financial aid. Don't rule out any college you like because of its cost. You may be able to get enough financial aid to cover the difference between what a college costs and what you can afford to pay. Read up about the financial aid process and ask your counselor for advice in this area.

If your school offers a parents' night to explain financial aid or the college application process, be sure your parents know about it.

Colleges, scholarship programs, state and federal student aid agencies ail have money for your education if you have a real need for it. But it's up to you, not them, to start the ball rolling.

Take responsibility for your own applications. You must apply for financial aid in order to be considered.

The Beginning
Once you have done your research, narrowed your choices, visited campuses, talked with college representatives, admission officers, parents, friends and counselors, keep this fact in mind - the best college ratings are those that you have done for yourself. No other ratings can possibly include everything that is important to you. Everyone is an individual and should approach college selection as such.

Also, your choice of college need not be final if midway through your schooling you change your career-goal direction. Most schools admit transfer students, but once again, you must be knowledgeable and informed about a school's policies on transferring credits.

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