Some people are born into situations where there is a clear expectation to further their education, while others know from an early age that doing so is a reach. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it makes sense to ask yourself some questions and spend some time thinking about your choices. Doing so will help you move forward with a plan that best meets your goals.
Too often, this decision is not well thought out. People do whatever their peers do, or their parents expect, with no thought about whether it is what they want. Thinking about what you want for your future and how you can make that happen is something that only you can do. You can discuss your thoughts with family and friends, but at the end of the day, it is your call to make.
How Will I Manage My Finances?
Finances are often a sticking point for many of the decisions made in life. Whether or not you will get financial help from family members can have an impact on if you decide to earn a degree and where you plan to attend. Familiarizing yourself with the many ways to pay for your education can help guide your decision. If you are not expecting family support, the idea of taking out loans to pay for four years of college can be intimidating.
Keep in mind that student loans offer favorable interest rates, and you improve your lifetime earning potential by having an undergraduate degree. Use a student loan repayment calculator to estimate what your monthly payments would be if you take out private student loans. Run a few different scenarios, comparing expenses at a few of the options that interest you. Seeing how affordable the repayment plans can be may make you feel better about attending.
What Are My Goals?
It is hard to see into the future and know what you want for the rest of your life immediately after high school graduation. If you are one of the few young people who has a good idea about the career path they want to pursue, you are lucky. Knowing what you want to study makes it much easier to determine the best way to move forward with your education. If you don’t know what you want to do, know that you are not alone.
Incoming freshmen often have no idea what they want to study. Many who think they know will switch majors at some point during their studies. It is okay not to know. In the first year or so, classes are typically devoted to general studies courses. Be honest with your advisor when selecting classes. This ensures that you take courses that will be compatible regardless of the field you eventually select. Take advantage of as many clubs, volunteer opportunities, and career organizations as possible. Explore anything that sounds interesting. Doing so allows you to find a good fit for your strengths and interests. No matter how lost you feel when you start your freshman year, if you spend time exploring your interests, you should find something that appeals to you.
What Do I Expect Out of My Experience?
When deciding if college is right for you, it makes sense to think about what you want to gain from the experience. If you want to earn a degree that makes you employable while spending as little money as possible, attending a local community college to earn a technical degree may be the best choice. If you have no idea what you want to do but want to be among others your age who are equally unsure and take some time to explore as many options as possible, a large state school makes sense. If you have a major in mind, selecting a school that is strong in that area has benefits after you graduate. A well-regarded computer science program, for example, will give you a leg-up with valuable internships while you are working on your degree, which makes it much easier to find a job at a prestigious company once you graduate. If you want to study abroad, choose a school that offers a program that encourages it.
Am I Ready?
College graduates earn more money throughout their careers. They have an easier time finding jobs and struggle less with unemployment. Acknowledging that, the experience isn’t magic. People with degrees lose jobs every day. Many graduates are underemployed and not using their degrees as they imagined. You won’t have control over everything that happens, but you can improve your odds of being a success story by making sure you are prepared and ready to take advantage of the experience. College is not like high school.
If you floated along without studying and doing little work outside of class, you may struggle with the transition. No one will make sure you do your work, or even to make sure that you attend class. The responsibility is on you. For many young people, this will be the first time they are fully responsible for themselves. You have to manage classes, as well as keep track of your finances, keep up with your laundry, and become a master of time management. If you don’t feel you are ready for this step, a year at community college may provide a nice transition. If you decide to go away to school, take advantage of the resources they provide to help make your freshman experience successful.
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