finding a college that s right for you

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1 finding a college that s right for you Grade level: high school juniors and seniors, in small groups Format: discussion and workshop Teacher prep: In Peterson s Game Plan for Getting into College, read about the 12 Ways to Choose the Wrong College. Write each one down on a slip of paper for the activity. Class time: 1½ hours Materials flipchart and easel, or black/white board markers bowl and 12 slips of paper, each one describing a wrong way to choose a college books Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That s Right for You (Loren Pope) Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (Loren Pope) Harvard Schmarvard: Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College that is Best for You (Jay Mathews) Rugg s Recommendations on the Colleges, 26th ed. (Frederick E. Rugg) Fiske Guide to Colleges 2010, 26th ed. (Edward Fiske) College Handbook 2010 (The College Board) The Get It Together for College: A Planner to Help You Get Organized and Get In (The College Board) laptop set-up to show VSAC Web site and access to VT Guidance Central refreshments (optional) handouts College selection process College comparison chart College admissions timeline Choosing a college major College fairs Visiting a college Sample questions for the admissions interview Sample questions for the financial aid office College admissions checklist College financial aid checklist Recommendation request form SAT vs. ACT Score comparison: SAT vs. ACT Surf the Web!

2 Vermont Student Assistance Corporation 10 East Allen Street PO Box 2000 Winooski, VT Toll-free In the Burlington area Visit our Web site at us at Procedure 1. Welcome all of the participants and ask them what they d like to cover in the workshop. Write the suggested topics on the board. Save this list for the end of the workshop. 2. Ask participants to pick a slip of paper from the bowl and read aloud the wrong way to choose a college that s written on the slip. Have the group discuss why these are wrong ways to go about choosing a college. 3. Provide students with suggestions on the right way to investigate college options. Talk about college rankings, VT Guidance Central, helpful Web sites listed on the Surf the Web handout, college handbooks, college visits, and NSSE ratings. Suggest the books listed under Materials and have them on display for students to peruse. Talk about the different ways that each of the books may be helpful. 4. Present an overview of the college search and admissions process. Discuss the ways colleges vary in terms of selectivity, affordability, environment, campus facilities, etc. Review the admissions timeline handout. Discuss college visits and interviews. why a visit is worthwhile what students should look for what questions students should ask Talk about college fairs. where local college fairs will be held this year what students should do at a college fair 5. Ask students to talk about what s important to them and what a college needs to have in order to be a good fit. To help students determine the answers: ask them how they decide what s important. have students use the college selection process handout to list important factors such as ranking, cost, size, location, selectivity, major, sports, extracurricular activities, Greek life, volunteer options, job placement statistics, internships, and housing identify the ways that students can find out if a school meets their requirements. Point back to items discussed under ways to investigate colleges, which could provide a lead-in to VT Guidance Central. 6. Introduce students to VSAC s online planning tool, VT Guidance Central. Help them create a portfolio (optional). Show them how to use the School Finder function to identify colleges that match their criteria. Print out a list of colleges for students to take with them. 7. Check the board to see if all of the listed topics have been covered. If not, make arrangements to talk with the student(s) who mentioned the topic(s) not covered in this session. Touch on affordability and paying for college. Provide the VSAC scholarships booklet and VSAC s guide to paying for college.

3 college selection process: factors to consider Using school catalogues, Web sites, books, college visits, and other resources, research and compare schools based on the following characteristics. Major/academic program What do you want to learn? What fields of study interest you? A major is a field of study, such as engineering or English. It s typically the first thing students consider as they begin to identify college options. College guidebooks (like the ones published by the College Board), as well as certain Web sites and online college search tools, enable you to create a list of schools that offer the fields of study you re considering. Students who have more than one interest area need to cross-reference majors to identify schools that offer what they are considering. Remember that it isn t necessary that you declare a major when you search for schools. In the U.S. today, the most commonly declared major for entering freshmen is undecided, and many students change their major several times throughout their college years. If you re not sure what you re interested in but would like to investigate or create some options for yourself, use the VT Guidance Central interactive online tool. Go to and select VT Guidance Central in the Quick Links box on the home page. Once you re in VT Guidance Central, use Choices Explorer and Choices Planner to take some self-assessments, search for majors, and look for schools that match your interests. Selectivity What is your grade point average (GPA)? How are your SAT/ACT test scores? A school s selectivity is usually based on the average GPA, class rank, and SAT/ACT scores of its students, as well as the percentage of applicants accepted. The following is a list of criteria needed for each level of selectivity (language and criteria may vary by college): Most selective top 10 percent of high school class; ACT 29+; SAT 1965+; less than 30 percent of applicants admitted Moderately selective top 50 percent of high school class; ACT 18+; SAT 1515+; between 25 and 50 percent of applicants admitted Less selective bottom 50 percent of high school class; ACT 19 and below; SAT 1515 and below; up to 95 percent of applicants admitted Open admission everyone accepted with high school diploma or GED; may or may not require placement tests and/or SAT/ACT There is a direct correlation between selectivity and academic achievement. Refer to each college s specific admissions requirements, which you can find in its guide or catalogue, or on its Web site. Source: Cost-saving tip Applying to schools at which you re near the top of the applicant pool academically may qualify you for more grants or scholarships from the college (usually, these do not have to be repaid). Applying to schools at which you re in the lower half of the applicant pool academically may mean that the school will offer you more loans, which have to be repaid, with interest.

4 Cost and financial aid What is the cost of attending the school, and what type of financial aid is offered? Pay attention to the total cost of attending the school, including tuition, room/board, fees, books, and personal expenses. Don t let cost determine whether you apply to a college or not, but be sure to consider the financial aid offered. It s important to apply to a variety of colleges for admissions and financial aid reasons; not only must you be accepted, but you have to be able to afford to attend! The affordability of a college may not be evident until you ve been accepted and have an actual financial aid award from the school. Have you applied to several colleges at varied price ranges? Do you have information from each college on its financial aid and application process? Type Are you interested in training to enter a trade, or do you want to pursue a broader academic path? Do you want to study with leading researchers or with professors who focus on teaching? Consider the following types of schools: Community college and vocational-technical college One- or two-year(+) schools that offer a more focused and practically oriented learning experience. These schools offer specialized job training programs or more general education programs. Degrees granted: certificates, associate s degrees, and bachelor s degrees. Note: Associate degree programs are either transfer or terminal. Transfer degrees enable a student to transfer associate degree credits to a bachelor s degree program at a four-year school. Terminal degrees typically do not offer the transfer option for most credits. Four-year college or university Four-year programs include general education requirements in addition to specific courses related to major fields of study. Emphasis is on broad intellectual development. Degrees granted: bachelor s degrees, master s degrees, doctoral degrees, and professional degrees. Cost-saving tip By taking general education coursework at a community college and then transferring to a fouryear program to focus on your major, you may be able to cut your college costs substantially. Do you want to attend a private school or a public school? Here are the factors that distinguish public schools from private schools: Public Public schools are subsidized by the state; therefore, students attending a college/university in their home state pay lower tuition than they would at out-of-state public schools. (Generally, if the name of the college or university is XYZ State College or the University of State Name, it s likely to be a public institution.) Private Private schools are funded through endowments, tuition payments, and donations. These schools are not state-affiliated; therefore, there is no distinction between in- or out-of-state students; everyone pays the same tuition to attend the school. Each student s college wish list will look different. Think about the environment that ll best help you meet your goals. Take friendly advice with a grain of salt; instead, focus on what will work for you and on the factors that seem best for you and your family.

5 Academic atmosphere What type of atmosphere do you want, and how much of a focus do you want to put on your academics? It s important to ask yourself how demanding you want your college coursework to be. Here are some things to consider: How academically challenged do you want to be? How much time do you want to spend on academics each day/week? Is there an academic support network on campus? Which type of academic calendar best suits you (semester, trimester, quarter)? Is independent study required? Are internship opportunities available? Are there any quiet dorms or quiet dorm floors for students who wish to study in their rooms? Size What size student body, campus, and classes are right for you? Smaller colleges have anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 students. A larger college can have anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 students. At small colleges, you ll more likely know most of the other students and will receive a lot of individual attention; on the other hand, larger colleges will usually have more diverse curriculum. Larger schools can also provide individual attention, but will require more initiative on your part. What is the average class size? Can you picture yourself in a large auditorium with 250 people? Would you prefer to be in smaller classes with fewer than 30 students? What is the student-faculty ratio? Do you want regular access to and contact with faculty? Do you want faculty to know you by name? Do you prefer lectures or small group discussions? Student population What type of diversity do you wish to have on your campus? The demographic make-up of the students on your campus (where they re from, what background they have, etc.) is another variable to consider. Some schools draw mostly Vermonters or students with similar backgrounds, while other schools seek to attract a more geographically diverse student population. How important is it that students come from a variety of cultural, geographical, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds? Do you prefer to be with people who have similar backgrounds as you or who are different from you? Does it matter to you? Location What type of community and location are you looking for? Choose an area that appeals to you. Some students feel more comfortable staying close to home, some want a little distance, and some can t wait to live in an entirely different part of the country.

6 Do you want to live in a rural, urban, or suburban area? In the city or the country? (Burlington is considered suburban by most standards.) Have you ever been away from home? How did you handle the experience(s)? If not, do you feel prepared to be away from home for the first time? How can you better prepare yourself for leaving? Student life What type of personality does the campus have? What opportunities are available? Every campus has a different personality that can best be evaluated by visiting the campus and talking with students. It s fine to trust your gut reaction when you visit you may have a similar reaction should you choose to attend but remember that first impressions aren t always accurate. Examine the school newspaper; read the catalogue; check out the Web site and student blogs; talk with students, faculty, and staff; and ask for a list of campus activities and opportunities. Are there campus and area activities that interest you? What goes on during the weekends? Do people stay on campus or do they leave on weekends? What volunteer opportunities are available? Vermont Student Assistance Corporation 10 East Allen Street PO Box 2000 Winooski, VT Toll-free In the Burlington area Visit our Web site at us at Copyright 2009, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation

7 college comparison chart As you investigate colleges, use this worksheet to keep track of the schools in which you re most interested and to compare them to your wish list of ideal characteristics.you can rate each college according the factors in the left column, as well as your own values. Consider using a ranking system such as 1 5, with 1 being outstanding, 3 being average, and 5 being poor. Factors to consider Major/academic program My wish list college name: college name: college name: college name: college name: college name: Selectivity Type (technical, college, university) Academic atmosphere Faculty and class size Size of school Diversity of student population Location (setting/ surroundings) Student life/activities Cost (college budget) and affordability Housing Facilities (library, cafeteria, theater, sports) Copyright 2009,Vermont Student Assistance Corporation

8 college admissions timeline This is a general overview of the college admissions process. Don t forget to: visit for month-by-month checklists and tips visit for a calendar of events and workshops throughout the state that will help you plan for college and understand the financial aid process contact your school counseling office Junior year College visits: Fall of senior year is a busy time, so it s best to go into your senior year already knowing which schools you want to apply to. The advantage of visiting schools during the fall and spring of junior year is that you can visit campus classes that are in session. An option is to plan to visit schools in early spring of senior year, after you ve been accepted but before you make your final decision. Testing: Register for the PSAT in September and take it in October. January is the time to begin SAT and/or ACT test preparation for the spring testing dates. You can also sign up for the May AP tests in any subject areas that you feel strong in and will not be studying further during your senior year. VSAC s Paying for College financial aid presentations: VSAC holds Paying for College presentations at local high schools throughout Vermont during the fall to help students and their families understand the financial aid process. Contact your high school s counseling office, or visit for the schedule. Scholarships: Most scholarship deadlines are in the spring of your senior year, so junior year is a good time to get a head start on the scholarship search. Begin your search at the local and state levels (where the odds are much better). Obtain a copy of VSAC s scholarships booklet from your high school counseling office or by calling VSAC. Ask your school counselor if the counseling office has information about local community scholarships. Teacher recommendations: Work on developing relationships with your teachers and school counselors so that next fall you ll have options when choosing people to write college recommendations for you. Teachers who know you well will be in a better position to write a thoughtful, glowing recommendation. Consider requesting recommendation letters in the spring of your junior year when teachers and school counselors aren t flooded with requests (as they usually are in the fall). Also, become familiar with your high school s procedures for requesting recommendations, as schools vary in their expectations and timelines. Senior-year course selection: Don t slack off! Select rigorous courses for senior year. Senior year College applications: Obtain application materials from the schools that interest you, and keep a file on each school you apply to (be sure to make a copy of everything you send). Keep a chart of admissions and financial aid deadlines for each school, as well. Be aware of early action and early decision deadlines, which can be as early as November 1. Testing: Register for and take the SAT and/or ACT in the fall, if necessary. If your colleges require SAT subject tests, register for these as well. Register in March for AP exams in May.

9 Teacher recommendations: If you haven t done so already, begin approaching teachers for recommendations in early September. Make sure to notify teachers of application deadlines, and send a thank-you note to anyone who writes you a recommendation. Scholarships: VSAC-assisted scholarships have a common application and a deadline in the first week of March, so be sure to obtain your scholarships booklet from VSAC when it s available in October. Submit all your required documents by the early-bird deadline in February and be be entered in a drawing for one of three $1,000 scholarships. To learn more, go to VSAC s Paying for College financial aid presentations: If you haven t gone to one already, attend VSAC s Paying for College presentation at your high school. Contact your school s counseling office or visit for the schedule. College selection: As you narrow your choice of schools, be sure your list includes a realistic combination of safety, target, and reach schools, as well as affordable schools. Grades: Be sure to maintain your academic standing. Most schools make their acceptances contingent on senior year grades. Transcript requests: Become familiar with your high school counseling office s procedures for requesting that your transcript and other supporting information be sent to schools. Be respectful of stated timelines and deadlines for requests. Financial aid: File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the VSAC grant application as soon as possible after January 1 to meet the February 1 financial aid deadlines at many schools (call VSAC at or for assistance). The CSS Profile, required by many private schools, can be filed as early as December. Many schools also have their own financial aid forms that you must complete by specific deadlines. Award letters and acceptance: All schools should respond by early April, and most require that your deposit be sent in by May 1. As financial aid award letters arrive, compare them carefully; don t hesitate to contact your high school counselor, VSAC, or the financial aid office if you have questions. Once you ve made your decision, carefully follow the instructions for acceptance. You ll also need to decline offers from all other schools. Be sure to respond to the financial aid award letter; failure to do so will result in the aid offer being withdrawn. College admissions and financial aid application timeline (senior year) for traditional four-year colleges Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July College application deadlines Scholarship preparation (applications and all materials for VSAC-assisted scholarships are due at the beginning of March). FAFSA and VSAC grant applications Vermont Student Assistance Corporation 10 East Allen Street PO Box 2000 Winooski, VT Toll-free In the Burlington area Visit our Web site at us at College financial aid deadlines Look for college admissions and financial aid award letters Student accept financial aid offers Students receive loan promissory notes. Copyright 2010, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation

10 There are many important things to think about as you start to define your major(s): your skills, interests, and abilities; things you most enjoy learning; the kind of job you want; and the type of lifestyle you want, to name a few. Once you ve thought about these things, do some research. Search the Web for What can I do with a major in.? worksheets and databases. Check out university career center Web sites, where you ll find links to lots of careers, with information on different work environments and jobs that graduates typically pursue with their particular degrees. You ll also find strategies for navigating your way into particular careers, along with links to the Web sites of profeschoosing a college major What is a major, and how important is it? A major is a grouping of classes that focuses on a particular subject or field. Your major generally reflects the area of study that you re most interested in and that most closely matches your interests. Choosing a major is not the same as preparing for a career, as most majors do not lead to particular jobs. As a result, choosing a major based on a career goal may not be necessary (exceptions include nursing or other health care fields that require very specialized programs). Instead, it s common to choose a major in an area of interest that a student wants to explore in depth through courses and activities. To graduate with a particular major, a student needs to take and earn passing grades in specific courses recognized by the college as relating to that major. Choosing the proper major will be beneficial to you, but your major is not an indicator of future success. To learn more about available majors at your school(s) of interest, visit school Web sites, which should list all academic departments and majors. Even though you may select a major on your college application, you re not obligated to complete that major for the duration of your college career. You may change your major at any time. Many students select undecided as a major on their college application and then take some time making their formal choices. A student does not need to choose a major before being accepted to and/or enrolled in college. At most four-year colleges, students usually are not required to choose a major until the end of the second year, which gives them plenty of time to explore different subjects. If you change majors, you must fulfill the requirements of your new major. Additional time may be needed to meet all of the class requirements for the new major. If you re interested in studying more than one major, look into the college s policy on having a double major. It s also possible to combine classes from different departments to create an interdisciplinary major. For example, if you re interested in Asian studies, you might be able to create a major that includes classes from the religion department, the history department, and the sociology department. Truly don t know what to major in? Start off your college career as an undecided major, but be sure to attend a school that offers a wide variety of majors from which to choose. How do I choose my major?

11 sional organizations related to those careers. Talk to people, read, use career search software, job shadow, interview folks that are working at jobs that interest you; do what you can to learn as much as possible about the subjects you re interested in. Next. take your information about the jobs you re interested in and research the educational requirements for those jobs. What kinds of majors are likely to provide a solid foundation for those jobs? Again, talk to teachers, employers, career counselors, school counselors, etc. Always remember that regardless of the major you choose, you can still take classes in areas of interest outside your major. You may discover new interests along the way. General clusters of majors Humanities These are the majors that teach a great deal about critical thinking, logical reasoning, problem solving, and the skilled use of language, both written and spoken. Areas of study include comparative literature, English literature, elementary education, radio and television, foreign languages, English, philosophy, communications, religion, classics, speech pathology and audiology, journalism, cinematography, special education, secondary education, family and consumer sciences, physical education, and history. Social sciences This is the study of societies and the behavior of the people within those societies. This major prepares a student with the knowledge of how society and individuals function. Areas of study include educational and/or developmental psychology, behavioral sciences, political science, sociology, pre-law, geography, anthropology, psychology, counseling, criminology, economics, social work, and American/African/American Indian studies. Art Art teaches the appreciation for and skill development of any number of artistic endeavors. Areas of study include dance, choreography, composition, art history, drama, art education, music, interior design, fine arts, fashion merchandising, graphic arts, and industrial design. Business This is a more specialized field of knowledge. Students learn specific skills that focus solely on the topic of choice. Areas of study include accounting, advertising, real estate, insurance, marketing, banking and finance, economics, hotel/restaurant management, business administration/management, health care/hospital administration, small business management, and international business. Math and science In addition to math and science, these majors utilize a great deal of logic, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Generally, science subjects require a fair amount of math, but math subjects do not necessarily require much science. Areas of study include forestry, geology, zoology, physiology, environmental science, biomedical engineering, chemistry, biology, statistics, animal sciences, botany, ecology, computer science, genetics, earth science, marine biology, landscape architecture, architecture, physics, and nuclear medicine.

12 Engineering This major combines both math and science by using both areas to design and construct a wide variety of things (roads, buildings, bridges, etc.). Areas of study include mechanical engineering, aerospace studies, industrial engineering, industrial arts, chemical engineering, civil engineering, mining, electrical engineering, and environmental engineering. Health care This is one of the fastest growing fields, offering a wide variety of options in both career opportunities and length of study. Math and science are important to health care careers, but the depth of study required in those fields will vary depending on the area of study you choose. Areas of study include health education, holistic health, medical technology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, pharmacology, dentistry, naturopathy, nursing, public health, radiography. Vocational These areas focus on a specific skill and generally take a shorter amount of time to master. Specific schools offer vocational skills and programs. Areas of study include automotive mechanics, automotive body repair, cosmetology, dairy management, construction management, heavy equipment operation, landscaping, engineering technologies (electrical, mechanical, chemical), and veterinary technology. Vermont Student Assistance Corporation 10 East Allen Street PO Box 2000 Winooski, VT Toll-free In the Burlington area Visit our Web site at us at Copyright 2009, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation

13 college fairs College fairs provide you with an opportunity to meet representatives from college admissions offices. You ll be able to ask questions and obtain or request applications and other information from the colleges and VSAC. Representatives who attend this event want to talk with you about your interest in their schools. Because they come prepared to answer your questions, you need to come prepared to ask them! Before the fair get prepared 1. Research your college options before attending the college fair. This will make your experience and time at the fair more worthwhile and meaningful. Ask yourself, What do I need/want in a college education? and start your research by using the following resources: your school counseling office VT Guidance Central for excellent ways to search for colleges that match your needs (click on the link in the Quick Links box at college guide books and catalogs in your high school guidance office college Web sites the VSAC Resource Center library (search our online catalog at and then have your local librarian get materials for you by submitting an interlibruary loan request) 2. Research five to ten colleges to see at the fair. Develop specific questions (see page 2) to make a good first impression with the schools you may favor. 3. Use your time more effectively at the fair by bringing self-addressed labels with the information listed below. This will leave you with more time to talk with college representatives. name graduation year address intended major phone number high school At the fair 1. Visit each college on your list, making sure to give each representative your full attention. Ask your questions and take notes. 2. Ask for the name and business card of each representative you talk to so that you can contact him or her later for follow-up questions or information. 3. Be selective about the college materials you gather.

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