(Information obtained from Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA), Handbook for Skill Development, Massachusetts Department of Social Services – click here to visit website)
Higher education opportunities are out there,
but it can be confusing to get the process started. Here are some tips!
Tip 1: Decide to make a career out of doing something you love.
There is nothing more discouraging than getting up every day to go to a job you hate just because you have to pay bills. If you study and then work in a field that you're excited about, you'll be more likely to put a lot of energy into learning and working your craft, and feel more positive overall.
Tip 2: Think about how much time you want to invest in reaching your goal.
Two-year and four-year colleges offer many of the same major areas of study. The main difference is that with a two-year school, you will receive an associate's degree, indicating an average level of study in a specific area. With a four-year program, you are awarded a bachelor's degree, indicating a wider array of topics studied and a greater breadth of knowledge. A four-year degree will also typically bring a higher earning potential once your education is completed.
If you have a high school diploma, you can apply to either type of program. If you've earned a G.E.D., you will need to at least begin at a two-year college before transferring to a four-year school. Most four-year universities will not accept the G.E.D. as adequate preparation for a bachelor's degree-level of study.
Tip 3: Prepare to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
The SAT is an aptitude test used by almost all colleges and universities to help determine how successful you will be as a student. Many studies have found a strong link between how well a person does on this test and how good their grades will be in college. The test tries to measure how well you have been taught over the years, as well as how much you've understood your lessons.
You can prepare for the test by taking SAT preparation classes, but you will typically only learn test-taking skills that are specific to the SAT, not new academic material.
If you're concerned that you have not been adequately prepared to take the test, don't worry. Colleges and universities look at a number of things before they offer or deny admission. Admissions committees are interested in knowing what extracurricular activities you participated in while in school, such as sports, part-time work, dance, etc. They also want to know about the life experiences that affected your ability to study, such as foster care, frequent family moves, or needing to help raise younger brothers or sisters. All of these factors are given a lot of weight in helping a school decide if you are a good candidate. Your application, essay, recommendations, and interview will also be very important to the admissions committee.
Tip 4: Apply early for financial aid.
Forget the usual deadline of March 1st or 15th. Get your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) filed as soon as you get the form and your W-2 tax filing information. By law, all W-2 forms must be received by January 31st of any year. On January 31st or February 1st, use the information to complete your FAFSA and mail it off immediately.
Each school has a certain amount of money to award in financial aid. If you send in your request for aid too late, any money the school may have wanted to give you will be gone. Sending in your request too early, (before you get your W-2's) might result in your over- or under-estimating your earnings to such a degree that you will have to resubmit financial earning information, slowing down the school's ability to give you any type of aid.
Tip 5: Make sure you have someone review the essay for your application.
Your college essay will say a lot about you, so you want to present yourself well. Admissions committees will look unfavorably on careless, unclear sentences, poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They may also look less favorably on a handwritten essay, as opposed to an easier-to-read typewritten paper. If writing clearly and persuasively is not your strong point, it is critical that you have your writing reviewed by a teacher, guidance counselor, social worker, or anyone else you trust to have the necessary skill to help your essay become the best you can make it.
It is also usually very difficult to know what to write about. Just keep in mind that the admissions committee is interested in knowing what makes you unique. They are interested in discovering why you would be an asset to their school. If your life has been different from the average college freshman, write about it. If you've faced some unique challenges and are still driven to rise above and succeed, put that into words. Decision committees can't help but be moved to learn about the things that make you interesting, able to handle a challenge, and determined to succeed. These are all the traits that a prospective student needs to meet the heavy demands of college-level work.
Tip 6: Be prepared for your interview.
Many small and mid-size four-year schools will ask you to come in for an interview. As with the essay, the school will use this as an opportunity to see who you are and why you would be an asset to their university. You can prepare for it by writing on a few subjects you would like to talk about. An interviewer will usually give you the chance to stress any area of interest. So, if you tend to talk excitedly about politics, car repair, dance, or even flying airplanes, work this into the conversation. If the interviewer does not ask directly, find a way to weave it into your discussion. It shows interest, passion, and commitment to something larger than yourself – and schools love that.