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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Choosing a University

This column should be a note of encouragement and validation for some students and their families, and a big nudge for other students and their families. If you are deep into the application process of choosing a University and filing out financial aid paperwork, then this column should serve as a check that you are headed down the right path; however, if you are still struggling with what school to go to, and are procrastinating filling out the FASFA and scholarship applications, then this should be a reminder to get with the program.
I strenuously argue that you should first find the right university for you, and then figure out how to pay for it. There are so many options today to finance school; lack of funds is rarely a reason not to pursue an education.
Another philosophical decision you must make, is why are you going to school. Are you going to play a sport, find a spouse, are you there to get a piece of paper to make more money, or are you there to actually become educated? I can’t argue enough that the last reason is the only reason to attend a university. This is a critical decision because if you are there for any reason other than becoming educated, where you go is of little importance.
In general, there are three things that must be done simultaneously to successfully to attend a University. First keep your high school grades up. Some seniors get Senioritis in the spring, this malady doesn’t look good on your transcript and reflects poorly on your maturity. Second, make the best choice you can in picking which university to attend. Last, apply for financial aid.
Choosing a university is a bit like choosing a car; much of the decision is personal preference, and you should “test drive” as many as you can. While you should try to avoid attending, and getting kicked out of, a large number of universities, visiting as many as you can is a good idea. Visit at least one small, medium and large university, even if you believe you know what size school you wish to go to. The visit will confirm or deny your belief and make you more comfortable with your decision. Talk to friends, family and alumnus of the universities you are considering.
Decide if you want to attend a local university or one further away. If you want to go out of state, and there are a number of good reasons to do so, make sure you visit the campus before making your decision final. Visit both public and private schools as they each have a different feel to them and you may find a preference for one over another.
Once you have taken all factors into account: quality of the institution, cost, friends already at the school, size, geography, location (urban or rural), and any other factors effecting your decision, then choose three schools; one you aren’t sure you can get into, one you are confident you will get into, and then one you are certain to get into. Remember, if you don’t get into your dream school, perhaps you can go there for graduate school.
Last thought. If you didn’t do well in high school, you didn’t take college prep courses, or if high school was more than a few years ago; it is never too late. Regularly people in their twilight years are featured for finally graduating from college. You can take basic courses here locally at NIC, sometimes called stem work, and then move on to a four year school. Help is available from counselors at the High School, the local colleges and the school you wish to attend. Just remember, only consider accredited schools and stay away from diploma mills. Education should be a life-long path; sometimes the path is steep and difficult, but the views along the way are breathtaking beyond belief.

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