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CHOOSING A COLLEGE
Your son is a junior in high school and looking forward to an exciting and fun senior year. He may not be thinking about college. But he should be, and so should you. Once he does, he will learn this truth: One of the most challenging aspects of a high school student's life is finding a college that best suits his needs, desires, and ambitions.
How hard is it? Some students spend years visiting colleges across the nation. Others move quickly toward selecting their parents' alma mater or a school attended by a brother or sister.
Ryan Kelly, a promising young student-athlete from California, took the first approach. When he was only a freshman in high school, Ryan started looking at college catalogs and literature. Then beginning in his sophomore year, Ryan and his father, Richard, began visiting various colleges that had provided key information regarding admission requirements.
Richard Kelly was a successful entrepreneur and had invested money for Ryan's college education for several years. His wife, Lynn, also contributed to their college savings plan, and together they were able to save a substantial amount of money in hopes that they would not have to accept student loans from the government. (For more information on college savings and prepaid tuition plans, see.)
As a student, Ryan was just outside the top 10 percent of his high school class by the end of his junior year. As an athlete, he had been a quarterback on the freshman football team and a varsity player on the school's volleyball team. Together with his tough schedule of classes, Ryan spent many hours practicing with his team each day which helped him to develop discipline and time-management skills.
In addition, Ryan spent over nine years in scouting, receiving the organization's highest honor as an Eagle Scout. In his final year of scouting, he was elected the senior patrol leader, presiding over one hundred scouts and eventually earning a recognition award for outstanding leadership. This character development would later prove beneficial in his quest for college admission, as would the ten advanced placement and honors classes Ryan mastered during his four years of high school.
A TWO-YEAR OR FOUR-YEAR SCHOOL?
Ryan's parents recognized the benefits of a college education; they knew a two- or four-year college degree would be essential in today's climate in order to achieve economic success. Their son would soon face the same decision most high school students confront as they consider the right school: Should they go to college for two years or four—or more? In fact, many companies today require their new employees to hold at least a master's degree, with some emphasis also placed on having a doctoral degree (or being in a doctoral program). Guided by a student's interests and aptitude, a high school guidance counselor can assist in directing the student to the college that will best fit his or her career objective. See for a sample listing of careers available for students with an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree.
Likewise, those not interested in earning a bachelor's degree or even an associate's degree can still benefit by pursuing advanced technical study at a junior college or trade school. In addition to taking the basic core courses in high school, those students may enroll in multiple occupational and technical courses such as welding, cabinetmaking, auto repair, or metal shop. With the help of their high school guidance counselors, the students can develop a college profile that combines the students' interests and economics, enabling them to recognize their own aptitudes and interests, choose the appropriate college major or the appropriate technical career path, and save thousands of dollars in government loans. This can set the stage for both a future vocation and little, if any, student debt upon graduation.
Flexibility can be the key in the college selection process. Many families do not have savings available for college like the Kellys; these parents and students often resort to borrowing almost 100 percent of the funds from the government. Instead, they could turn to a combination of two- and four-year schools. Thus, students willing to attend a local community college for their first two years prior to transferring to the big-name school can save significant sums.
Rhonda Morgan, associate professor of business administration at Gordon College (Barnesville, Georgia), asked students to consider the cost and educational benefits of attending a two-year school first:
What if you could save almost half the cost of a college education? Suppose you choose to begin your college education at a two-year community college? A student could complete the first two years of a four-year degree at a fraction of the cost of a four-year school. Then, after two years, the student could transfer to a four-year college or university
Studies comparing the achievement of two-year college students with four year colleges and universities have found that the more courses students take at the community college level, the better they do in a four-year school....
After two years of study at the community college, the Bachelor's degree can then be pursued at a four-year college or university In the end, the Bachelor's degree comes from the "school of choice" without the high tuition costs for all four years.
THE RIGHT HIGH SCHOOL COURSES
Key College Requirements
Part of preparing to choose a college is choosing appropriate classes during high school. Many colleges and universities today look for a minimum of sixteen to eighteen units of college preparatory classes. The basic courses that most colleges require are: English, four years, including English composition, American, English and world literature; math, three to four years, including geometry, algebra I and II, and trigonometry (calculus is recommended); history and geography, two to three years, including U.S. and world history, U.S. government, world cultures, and civics; and lab sciences for two to three years, such as biology, earth science, chemistry, or physics. Colleges also expect some fluency in a foreign language, acquired by studying at least three years of French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, German, or Latin, for example. In addition, students should choose such electives as economics, computer science, art, music, communications, psychology, and drama.
Some of the above courses, especially in the sciences and mathematics, are offered as honors and advanced placement classes, providing high school students a sneak preview of college-level work in many different subjects. The classes cover extensive material at a faster pace, presenting a stimulating challenge for motivated students.
Advanced Placement Classes
Students who complete advanced placement classes help their college future in several ways. First, they improve their overall application profile. Most colleges view advanced placement courses as a sign of the student's willingness to accept a challenge and proof of their intellectual competence. Second, students who score a grade of three or higher (out of five) in an advanced placement examination, given at the end of the course, may receive college credit from the prospective school, which can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tuition fees. (More selective schools require a grade of four or higher.) Even if the student does not score high on the exam (or chooses not to take the optional exam), he or she can enhance the grade point average by earning a grade point higher than the traditional four-point scale. In other words, a student who earns an A in an advanced placement class scores a five-point grade; a B is posted as a four-point.
A Focus on Academics
By the time Ryan Kelly completed his freshman year of high school, it was apparent that his interests and abilities were especially keen in mathematics. Because of his stringent schedule, there was very little time for cruising the mall or watching television. He was bright, but not brilliant. Yet he excelled in every math class available and continually scored high in the math section of the Scholastic Assessment Test.
The Kellys continually encouraged their son and sacrificed in many ways in order to provide for strong academically-based primary and secondary schools. They were always amazed at his teachable attitude and carefully nurtured his self-motivation.
"Your grades need to be among the highest, and you need to limit your television watching to weekends if you want to get into a good college," said Lynn Kelly, Ryan's mother, an education administrator.
Like the Kellys, many parents start planning for college when their student is still in middle school. If you're a parent, you can begin planting college seeds when your child is twelve or thirteen. If you're a student, begin with your freshman enrollment and choose classes that will help you get ready for college. Remember that the best schools demand a full schedule of college-prep classes. It makes sense to plan years in advance for the type of courses to be taken in high school.
QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE PROSPECTIVE COLLEGE
Beyond the academic preparations, students need to focus their college choices by asking the right questions. Determining where to spend four or five years on one campus prompts questions like, "Will I fit in?" and "Will I be challenged?" Students visiting a college in person should ask pointed questions of the administration, as well as query the students to learn what life is truly like on their particular campus.
College-bound students should divide their questions into the following five categories, listing the "pros" and "cons" for each college: (1) the distinctive nature of the school, (2) the academic reputation, (3) geographical location, (4) the student body, and (5) the overall size of the campus. First, though, they should ask the primary question: "What type of school do I want to attend? Do I prefer a two-year community college, a four-year liberal arts school, a Christian college, or a technical institution? Do I want a nationally recognized state university, a small private college, or a famed Ivy League school?" Ultimately, students should choose a college where they fit both spiritually and academically.
Then the student can begin asking the questions in each category. For instance, under the academic reputation, the student could ask, "Does the school offer a major that interests me? Does the campus provide an environment for learning? Is the school ranked scholastically? Will I be challenged academically, and more importantly, will my faith be challenged? What are the average SAT and ACT scores of incoming students? Do my national test scores meet or exceed the scores of others? Is there an up-to-date resource library and research facility? Are there academic, professional, and/or Christian organizations on campus?"
Other questions for determining academic standards are: "What is the ratio of students versus faculty? What percentage of all classes do professors teach versus graduate assistants? How many professors hold a Ph.D.? Are the classes small and intimate or taught in large lecture rooms? What is the average number of students per class? Do the professors have an open-door policy for assisting their students? How easy is it to change majors and does the school provide professional counselors for every student? What is the retention rate? What is the current graduation rate?"
Thinking ahead to graduation, some students may ask, "Is there a graduate school attached to the college or university? If so, what percentage of graduates apply for graduate school? Do the academic standards match my aspirations and allow me to achieve my designated goal after graduation? What does the school do to help graduates find jobs? Do they have a reputation for advancing graduates into key positions with Fortune 500 companies?"
Among the questions concerning the student life are these: "Does the school provide adequate dormitories or will I be required to live in off-campus housing? What kind of meal plan is offered in the dorms? Is the dormitory coed? If so, how is the gender separation handled within the dorms and bathrooms? What kind of health facility is available? Does the college or university provide up-to-date computer labs? Do most students have desktop computers or carry laptops to class?"
The geographical location is often a deciding factor for many students who prefer to be near their home rather than days away by car (or several hours away by costly jet travel). If the school is out of state, a student is likely to ask, "Is the cost of transportation figured into my overall budget? Is the school located in an urban or rural setting? Is the community slow paced or is it primarily academically focused? Finally how safe is the campus? What are the crime statistics for the campus and surrounding area?"
Some students prefer a large school, while others want to know everyone on campus and enjoy a feeling of camaraderie. More questions might be: "How large is the student body? What is the ratio of male to female students? Do most students return home on weekends? Is the campus a walking campus, a bicycle campus, or do I need an automobile? Are automobile expenses figured into my overall budget? Are there sororities and fraternities on campus? If so, what percentage of the student population are members and would I need to become a member to fit in? What do the students do for fun? What percentage of the student body is involved in intramural and varsity sports? During my visit, were the students helpful and congenial or arrogant and unfriendly?"
Of course, don't overlook questions regarding costs and probability of acceptance: "What are my chances for acceptance? Will admittance to the college be a stretch or am I assured of enrollment?
"Can I apply for state residency after the first year and begin paying in-state tuition rates? Is the school affordable based on my budget? Is it possible to receive an institutional scholarship award? What percentage of all students qualify for financial aid? Can I qualify for work-study? Will my AP credits transfer?"
With so many questions to be answered, students should seek counsel from their parents, teachers, guidance counselor, coaches, and local youth pastor. The Bible is a crucial resource for the Christian student. I especially recommend Proverbs 2, particularly verses one through seven, as the student weighs his choices.
VISITING THE CAMPUS IN PERSON—OR BY COMPUTER
Richard Kelly and his son were determined to visit as many college campuses as possible to learn the answers to scores of their questions. In fact, between Ryan's sophomore and senior years in high school, Ryan and his father toured nine colleges and universities.
"Our two campus trips around the country were possibly the best one-on-one times I ever spent with Ryan," the senior Kelly later told a friend. "Driving between colleges allowed ample time for debriefing, analysis, and reflection. It was also a great opportunity to discuss Ryan's spiritual values and the potential impact of the various environments on those values."
Unlike the Kellys, many students do not have the time or money to visit several colleges across the country. For those students, the Internet is a welcomed friend. At www.campustours.com, students can take a virtual tour of hundreds of colleges without ever leaving their home and without ever spending money for plane tickets, hotels, and rental cars. And many schools have their own web sites, usually under www.schoolname.edu that includes information on the student body, location, information on courses (often from the catalog) and photos or a video tour of the campus. (The school name may be abbreviated on the web site; look at application information.) If you don't have a computer, usually one is as close as a local library or your school's computer lab.
PREPARING FOR THE SAT AND ACT
Referring to the attention given the national testing program, G. Gary Ripple, director of admissions at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, noted, "There is such a great variation among high schools in the quality of teaching, the quality of courses offered, the quality of textbooks and the consistency of grading policies, that admission committees perceive SAT/ACT scores as a common denominator. While standardized test scores are not as important as the high school transcript, they serve as a convenient screening device for admission committees faced with thousands of applications."
Because of the increased competition for institutional scholarships and admission into the best colleges and universities, students should consider receiving tutorial assistance prior to their final national test date, regardless of whether they attended a Christian school, private academy, a public high school, or were schooled at home.
At the beginning of his junior year, Ryan prepared to retake the SAT nexam. It was a personal challenge, and the Kellys had provided a tutor, confident the private help would be able to give Ryan's verbal score a boost. All were disappointed when the boost amounted to only 40 points, but rejoiced knowing that he scored a perfect 800 on the math. Ryan next tackled the SAT II and again scored high on the math portion but a dismal 570 on writing.
Excerpted from Cost Effective College by Gordon Wadsworth. Copyright © 2000 Gordon Wadsworth. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Appendix 1: Financial Aid Versus Costs
Appendix 2: Career Opportunities
Appendix 3: College Application Checklist
Appendix 4: Sample FAFSA and PROFILE Forms
Appendix 5: Expected Family Contribution: Sample Analyses
Appendix 6: State Grants
Appendix 7: Internet Connections and Scholarship Searches
Appendix 8: Tax Provisions
Appendix 9: Applying for the Robert C. Byrd Scholarship
Appendix 10: Essay Preparation
Appendix 11: Sample Student Loan Payments
Appendix 12: A Sample Budget
Appendix 13: Projected Costs and Necessary Savings for College
Appendix 14: Prepaid Tuition Programs