These days going to college might seem more like a communal than a personal venture. The financing, the time commitment, and the outcomes affect more than just the student who is actually enrolled. The majority of college-going students have families, and often whole communities, that are invested in their success at college.
To succeed in and finish college, however, the experience must be personal. College, from the selection of the school to the choice of major(s), has to be owned by the student who will actually be at the center of the enterprise.
Getting through college successfully begins with being at the right school in the first place. Resources like the Fiske Guide to Colleges offer information on hundreds of colleges and universities, and a book like Admission Possible can teach you how to get in. The choices are vast, and the college application process can seem overwhelming at times, but you can find the right school for you by making decisions based on who you are (and not on what your parents did or what your friends do).
Begin by asking yourself who you are.
You love learning. If you revel in the ideas exchanged in your high school classes, college will feel like a big candy store. You will be among many others who feel that way, and you will have plenty of options to consider, from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities. Deciding which one is the right fit should not be based on prestigious names or where your cousin went. Think about whether you would thrive best in the intimate environment of a small school or in the energy of a large university.
You do not feel like you can get into a competitive college. Teachers have said that you aren't fulfilling your potential. Maybe high school isn't challenging enough for you. Your grades don't match your SAT scores, which may capture your potential more accurately. If you don't get good grades and are among those who don't test well, your choices become limited. You may come from a high school that has not prepared you well to compete with students who have more rigorous training. Any of these scenarios may mean that you do not have a competitive chance of getting accepted to top tier schools.
If there is a good reason for a slide in grades or your test-taking problems, address them in your college application. If you had to deal with the death of a parent, a divorce, or another type of crisis, say so. If you have learning disabilities, then provide documentation showing that you have been tested for them.
Start out at a less prestigious college, then consider transferring if your first year there goes well. Community college might be an excellent option. Community colleges will be familiar with the challenges faced by your local school system. They also offer remediation where needed. You can catch up on skills while also showing your strong attributes. If you do well, you may move up from an associate's to a bachelor's degree or go on to a four-year college.
You are a creative person who wants to follow your passion. You are a dancer, an artist, a filmmaker, a woodworker, a designer. Ninety percent of the time, further education will enhance your options. You may refine your craft in courses like studio art. You will learn skills that can enable you to make a living doing what you love. Many schools specialize in creative pursuits like animation, fine arts, film, dance, and theater. Some offer combination degrees like art therapy, art restoration, or fashion retailing.
You are older than the traditional student and have family and work responsibilities. You realize that in order to progress you need a college degree or more specific training. Many universities offer a mix of online and on-site courses. Community colleges are excellent choices offering more flexibility in scheduling and courses specific to certain careers. Some schools give credit for life experience or let you use your work as part of your learning experience.
You learn best by doing and are practical in your interests. Does action take precedence over reading or library research? You may need a college that teaches hands-on skills that can be used in defined workplaces. Such schools are sometimes classified as technical colleges, providing specific skills like mechanics or computer repair, while also offering courses in related subject areas like business management.
You are not sure if you are ready for college. Do you feel pressured to go to school, but feel like you lack a sense of purpose? We know that students who are clear about why they're in school -- even if they haven't decided on a major yet -- do better. Work for a year or engage in community service while you find your focus. Taking a year off between high school and college is no longer frowned upon if the student uses the time well.
Bottom line: Whatever you choose, if you are in the place that's right for you, you will be more likely to finish college.
Visit College Countdown to learn more about Marcia Cantarella and how her new book I Can Finish College, can help you succeed.