It can feel overwhelming when you are at the beginning of your college journey, especially if you’re not even sure where that journey will begin. The massive goal of completing your degree is much more manageable and far less frightening if you break it into smaller steps and begin with the most important person in this process: You.
Factors to Consider in Choosing a College Location
While college is certainly a time to grow, stretch, and expand your comfort zone in every way possible, it’s important to choose a school which best fits your lifestyle at the moment. For example, if you have children and are holding down a full-time job, moving far away to stay on an apartment near campus probably isn’t the best option for you. Consider nearby schools or online degree programs which cater students seeking non-traditional routes to degree-earning. Many people in all stages of life are completing or beginning their degrees, and most institutions of higher learning are accommodating and welcoming them.
If you are not tied to a particular part of the country or if your career is mobile, it might be possible to move. This is a time to calculate the cost of doing so, what on-campus or near-campus housing options are available, and even where you might like to live. If you have never left the tiny town where you were born and are itching to be a part of a major city, seek out colleges which fulfill your goal. On the other hand, you might have been raised in a concrete jungle and are eager to spend some time on green campuses where the hiking club doesn’t have to look far to find wild trails.
Whatever your desires, be honest with yourself and what you are seeking from your college education. The degree program is important, but it’s certainly not the only aspect of the college experience.
Aligning Your Career Goals with Your Core Values
Knowing what your career goals are will help narrow your college search. For example, if you’d like to study dance, find a program with the best fit. In the event you’re looking for a career in STEM, you might choose a larger school which boasts state of the art equipment and work-study opportunities.
What if you’re not sure what you’d like to study? In that event, consider discerning your learning style and where your interests naturally gravitate. Most colleges require freshmen and sophomores to take a series of required courses which will explore literature, math, foreign languages, science, and the arts. You’re not alone: 80% of college students change majors and, even after they graduate, careers.
Think about your values system as well. Is it important to you to study and grown in your faith? What kinds of social service opportunities does your prospective college offer? Are you uncomfortable with any aspects of the college’s mission statement and stated goals? Serving all aspects of your self-growth will make for a more enriching college experience.
College Degree Planning Must-Knows
If you’ve not begun your college journey yet, you may feel bombarded by information in the first few weeks as you acclimate to new surroundings, course delivery systems, expectations, and living situations. You will probably be paired with a student advisor who will help you decide on which courses to take.
Working with your advisor to stay on track with pre-requisites and credit amounts is vital throughout your academic career. Each college demands different kinds of courses to satisfy degree requirements, and it some cases—becoming certified to teach or work as a nurse, for example – you must meet state or federal requirements as well. Your student advisor might also be able assist you in finding work-study programs, internships, and financial aid or grants.
But your student advisor can only guide so much. You are in charge of your own education. Avoid simply signing up for 8 AM courses or “the easiest profs” and arrange your degree program to best fit your goals. For example, if you must work part or even full time while in college, be sure to be realistic with your course load and schedule planning. Or, if time is of the essence and you’d like to complete your degree with as little fuss and as few electives as possible, dive into your college’s course catalogue to find the most efficient path to your BA, BS, or higher degree. Some schools even offer programs which combine a bachelor’s degree with a master’s degree.
Preparing for Your Professional Career & Life
Arming yourself with current information about your degree field and your professional prospects in it is important. For example, if you’d like to become a marine biologist, but one who teaches school programs in major zoos, speak with those already in that industry niche to find the best path to take; you might need to augment your zoology courses with a few education classes.
Finding your route to your career may take many forms. Embarking on an ROTC program, for example, includes military service in addition to a scholarship, and requires more careful planning than other forms of earning a degree.
Your degree program doesn’t lock you into a particular job or industry. They will change as technology and society does. Participating in a wide smattering of courses in addition to those in your career field, as well as those which are tangentially related, may help you to uncover skills or ignite new passions. Always be open to new possibilities.
As your degree program draws to its conclusion in your junior and senior years, seek new ways to learn about your career path and how to best enter it. Some colleges will demand a capstone course, a semester-long thesis experience, or a major research project. Knowing this may lay ahead of you can assist with time blocking and other schedule arrangements.
By making your college education your priority, no matter which college you choose or what degree plan you complete, you stand a far better chance of success when you plan for the unexpected.