Sadly, in the United States, a vast majority of high school students never go on to college. Instead, they immediately head into the work field, making little more than minimum wage. In my family, I grew up knowing that college was not an option: I WAS going to go. My mother, in particular, was adamant about my continuing my education.
As I grew older, and learned more of how this world works, though, the easier it was for me to understand the fears that make too many young students think that college isn't possible. At the same time, I also know, that all of the fears they have, can be overcome and that college isn't only possible, it's very important. Because I believe this so strongly, I thought it was necessary to try and put some of their fears at ease. Below are some common questions, fears, and the answers which explain how those fears can be overcome. The answers are based on laws and procedures in the United States but I know that, in most other countries, procedures exist to help students continue their education.
Q: One of the most, if not *the* most, asked questions about college, is about the cost. How much does college cost?
A: As with almost everything, the tuition of college, and the cost of books, varies from college to college. However, the average cost, including books (which, unlike in high school, students must pay for) in a state college is about $8,000 - $12,000.
Q: How much more is a private university and what is the difference(s) between a state (government run) college and a private university?
A: Again, this answer varies. There are a few private universities that aren't much more expensive than state colleges. A few, for example, start at $14,000. The college I attend, however, is $36,000 a year. The cost of a private university depends upon the reputation and the popularity of the school.
NOTE: The main difference between state and private colleges is that private schools are generally smaller, so the classes are smaller, which means that there is more teacher-student interaction. Also, a lot of private universities are religiously based and require you to attend chapel as part of your classes. Also, the rules at a private university, such as dress codes, and times that you have to be inside the dorms, tend to be more relaxed, looser, at a state school, than at a private university.
Q: How much financial aid can you get, and what types of financial aid are available?
A: There are five different types of financial aid available to students. The first type is called an "un-subsized loan" . An un-subsized loan is money given to you by the state which you do not have to repay, ever. There is also a "subsized loan" which is also money lent to you by the state, which you will eventually (six months after you leave school) have to start paying back. There are also "grants" and "scholarships". You do not have to pay back either grants or scholarships, ever. They consist of money that is simply given to you by the state and/or by the college you attend. The last type of financial aid is called the "Parent Plus Loan" which your parents can apply for. They may or may not receive it but you will receive every other loan you ask for. If your parents are denied because of their credit history, then you will be eligible for an extra $2,000 on your un-subsized loan.
NOTE: Some grants and scholarships are given to you by the college you attend, while others are given to you by the state. There are literally hundreds and thousands of scholarships. If you go to college within your state, for example, you could receive a "TN state grant", or "NY state grant". Colleges have so many different grants and scholarships: some for grades, some for sports, some for music, sometimes you can even get a scholarship if one of your parents are in the army, or work as a pastor for a certain denomination. There are a number of factors which determine how much money you can get to go to college. Sometimes, as with me, you can get a "full ride" where you pay nothing, ever. It's all given to you with scholarships, grants and un-subsized loans. Other times, you have to pay, eventually, some. Nearly all of the time, though, you can receive a substantial amount of financial aid.
Q: How do you apply for financial aid?
A: The first thing you need to do is fill out a FASA form, which you can get from either your high school guidance counselor, or by calling the financial aid office of the college you wish to attend. This application will serve as your un-subsized loan application, as well as your application for any state grants or scholarships that you may be eligible for. Your application to get into a college also serves as your application for any scholarships or grants that that college may have to give you. For example, if you wanted to go to Vanderbilt University, where I go, your application to get into Vanderbilt would serve as your application for any scholarships or grants that Vanderbilt has to give. I want to say here that if the reason you fear you can't go to college is because of money, don't let that stand in your way. You *can* get the money to go. I am going to a $36,000/year college and I am paying nothing. Even if all the loans, grants, and scholarships won't cover the expenses of the college you want to go to, there is Tuition Management Systems, which will allow you to pay what wasn't covered by the financial aid given to you in monthly installments, so that it is reasonable and doable.
Q: How different are college classes from high school classes?
A: In level of difficulty, college classes are not more difficult than high school. The difficult part comes in because the professors (teachers) treat you like you're an adult. They may assign a paper one day and not mention it again until the day it is due. Also, like most high schools, colleges have a limit on the number of days that you can miss. Unlike high school, though, they are very, very strict about going to class. If, for example, their rule says that you can miss three days of a class and you miss four, you fail that class. They look at it like you're paying to go to school so if you don't want to do the work, or go to class, then that's okay. You just won't pass the class. Because of this, college requires you to have a very mature and responsible attitude that involves self discipline to get the work done.
Q: How do you graduate from college?
A: College has a system called "Credits/Hours" (you can use the words interchangeably, the mean the same thing. It used to confuse the heck out of me when someone would say, "4 hours" and then right around and say, "you've got 4 credits". Credits and hours are the same thing). You have to have so many hours (credits) to graduate. In the school I'm at, for example, you have to have 132 hours to graduate. Each class is worth so many credits (hours), depending on how long you're in that class each week. In high school, you go to every class five days a week, but that's not the way it is in college. In college, you go to some classes three days a week, and others only two days a week. So, let's say you go to English on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for one hour each day. That class would then be worth three credits (hours). If you had a Biology class, which met four days a week, for an hour each day, then that class would be worth four hours (credits) and so forth. They add up until you've received 132 hours needed to graduate.
Q: Are there certain classes I have to take to graduate?
A: Yes. Number one, you have to have a major and a minor. Your major is what you want to be. For example, if you want to be a teacher, then your major would be education. If you want to be a doctor, then your major would be biology. Your minor could be anything at all. Your minor doesn't have to have anything to do with your major. For example, my sister's major is biology, but her minor is Art. Whatever your major is, though, you have to have 45 hours (credits) of that. So, if your major is English, you have to have 45 hours (which amounts to about 15 classes) of English. You have to have 21 hours of your minor. In addition to your major and minor, you also have to complete your college's "Core Curriculum" which includes so many hours (the exact number required in the core differs from college to college) of English, Math, History, Art, PE, etc. In the college I'm at, we have to have 52 hours of Core Curriculum. Once you have completed your major hours, your minor hours, and your core hours, you will still have about fourteen hours left, which means that you will still have to take about 12 classes, called electives. Electives can be anything you want to take: you're just taking the classes to get the number of hours needed to graduate.
Q: When do I need to apply for college?
A: The sooner you apply (and you can get applications for different colleges from your guidance counselor, or by calling the college you want to go to.) the more money you will be eligible for. Typically, they like you to apply by October or November of your Senior Year in high school.
Q: What do I have to make on my ACTs and SATs to get into college? What are colleges looking for?
A: With a score of 22 on your ACTs, you can qualify for extra scholarships at certain schools. Colleges like for you to have a score of at least 20 to get in. At least, that's what they say, but if you don't make that, don't panic: they will *still* let you in, on the condition that you pass all of your first semester classes. Colleges like for you to have been involved in things other than just academia: so they look for extra curricular activities: also your recommendation letters that you'll have to get from your teachers will matter. Colleges look at *you* instead of just your grades, so there's no need to let grades keep you from trying to go to college.
Q: Is college fun?
A: Yes :). I love college. There are lots and lots of opportunities to do things in college that you won't have any other place. For example, you can go on mission trips or Foreign Language Trips with your college, and get grants to pay for it, so that you have to pay nothing. There are also lots of clubs and sports and extra curricular activities. It's fun and it's important because it's the only way that you can fulfill your career dreams and have financial security.