Are You Ready for College?
By Joanna Nesbit
Not everyone goes to college right away. Sometimes, students take a year off to work or travel. They might need to work and save for college costs, spend time caring for their mental or physical health, or take a break from school to consider what they really want from college. In some cases, high school students might decide college isn’t the right next step for them.
Before committing to higher education, you owe it to yourself to consider whether college makes sense for your interests, goals, and overall well-being. Here are some things to think about.
The Finance Factor
Few families can pay for all of college. Luckily, there are many different kinds of financial aid that can help cover expenses, including grants, scholarships, and “gift aid” from colleges themselves. Here are questions to discuss with your family:
- Will your parents, family, or others be able and willing to help pay for school?
- Do you have a college savings account?
- Have you been saving up for college over the past several years?
- Have you looked into your financial aid and scholarship options?
- Are you already planning to work part or full time while in school?
- Have you explored the federal student loans available to you?
- Can you or your family cover the cost of a local community college, where you can start while you work and save or look for sources of funding?
- Are you interested in exploring how serving in the military can help pay for college?
Most students pay for their education using some combination of these options. It can seem overwhelming at first, but if college is a priority, there are ways to make it affordable and people who can help you figure out how.
If your parents aren’t able to help with the financial aid process, your high school may have a college or career counselor who can help. Some communities have college access organizations that help students with college applications and financial aid forms. Sometimes, they specifically work with first-generation or low-income students. Ask your guidance counselor if your community has this type of organization.
The Academic Factor
When considering college, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and consider whether you’re interested in pursuing your academic interests more rigorously. Here are some things to think about:
- Are you eager to go more in depth on academic subjects that you studied in high school, as well as brand-new topics you might not have learned about before?
- Do you feel ready to take on more challenging studies? And are you motivated to seek extra academic support if and when you need it?
- Does the idea of expanding your skills and knowledge excite you?
- Do you feel willing and able to dedicate many hours each week to studying and completing assignments and projects?
Some students might feel eager to continue down an academic path, whereas others might be more interested in attending a trade school or pursuing a career that doesn’t require additional years of study.
The Application Factor
Applying to college can be exciting, but it can also be stressful. Before deciding to jump into the application process, you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for it emotionally and have the information and basic requirements needed for applications. Think about:
- Have you taken the necessary tests, like the SAT or ACT, to apply to schools of interest?
- How do your high school GPA and test scores compare to the typical accepted student at the schools you’re considering? Do you need to take additional exams or study to earn higher test scores to increase your chances of being accepted into your top schools?
- Do you feel ready and able to draft an essay for your application, and possibly several supplemental writing pieces?
- Are the schools you’re interested in a good match for your interests and personality?
The Life Goals Factor
Even if you don’t have a specific career path in mind, think about fields or industries that interest you and whether you need a college degree to work in them. Many careers require a college degree, but not all require a four-year degree.
You might do just as well earning a specific program certificate at a two-year college, going to a trade or technical school, getting formal on-the-job training, or not having any formal education or training beyond high school.
Here are a few ideas for exploring career paths:
- Attend career events and career exploration classes at your high school.
- Sit in on college and technical college presentations by admissions representatives who visit your high school.
- Talk to adults in your life about their careers and shadow them on the job if possible.
- Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and Career Key for career ideas.
- Consider your extracurricular activities or things you love to do. How might those inform your career choice? (Do you love being outdoors? Love writing or building? Pay attention to these things.)
Take time to think about what you want to do as a career and what level of education fits your needs best.
The Emotional Factor
How do you feel about college? The transition to higher education is a big one, and many students feel nervous about it—that’s normal. But if you don’t look forward to it at all, that’s something to listen to. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the idea of college excite you, or fill you with dread?
- If you’re thinking about going to college away from home, how do you feel about being far from loved ones?
- How are your independent life skills? Do you feel confident in your life skills, and are you willing to learn new ones? For example, can you do your own laundry and (simple) cooking? Are you willing to learn?
- Are you comfortable with the greater independence and responsibility that college delivers?
- Do you feel ready to set your own schedule and time structure?
- Are you excited to meet new people and make new friends?
College can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. But there are many directions you can head after high school that can be right for you, too. By making sure college is the path you want to take, you’re likely to get much more out of the experience.