Choosing the Right Degree: When it Matters and When it Doesn’t Reply

Confusion , Direction , ArrowPicking the right degree in college can be a difficult decision. After you graduate, you will want to be happy with your decision and be able to get a job in a career field that you enjoy. However, you don’t necessarily have to make the decision right away. Most colleges will want you to declare your major by the end of your second year, so you’ve got some time to explore your options.

Take an aptitude test.

Every college will have an advisor’s office, and I would be surprised to hear if everyone didn’t offer some kind of aptitude test to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Take multiple aptitude tests at your school as well as online to narrow down your choices.

These tests are great for figuring out what careers are right for you right now, but also keep in mind that college is a place to learn and improve all of your skills. So even if the aptitude test doesn’t coincide with what you actually want to do, they are still helpful in giving you suggestions and ideas for determining your future.

Don’t worry about it right away.

Being undecided or undeclared for the first couple of years in college is OK. Not everyone should or does know what they want to do their first years in school. The majority of your first two years in college will be spent on general requirements and prerequisites for your upper division classes anyway. While you want to take the right prerequisites, plan on taking classes that help you explore opportunities and will also steer you in the right direction.

Research career paths.

Career paths are just that: a path towards a career. These paths aren’t exact and you will be able to take multiple roads to get you where you want to be. The majority of students will end up changing their major throughout their first couple of years, and quite a lot of graduates will end up working in jobs that aren’t directly related to their major.

When you are researching career paths, keep this in mind. In other words, research online and talk with people who work in that field and see what they majored in and how they got to be where they are. For entrepreneurs especially, the path to their success will come from a plethora of different backgrounds. LinkedIn is a great place to start – look at professional’s profiles and see where their academic and work experience has taken them.

Talk with your mentors, parents, and teachers.

Your family, mentors, teachers, and school counselors will know a lot about you and have a lot of knowledge about the world. Reaching out to these folk will help give you ideas about what degree is the best for you. Ask them about their past experiences and tell them to be honest about their advice. You’ll learn more than you think when you listen to their nuggets of truth.

Considering graduate school or an advanced degree?

The one time when you will want to have a definite idea of what you want to major in is if you plan on going into a specified career. For example, if you want to go to medical school you will have to major in a small number of specific degrees to have the knowledge and prerequisites to pass the MCATs and get into a medical school.

There are certain advanced degrees that don’t absolutely require a degree in the same field to get into, though. An MBA for example will typically take any bachelor degree graduate as long as they pass the required entrance exams and show an aptitude to succeed in their program through the admissions essay and qualified experience.

Keep an open mind.

More than anything keep an open mind as you never know what kinds of opportunities will present themselves and what you might be interested in. Take classes that help you both explore your interests and things you don’t know are your interests yet. Never been in a school play but always wanted to? Take an acting class as one of your liberal arts requirements and see what you think. College isn’t only about preparing for a career, it’s also about experiencing things you never have before.

Take the PSAT in your Freshman or Sophomore Year Reply

Pretty student doing homework

The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT is a test that most take in their junior year. It is however available to take as a freshman or sophomore if you wish to take it and it can be taken multiple times. If you are like most students, the prospect of taking yet another standardized test not appealing. There are already many tests to take, especially in your junior and senior year. This one, though, might be worth your time. Here are two compelling reasons to take the PSAT at least once in your first two years of high school.

The National Merit Scholarship Program

When you take your PSAT as a junior, you are also taking the qualifying test for the opportunity to win a National Merit Scholarship award. This award can be substantial and some colleges have set aside additional scholarship money for the winners of the scholarship if you attend their institution. Only those with the highest scores on the PSAT are eligible to win the scholarship, so you can imagine that there is some considerable competition. That being said, many students who take the test see it only as preparation for the SAT. Those who take the time to prepare for the PSAT will have an advantage and will be more likely to get a high score.

One of the best ways to prepare is to actually take the test. If you take the test as a freshman or sophomore, then you’ll know your score and you’ll know what parts of the test that you should work to improve. Plus, when you take the test that counts toward the scholarship you’ll be experienced at taking it.

Preparing to take the SAT

The SAT test can be one of the most stressful aspects of your senior year, which is already a very stressful and busy time. Your SAT score is used, among other things, to determine whether or not you will be admitted into a college. A great SAT score expands your choice of prospective schools, and a poor score can limit that choice.

Anything you can do to prepare for the SAT test will do two things: It will reduce your stress level when it comes time to take the test, and it will give you a better chance of doing really well on the test. Luckily, the SAT is very similar to the PSAT. If you take the PSAT as a freshman or sophomore, then you’ll know what you need to work on to do better. When you take your PSAT as a junior, you’ll have already practiced the test once or twice and you can use your scores on the PSAT to really focus your SAT Prep. There are many ways to prepare for the SAT, but all of them work better if you know what you need to focus on.

Taking the PSAT early gives you the opportunity to reduce your stress level later on and could end up giving you some scholarship money as well. Why wouldn’t you do some of your study and preparation in your first two years of high school if it could make things easier in your last two years of high school and help you get the best scores possible?

Read more about the PSAT on www.petersons.com.

Juniors: Make a List of Potential Colleges Reply

Making a list of collegesAs a high school junior, the task of picking a college can be daunting. There are so many colleges out there. So much to consider. There are a variety of different guidebooks and websites designed to help you search for a college that is right for you. Sometimes, the sheer amount of information on colleges makes things more confusing. You won’t really know for sure if a college is right for you until you visit it, but you certainly can’t visit every single college you find interesting. So how do you decide?

The best way to start is to make a list of colleges that you could see yourself attending.  In preparation for making this list, it’s important to really consider what qualities you are looking for in a college. It is much easier to evaluate a school, once you have done some thinking about what you want in a college. Make a list of the things you need and want from your prospective school.

Qualifications

Some qualifications are obvious and fairly objective. If you know what you want your major to be, or at least have an idea of where your main interests lie, then you’ll want to make sure that the school you are looking at offers degree programs that fit your goals. Location can be a factor.  Do you want to go to school close to home, or are you looking to move away? Cost is always a factor, though one that is difficult to measure.  Certainly you don’t want to add a school to your list if the cost to attend will exceed your budget.  Still, many schools that may have a tuition expense that is out of your range also have grants and scholarships that can help you offset those costs. A school’s athletic program might be an important decision factor for athletes who plan on continuing their sport at the college level.

Other qualifications are more subjective. What is the best college environment for you? Would you rather be in a big university or a smaller college? In a big city or a smaller one? College is not just about classes and grades and diplomas.  It’s also an experience.  Think about the things that are important to you as a person. What are your hobbies?  What kind of weather do you prefer? What clubs do you think you’d like to join?  What is the overall environment like?  These questions are much harder to answer without visiting the college – and if you are making fairly long list, you probably cannot visit them all! Sometimes visiting the school’s website, talking to someone who attends or did attend the college, or to the admissions personnel might help with some of these more subjective questions.

Share Your List of Schools

Once you have more clearly defined what types of colleges you’d like to attend, then it is much easier to research and add good candidates to your list of colleges.  Throughout this process it is a good idea to talk with your parents, other family members and your high school counselor to get feedback.  Those around you, who know you well, can be great resources because they can provide insight and ideas that may not have occurred to you. Once you have a list, they can also help you narrow it down to a handful of colleges that you can visit.

Peterson’s and HOSA Scholarships Reply

Since 1966, Peterson’s has been a trusted resource for students, parents and educators, and we are so proud to work closely with HOSA, an organization that spans 53 states and two hundred thousand members. Like Peterson’s, HOSA is dedicated to achieving the highest standards of quality healthcare through educational development. Both our organizations believe that our future is in good hands. We both hold to the ideals that a quality education can improve lives. Not only the lives of students but, especially in the case of healthcare, all the lives those students will touch in the course of their future careers. We are honored to be able to partner with HOSA in helping to support HOSA scholarships and participating in HOSA sponsored leadership conferences and expos.

So with that, congratulations to Victor Albornoz for his scholarship! During his membership with HOSA, Victor assisted with community service projects and was a part of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society. Victor’s goal is to become a trauma surgeon, and we wish him the best in this endeavor. Again, congratulations from all of us at Peterson’s.

 

Time to Get Moving on Early Decision Reply

DecisionIf you are a high school junior or senior that is planning on applying for early decision, then you are a student who knows exactly what your first school choice is. It also means that you have to be on top of all of the various deadlines you will need to meet in order to successfully apply for early decision. You can only submit an early decision application to one school. This is because your application is binding. By applying, you are committing to attending this college if you are admitted. You may perhaps have some other schools that you are applying for, but these schools are really second choices. You know for certain where you want to go to college and why. You’ve done your research. Here are some items to consider about early decision:

SAT and ACT: Something for juniors to consider:

  • If you are considering completing and early decision application for a school, then you will want to make certain that you have completed your SAT or ACT test by October of your junior year. This ensures that your test results will be available when you are sending in your college application. If you take the test any later, there is a high probability that your test scores will not be ready and you will not be able to complete your early decision application.
  • It may be a good idea to take the test even sooner than October however, so that you can retake the test if you are not satisfied with the results.

What seniors should be doing now.

  • Obtain information from your prospective college about the early decision process, and obtain an application. While you are preparing to start your new school year, it is important to remember how fast the time goes, and how busy you often get as you acclimate to another year. By starting your application now, you can be proactive and make certain that you obtain everything you need to complete your application.
  • You’ll need letters of recommendation to submit along with your application. If you did not start obtaining these in your junior year, you need to start asking for these. Letters of recommendation can come from teachers, counselors, community leaders who know you, or other references.
  • Get working on scholarship and grant applications. One of the more complicated aspects of early decision is that you will be making a decision on your college before you really know how much financial aid you will receive. Applying to more grants and scholarships now may help insulate you from the unknown.
  • Know your deadlines. Many early decision application deadlines are in November. Some are as early as October. Make sure you are persistent in getting any information you need to complete your application by the deadline.
  • Complete your financial aid applications. If a school offers scholarships directly, make sure you apply for them as you are applying for early decision and that you know the deadlines for financial aid applications, which may be different. Complete the FAFSA in January.

Early decision works well for students who are certain they know their top choice of college. In some cases, applying early may increase your chances for getting into a school. It also saves you stress because you won’t have to wait as long to receive your decision. Still, early decision is not for everyone, be certain to talk with your parents, school counsellors and college admissions people prior to committing to early decision.

The New Frontier – Preparing for Your College Experience Reply

Female college student walk on the road to start her journey and gain bright future

Female college student walks on the road

A lot of the big work is finally behind you. You’ve taken your SAT tests. You’ve applied and been approved for college. Countless hours have been spent writing essays and filling out long grant and scholarship applications. In a short time your life will be very different, you will be packing your stuff, moving out of your house and into a dorm at college, where you will spend the next several years of your life. Now reality sets in.

This time can be very exciting, but it can also be a little scary. You will soon be away from your parents, in a strange place with a lot of people you don’t know. Certainly it will be a wonderful time. Most everyone looks fondly back at their college years; the friends they made and all of the fun they had. Yet it is also one of the most stressful times. For most, it’s the first taste of independence, and a huge increase in your personal responsibility. Here are some tips for making this transition easier.

Know what to pack and what not to pack

Every school will provide you with a list of recommended items to bring to the dorm. They will also provide you with restricted items that you should not bring with you. Most of these items are common sense, but these lists can be useful. Keep them with you when you are shopping. These lists are not all-inclusive however. Other items you may consider bringing:

  • A sleep mask and earplugs – your roommate may be on a different schedule than you!
  • An external hard drive – your list will probably include a laptop, but backing up your schoolwork is a good idea.
  • Power strips – it’s always good to have a surge protector to plug your electronics into.
  • A basic tool kit
  • Flashlight
  • First Aid Kit
  • Shower shoes

The important thing to remember is that dorms are small. You won’t have much room for stuff, so the more you can limit and still be prepared and comfortable, the better off you will be.

Having a Roommate

Some of you may already know your future roommate but many of you will not. Much of the time, you will have a positive experience with your roommate. This person may well end up being a friend for life. However, you are living with another human being, and will undoubtedly have different preferences habits and personalities. The best way to start your relationship off in a positive way is to set ground rules and expectations with each other. It’s a good time to begin thinking about what is important to you when living with someone and how you plan to balance your school work and social life. When you get to the dorm and meet your roommate, discus those items and come up with a set of “rules for the dorm” that is acceptable for both of you.

Finally, be prepared for the unexpected

Your first few months at college will likely be a bit chaotic while you acclimate to a new schedule, learn your way around, get used to the rigorous academic requirements, and get to know your fellow students. Likely, things will not always go as expected, or as you would like them to. Be prepared to be flexible and patient. Bring some extra spending money to purchase the inevitable few things that you either forgot, or didn’t know you needed.

The Art of Narrowing Your List of Colleges Reply

Narrowing your college list.

Deciding on a college.

As a high school junior just starting a new school year, it is easy to see your college career as something still far on the horizon. Certainly you are preparing (or have already taken) your SAT or ACT test. You’ve likely begun thinking about what schools you would be interested in attending, and maybe you’ve even visited one or two. Still, the actual idea of graduating high school and starting college can seem far off. It’s really not as far away

as it seems, and your junior year is a great time to do some fine-tuning of your list of colleges. Fine-tuning now can save you stress and frustration later.

If you’ve been doing your research, you may have quite a list. It’s not uncommon for a student to have a list of 10 or more desirable colleges. Now it’s time to narrow that list to something a little more manageable before beginning the application process. Applying to too many schools can be stressful and make a tough decision even tougher. Here are a few things to consider while narrowing your list.

Location

Some students want to stay close to home. Some want to go to specific areas of the country. For some, location isn’t as big of a deal. If location is important to you it’s time to think this through and possibly get rid of colleges that are not in a location you are interested in living.

Specific Degree Programs and Features

Obviously, if you’ve placed a school on your “potential school list,” you’ve chosen a school that offers the degree you want. Now it’s time to research further. Does the school have a good reputation for your specific degree? You may also want to consider special ancillary features each college offers. If you are interested in studying abroad, specific work-study programs or ROTC, you’ll want to narrow your list to colleges that fulfil those needs.

Cost

Let’s face it, one of the major considerations when choosing a college is the tuition and other costs. Determining the net cost of a year of college at a particular institution can be tricky. It’s not just a matter of looking at the tuition cost. On the surface, one school may be more expensive than another, but that school may also offer more grants and scholarships. Depending on your situation, it is conceivable that a more expensive private college could actually be cheaper than a public college with a lower tuition because of a more comprehensive financial aid program.

Composite image of student holding laptopLong Shots vs Sure Things

Depending on your goals, you may wish to apply to some schools that are more difficult to get into. Remember, even if you have great grades, you are not guaranteed admission into a school like Harvard or Yale. If schools like these are on your list, then it’s a good idea to also have some second choices on your short list that meet your goals, but tend to be easier to get into.

Every student is different, so likely there are other considerations to be made when reducing your prospective college list. Take some time now to think it through and narrow your list. This way you can focus your time and effort on applying only to those schools you most want to attend.

The Benefits of Federal Work Study Program Reply

Students studying on the grass of a university quad.

Students studying on the grass of a university quad.

If you have begun looking into colleges, then you have likely discovered that your education is going to be expensive. You’ve probably applied to grants and scholarships and, depending on where you are in the process, you may have completed your FAFSA application as well. When looking at a way to fund your education, it is important to consider any possible avenues that are available. Depending on your and your parent’s financial situation, FAFSA may award a Grant for the Federal Work Study program.

The Federal Work Study program is not offered to all students, just those with the financial need for them. It is also not a program that all schools participate in. If you think you may qualify for the Federal Work Study program and would like to take advantage of it, it’s a good idea to check with the schools you are interested in to see if they offer something.

This program does not directly pay for your education. Instead, it provides an opportunity for you to get a part time job that pays at least minimum wage. You can use that money to pay some of your tuition, or to pay for the other expenses that come with attending college; food, laundry, supplies, housing, etc. When you qualify for the program, you’ll apply to and interview for a position, just like you would with any other job. Some work study jobs are with the school you attending, and you work on campus. Other jobs are elsewhere in the community.

If you are working on campus, often your position will be something like working at the library or bookstore or in the cafeteria. Typically, if you work off campus, your position will be something that provides some sort of public service, or that is related in some way to your field of study. The FAFSA Grant funds part of your pay, and your employer the other part. This is an incentive for an employer to hire students since the Federal Work Study Program pays a portion of the wages. If you are awarded the Work Study Grant, it is important that you start looking or a position. The Grant does not guarantee you a position, only that they will subsidize the wage.

There are other benefits to the Federal Work Study program than just money for college. You gain valuable work experience and begin to learn how to budget your time. You’ll have some work experience to put on your resume when you get out of college. If your work study job was related to your field of study, then perhaps you will have an advantage over other students, when applying for positions after college. You could enter your new career with a college degree, and a few years of experience in the field. If you qualify for the Federal Work Study program, it is definitely worth consideration. It gives you some cash you will need for college and will help prepare you for your future career.

Report all of your Financial Aid Reply

Your overall financial aid package can come from many sources. You completed the FAFSA application and the results of that application were submitted to your school. Using that, you could be awarded a variety of Federal grants, scholarships, and loans. Your school may have internal grant and scholarship opportunities that are awarded based on a variety of factors, such as your high school grades and you and your parent’s economic situation.

University, Finance, Charity and Relief Work.

College financial aid.

In addition to this, you’ve probably spent many hours applying for grants and scholarships that aren’t attached either to your school or to the FAFSA. Likely this meant writing essays and introduction letters completing many very long applications for several opportunities ranging from as little as five hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars each. These could have been scholarships offered by local community groups such as the Rotary Club or the Masons, as well as state and national groups.

The important thing to remember is that these scholarships are considered part of your overall financial aid package, even though they didn’t come directly from your school or from your Federal financial aid package. Some scholarship and grant programs notify the school of their award, or send the check directly to the school’s financial aid department. Others send or give the checks to you directly and may or may not actually report the award to the school. This is especially true of smaller gifts from local organizations. This is where your responsibility comes in. It is up to you – not the school and not the organizations giving you money – to make sure all sources of financial aid are reported to your school. Even the small $500 grant checks that you received are part of your financial aid and are considered by the school when awarding other Grants and scholarship.

There is a temptation to refrain from reporting some of the smaller awards, especially when it seems very unlikely that your school will never find out about them. Can reporting your outside financial aid reduce the financial aid package your school offers? Yes it can. However, it is considered fraudulent to withhold information regarding your outside financial aid offers and it could result in a revocation of your entire financial aid package should the school find out that information was withheld. Even more severe, you could find that your acceptance into the college is also revoked if the school feels you have been dishonest with them.

The better, and more honest, route to take would be to report everything you have received to your financial aid department. Then you can negotiate with them, should you find that your overall package was reduced. Don’t put your college career at risk to save a few bucks.

Decoding your College Awards Letter Reply

Multi generation meeting at the coffee bar

Sharing the news of a college award letter.

Typically, colleges for which you have been accepted will send an awards letter to you in March or early April. This letter contains important information. From it, you should be able to determine your total cost and the financial aid you are offered. Unfortunately, there is no standardized format for these letters, nor is there a standardized set of data that must be reported in the letter. Each school formats their letters a little differently, and so it can be very difficult to decipher.

On your letter, you may see several acronyms. Let’s go over a few of them so that the letter itself will become clearer. Prior to receiving your Awards Letter, you received a notification from FAFSA which included your EFC – your Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount that you or your family will be expected to cover, using loans or other means. Your COA – is your cost of attendance. It is the amount listed on the letter that shows the total cost to attend the school. Your FAFSA of course, is your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the application you completed to start the whole process.

The letter should outline your COA, so that you understand the overall costs. If you are comparing schools, this is often a very important number. You will also see the Net Price, which is the COA minus your gift aid. Gift Aid is considered the scholarships and grants that you were awarded through the school and the FAFSA. While COA is an important number, the Net Cost can be even more important. The Net Cost is the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the financial aid you received. This includes all grants, scholarships, and loans. The Net Cost is composed of your EFC plus a GAP, which is the difference between the total cost and the EFC – something that goes beyond your expected family contribution.

The Net Cost can be important because, even if the COA of one school is higher than the other, that higher priced school might have more aid available. This could mean that by looking at your net cost, you may find that you could actually pay less to attend a more expensive school because they have more scholarships and grants available.

Once you have decided on a school (if you’ve applied to more than one) it is important for you to review the Awards Letter and return it to the school. When you review your Awards Letter, you will be accepting some or all of the Financial Aid offered. It is important to get this done as soon as possible so that your aid can be applied to your account at the school. You can choose to accept or not accept any portion of your financial aid. When looking through your aid package, you’ll want to accept all grants and scholarships first, followed by any federal loans prior to accepting private loans. This will help ensure that your overall costs stay low.