Next steps are often both exciting and terrifying. Whether you’re finishing high school in a traditional setting, or from homeschool, you’re still leaving childhood behind. Now you have to decide whether you want to plunge into the job market or pursue a college degree.
On the surface, college looks a bit like high school and a bit like the adult world. On one hand, you have four years of college where you go to school every day just like high school. On the other hand you get to choose your field of study, and if you skip class, no one is going to call your parents or you won’t have to hide from them in order to skip class.
So, beyond the choice of going to college or not (which you have to make yourself) what options are there? Here’s some general information to get you started.
What is the difference between a college and a university? A college is generally smaller than a university and offers only undergraduate studies. Undergraduate (a bachelor degree is an undergraduate degree) means that you have a college education, but you’re not a Professor/Dr. Someone who wants to teach college and become Dr. (Name) or practice law first has to get an undergraduate degree, and then get a graduate degree such as a PhD. (Think of graduate school as college for people who have already gone to college.) A university offers both undergraduate and graduate studies.
What is the difference between a state school and a private institution? State schools are usually far larger than private schools, and because they receive financial assistance from the government they are often a cheaper option. It is often debated w, hich is better, and honestly, neither is. They’re just different. State schools have larger class sizes due to a larger student body in most cases, so you’ll get less of a personalized experience, but private schools will often require that you pay much more for you personalized college education.
Does it matter how much it costs? Yes. Whether or not you’re paying your own way through college, your parents are paying it, or you’ve received scholarships (which you should always look into — at my school more than 90% of the student body receives some form of financial assistance and the main reason for not getting any is not asking/applying), the cost of where you attend college matters. Student loan debt can add up quickly, so if you or your parents are taking out loans to afford your education, it’s worth looking into what options you have to defray the cost.
What is a GPA and is it important? Depending on how your education was carried out, you may or may not have had to worry about your GPA (Grade Point Average), which is the average of all your grades on a 4.0 scale. So if you have a 4.0, you had great grades for everything. In your first couple semesters, if you get a bad grade (or several) it’s easy to tank your GPA because the average is based on only a few classes. As you have more classes under your belt, one bad grade affects it less and less. While your college GPA doesn’t matter too much once you leave college, if you have scholarships you often have to keep your GPA above a certain number in order to keep your scholarship, and if you want to apply to graduate school, your GPA will play a big role in whether or not you are accepted to a graduate program.
Contrary to popular belief, getting a college education isn’t all about getting a job. It certainly helps, but going to college is supposed to be a time to learn. Academics do matter, but college is also about learning to balance life. You have classes, maybe a job, and a social life, and sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day. You have to make choices, like whether or not to skip a class to study for a test in another, or to miss class or work because you’re scheduled for both at the same time, or whether or not to go out with friends or stay home and study for an exam. Your choices do matter.
Professors are a gold mine of information. Not only do they have a huge knowledge of their subject, but they also have life experience and are often willing and able to help with other aspects of your life outside of the one class they teach that you attend. I’ve been trying to organize a study abroad semester (which my school doesn’t have a program for yet) and have found that my professors are not only willing to work with me, but they have spent time overseas themselves so they know how to get visas and other paperwork required for travel. Your professors are a resource—ask them for help!
But don’t ask them for help at the end of the semester when you haven’t shown up for class without a valid excuse. After speaking with some of my professors, I’ve found that one of the biggest irritations they encounter is students who don’t show up for half of the classes, never spoke to them (the teacher), and then ask at the end of the semester if there is extra credit to bring their grade up. Professors want to help you, but you have to help yourself. Show up to class, and the first time your grade starts going down, ask for help. If you try to help yourself, and they know you as more than just a face sitting in the back row of class, they are more likely to help you find a way to raise your grade.
College is a really cool experience. If you get the chance to take a class on something you don’t know anything about—take it! If you get the chance to travel to a new place or study abroad for a semester—take it! Chances are you won’t regret learning something or going someplace new, but you might regret not doing so.
*I just finished my first year of college, so my time writing for Homeschooling Teen is over. The Razor’s Edge has been published here for two years now, and I’ve really enjoyed my time as a columnist, but seeing as I’m no longer a homeschooled teen this is the last article I will be publishing through Razor’s Edge. Thank you for reading!*
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