Take a College Road Trip!

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Whether you”re a high school junior preparing to submit your applications or senior narrowing down your options, choosing the right college is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make.

To make sure your college decision matches perfectly with your personality and interests, it”s important to sit down and discuss with your family, trusted friends or even a school counselor your future academic endeavors. Do you want to attend a four-year or two-year school? Do you want to stay close to home or go out-of-state? What degree program are you thinking of pursuing? These are some of the serious questions you should ask yourself when researching colleges before making your choice. >>

1. TYPE One of first steps in choosing a college is to examine yourself and your reasons for going to college. Basically, this self-reflective step should help you understand who you are and what you want. An easy way start this process is by listing your personal strengths and weaknesses.

You must also do your research! Colleges are generally either two year or four year, but technical colleges offer diploma and certificate programs that are under two years as well. There are also public and private colleges that vary in size, resources and financial aid availability. Browse the Internet and review college guide resources to narrow down the schools that fit your needs.

2. SIZE The number of people attending a college can have a big impact your experience, but you need to consider more than just the total number of students. Review all different sized schools and list the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is right for you. Some size factors to bear in mind are the type of college, class size, accessibility to faculty and learning style of the college.

3. LOCATION”AND”HOUSING Are you planning on staying close to home or do you want to experience a new part of the country? Choosing an in-state or out-of-state college is big decision, especially for your wallet. Tuition varies for out-of-state colleges, but it tends to run higher than the cost of staying in state.

Where you are going to live may help in your decision-making process. If you plan on living at home to save on the cost of housing, you should consider colleges close by to save on unnecessary time in the car. However, if you”re thinking of living on campus, this can allow you break out of your geographic comfort zone and meet new people. Think about the surroundings of your choice colleges and settle on the location that is most comfortable for your lifestyle.

4. DEGREE PROGRAMS It”s a common misconception that you need to pick a major before you choose a college. Very few high school students have enough information or experience to decide their major. When in college, take advantage of the time you”re given and really investigate what you would love to do as a career. Research academically balanced or liberal arts colleges that offer a range of majors and programs so you can explore all your interests easily.

5. COST With the tuition continuing to increase, the cost of going to college is an important consideration for most students. But don”t just look at the sticker price, examine all your options and ask for help and advice to find affordable choices. Georgia offers a number of scholarships, including the HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships. There are also grants available like the Federal Pell Grant. Talk to the financial aid department at your chosen college for additional information.

6. LIFESTYLE# When looking at colleges, you must remember to think about life outside the classroom. Most students pursue interests other than academics while in college, including athletics, clubs, sororities and fraternities, and more.

Ask yourself# – what”s important to me? Do you enjoy tailgating and packed stadiums? Then you may want to consider a college or university with a Division I football team. Or are you looking to assert yourself in different leadership positions? At small colleges, you”ll have a lot less competition getting leadership roles. Either way, make sure your favorite activity is represented at the college you choose.

7. NAME RECOGNITION You likely find a successful career after graduation based upon your personal qualities and traits and less upon the college you attended. Employers and graduate schools look for outstanding skills and academic achievement, not college pedigree. Pick a college that complements your personality and worry less of “Ivies” and “name brands,” your choice school may outperform them in the long run.

8. APPLYING TO REACH AND SAFE SCHOOLS It”s always great to set goals and reach for the stars, but when considering the college you”re looking to attend, it”s better to apply to only one or two long shot or reach schools. You don”t want to put all your hopes into a school where you may not get accepted. It”s also recommended that you have a few fall back schools, but be choosy with them. Don”t apply to a school you know nothing about other than you will be accepted.

9. BASING YOUR DECISION ON A FRIEND OR SIGNIFICANT OTHER Picking a college just because a friend or significant other is planning to attend is not a good idea. You need to choose a college that matches your goals and aspirations, otherwise you may endanger you own future success.

Finding a good college to fit you requires research, time and thoughtfulness. Luckily, college websites have great information about the culture of the campus. Get in-touch with the college admissions office on your next steps in applying or attending.

10. MAKE A VISIT Before committing to a college, you definitely need to visit it in-person. By visiting your top two or three choices, you will get the overall feel of the college. When visiting a college, make sure you eat at the dining hall, take a tour, visit a class in your major, talk with students and professors and of course, take lots of notes.

READY, SET, GO! Application deadlines for several of Georgia”s largest college and universities have passed, but there are still plenty of options available for those who are just now getting it in gear. Here”s a sampling of Georgia colleges and their freshman application deadlines for fall 2012.

Gainesville State College
Deadline: July 1

Georgia College
Deadline: April 1

Georgia Gwinnett College
Deadline: June 1

Georgia Piedmont Technical College
Deadline: July 17

Georgia Perimeter College
Deadline: July 1

Georgia Southern University
Deadline: May 1

Gwinnett Technical College
Deadline: June 1

Kennesaw State University
Deadline: May 11

Oglethorpe University
Deadline: Rolling application as capacity allows

Shorter University
Deadline: May 1

University of West Georgia
Deadline: June 1

Valdosta State University
Deadline: June 1

For more information on Georgia”s public colleges and universities and financial aid options, visit these sites:

Technical College System of Georgia

University System of Georgia

Georgia 411