Posted on November 5, 2015 at 6:00 am
As a first generation college student, I found the whole process of college planning absurdly confusing. My frustration was compounded by the fact that my peers from college-educated families seemed to navigate the whole process with relative assurance and ease.
Many of them ended up going out of state with generous financial aid packages. Meanwhile, I bumbled into the nearest commuter college with no clear plan for what I wanted to study and no idea that I had other options.
I finally did end up going the whole route from high school to grad school, but not without changing my major twice, accruing a significant amount of student loan debt, and earning a couple of superfluous degrees that have done very little for my employability.
Needless to say, I probably make a better cautionary tale than I do someone who should be advising others on their post-secondary education options. But my experience has taught me, at least, that a disparity of access to information about college and career options can make a big difference in how well you succeed in your post-secondary endeavors.
Fortunately, the library can provide the information you need to help level the playing field, and much of it you can access from home through the District’s Digital Library with a current library card.
Sure, most four year schools don’t require you to declare your major until your second or third year, but having a solid idea of your educational and career objectives from the start might save you a significant amount of time and money. You may even find out that the career that best matches your skills and interests doesn’t require a four-year degree at all.
So before you rush into things, visit JobNow and check out their eParachute assessment tool to help you discover the majors and careers that best match your interests. And if you’d like a second opinion, the career assessments page on JobNow provides useful links to other career assessment tools on the web.
Once you know what you want to study, head over to Testing & Education Reference Center and use the college search feature to find the colleges and universities that offer the programs you’re interested in. You can also filter your results based on criteria like size, location, cost, and more. The list of results will also provide information on the average SAT/ACT scores of newly admitted students, so you can have an idea of what kind of competition you’re likely to face before you apply.
College definitely isn’t cheap, and I can guarantee that the less debt you accrue as a student, the better you’ll feel after you graduate and hit the job market. Testing & Education Reference Center has several tools on their scholarship search page that can help.
The scholarship search feature itself helps you find scholarships based on your career plans, extracurricular activities, affiliations, as well as criteria like ethnicity, disability, and military service. There’s also a financial aid quiz that can help you learn the basics of financial aid, a tuition cost finder to look up an institution’s cost of attendance, and an award analyzer tool that helps you determine which financial aid package offers you the best deal.
If you decide to go straight to a four-year institution, you’ll likely have to take either the SAT or ACT to meet the admissions requirements. Testing & Education Reference Center has practice exams for the ACT, SAT, and SAT subject tests, as well as a range of Peterson’s test prep books available for download.
Of course, you may be able to avoid the SAT entirely by attending community college first, but you’ll likely want to brush up on your math and English nonetheless. According to one estimate, some 68% of students entering community college end up having to take at least one remedial math or English course before they can complete their required college-level courses.
The easiest way to avoid the time, expense, and frustration of remediation is to prepare adequately for the math and English placement tests that many institutions require newly admitted students to take. You can find where you stand with HelpNow, which has practice tests and other resources for the Compass and ACCUPLACER exams, two of the most commonly used college placement tests.
And if you end up needing extra help, you may want to check out the free Math Refresher, Grammar Refresher, and Writing Essentials classes on Gale Courses. Alternatively, if English isn’t your first language, you might want to check out their Grammar for ESL and Writing for ESL classes instead.
Finally, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious (and frugal), many colleges and universities now offer college credit for those who pass the relevant CLEP exams, saving you time and tuition. Testing & Education Reference Center has practice exams for nearly 30 CLEP exams and the complete text of Peterson’s Master the CLEP with additional study help and practice tests.
And don’t forget, you can make a Book a Librarian appointment to receive face-to-face, personalized help with any of these Digital Library resources and more.