What to Consider When Accepting a College Offer
In my younger and more vulnerable years*, I was dead set on escaping to a big school on the East Coast.
I wanted it all – the big cities, the freezing winters, the sports stadiums (including the fact that my parents would not be able to find me). Once I gained a truer sense of what my options entailed, I found that I had a lot more on my plate than I had expected. Luckily, I had the help of an amazing counselor who shared stories of other students who had jumped the gun too quickly. Here are a few things to take into account when accepting a college offer:
Tuition and Student Aid
“Paying off my loans aren’t my problem, they’re my future self’s problem,” said foolish me.
Student loans are an amazing option. However, during the application process, it is important to understand all the terms and conditions that come with loans. For example, do you know what the difference between a subsidized versus unsubsidized loan is? Or that you can choose to have a six-month grace period after graduating from college to begin paying off loans? I sure didn’t.
The loan process is heavily dependent on the school of your choosing. Some colleges have specific loans that students can take out along with government loans. If you are filing as a dependent (meaning you are still under the care of your guardians), it is also extremely important to look through the terms of repayment with your guardians, as a majority of your loans may be taken out in their name.
The more financial rewards a college gives you, the better. Most schools do not only look at your need but also award aid for students with certain grades or in certain extracurriculars. While it may be enticing to shoot for your dream school the moment the acceptance arrives in the mail, be sure to also wait for their financial aid offer, which usually comes a month or so after your acceptance.
Surrounding Towns, Cultures, and Distance from Home
Are you looking for a secluded campus away from town? Or perhaps a school integrated into the cityscape? Or maybe a quaint college town with on-campus shops nearby? Often overlooked, your school’s surrounding area could be the deciding factor in your decision.
I had the opportunity to visit one of my potential schools when I was a senior in high school. On paper, I adored the school’s architecture, class sizes, and dormitories. However, when I arrived for my visit, I found that it was miles away from the nearest fast-food restaurant or grocery store. For students with a car, this was no problem. I, however, would be traveling with no type of wheels. This gave me a new perspective on how my time there would have been.
Another thing to consider is students of color will have different experiences in some areas. Although college campuses are often places of inclusivity and pursue equal opportunities for all students, that is not always the case. In reality, prejudice in towns and on-campus often prevails in covert ways.
This should in no way deter you from choosing a school that you feel very deeply about. It is simply important to acknowledge that these issues may impact your experience there. I found it very helpful to visit my campuses to get a good feel for the social sphere and to visit the surrounding areas.
I had hardly left my home state during the application season, but I knew I wanted to venture away from home. However, I did not truly take into account just how tough it would be to enter a completely new environment without the comfort I had had for so long. My parents are a mere four hours away, but at college, that feels like an entire state. Getting the help I needed (from snacks, extra money, or simply solace), became a hassle. As I am not completely lost without my previous lifestyle, I admit that the transition was jarring.
On a similar note, the weather may make or break your college experience. I’m a California girl. I think that sixty degrees is too cold and I go to the beach in February. I would never stand a chance against the sub-zero winds of Alaska (as I dreamed of doing my freshman year). Your comfort at a school is key. Take some time to research the average weather patterns of a school’s area. This can make all the difference.
The Type of School It Is
In reality, a school’s type plays a larger role than you may think. When I was considering schools, I was convinced that a big campus was the one for me. I come from a small, private school of about one-hundred and eighty students. When I visited UCLA, I was thrown for a complete curve. Surrounded by tens of thousands of faces, I soon realized that I was going to be much more comfortable in a place where I recognized passers-by. That is one of the things that encouraged me to look at liberal arts colleges more closely.
It is crucial that you explore the different atmospheres of each campus. After all, you will be spending the next four years of your life there if you decide against transferring. Look deep inside and remember who you truly are as a person. Then, look back at your potential future homes.
Larger schools and public universities are often abuzz with activity. The dorms are often larger, with fewer singles and more doubles and triples. This could mean more dining halls (always a plus) and making connections with new people every day. In a different way, community colleges are often integrated into a town or city. The students are usually part time, and the sports culture can be smaller than those of other schools. However, this is an excellent option for those wishing to get ahead, balance work and school, or who are still examining their future options. I chose a private, liberal arts school because I wanted a smaller, homier feeling. Most of these schools have their own campus and atmosphere, which varies from school to school. These cultures can vary by the coast. Overall, every school is different, and it takes a finely tailored list to truly help you see where you want to be.
In the blur of acceptances and rejections, highs and lows, and hellos and goodbyes, always remember that where you decide to go is up to YOU. The day you submit your deposit and accept an offer will be one of the giddiest moments of your lifetime. Make sure that it can be the best it can be.
(*Props to the great F. Scott Fitzgerald)
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