Choosing to go on to post-secondary education is a big decision. Although it may seem like the hard work begins once you're attending classes, there is actually a fair amount of leg work that you'll need to do before you even apply. Deciding which schools to apply to, how much you'll need to cover the cost, where you'll live—these are just a few of the considerations that you need to research. This article breaks down these factors, along with some of the other major things you'll need to weigh before you apply to college.
- Know what your long-term goals are before you apply.
- Understand the admission requirements of each school and gather all the required documents for your application.
- Itemize the costs and decide how you'll fund your education.
- Open a bank account and create a solid budget to which you can adhere.
Know Your Long-Term Goals
Although this may seem rather obvious, it is important to know what exactly you want to get out of your education before you even fill out your college applications. Are you studying with a particular job in mind? What doors will your education open for you in the future?
If you're working toward a degree with no particular end goal in sight, ask yourself if it's wise to invest so much time, money, and resources if there's no measurable benefit at the end of the journey. If you are studying with a specific job in mind, make sure you research all your options before you commit to a particular school.
There is often more than one means to an end—some careers might be attainable with a two-year diploma as opposed to a four-year degree.
Understand the Admission Requirements
Each school has its own set of requirements, so investigating what's expected of you as an applicant before you actually apply will help you determine if you've got a good chance at being accepted. This will also help you to avoid spending money unnecessarily on application fees.
Make sure you know the deadlines at each school. Most universities have strict deadlines when it comes to submitting applications. Some may be earlier for more competitive programs. In other cases, you may qualify for early admission. Generally, there are also deadlines for receipt of supporting documentation like transcripts, exam scores, or perhaps even proof that you've obtained a student visa if you'll be studying abroad.
If you're applying for a student visa, you may be able to get some assistance from the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
Get Your Documents in Order
This can be especially important if you'll be studying abroad, but all universities require some type of documentation to support your application, such as high school transcripts or documents from any other post-secondary institution you may have attended in the past.
You may also be asked to provide information about any extracurricular or leadership-building activities you've participated in. If you know you're going to be applying to go to college or university, start getting these documents together in advance so you're not scrambling at the last minute to track down the information you need.
Know the Costs
Most universities provide a breakdown of fees in their application documents or on their websites. Some of these fees may vary by program or department. Do your best to estimate what your annual tuition will cost. Don't forget that you'll also be responsible to pay other costs like an application fee, administrative expenses, and student union fees. You'll also be on the hook for books, materials, and supplies.
Living at home while attending school may be a lot cheaper, but that's not necessarily an option for everyone. If you have to leave home to go to school, start thinking about where you're going to live. Will you stay in a student residence or another type of on-campus housing? How much will it cost?
If you'd rather live off-campus, research what apartment living will cost you per month, and consider whether or not you're going to live with a roommate. It may be a pain to share your space but it will be much more affordable in the long run. Familiarize yourself with the communities you're considering. Is the neighborhood safe? Where are the banks and grocery stores? Is public transit a viable option—can you walk to school or will you need a car? These are all important decisions that will impact your expenses.
Money, Money, Money
One thing all students need is money. Going to school can cost a lot, and many students take out student loans to cover all these costs. Once you have an idea of how this is all going to cost you, start making some decisions about how you're going to pay for your schooling. Will your family help to cover your costs? Can you get a high-paying summer job? Can you keep a part-time job while you're in school?
If you qualify for scholarships and bursaries, this can also be a big help. Don't be afraid to apply for scholarships—the worst that can happen is that you spent a little bit of time on an application, and, with any luck, you'll land yourself some extra cash.
If you aren't likely to have enough money after factoring work, family contributions, and scholarships, student loans are always an option. Just remember, you'll have to pay back whatever you borrow once you start working, so you should definitely keep that in mind when you're considering what you want to study. Knowing that you'll have access to a stable income once you're done school will make it a lot easier to pay that money back.
Get a Bank Account
If you don't already have a student bank account, you're definitely going to need one. An account lets you put away any money from your summer job and safely stash the funds from your student loan.
Student bank accounts are great because they tend to waive some or most of the banking fees. You may also qualify for a student credit card. If you're taking time off to work before going to college, consider opening a savings account that offers a high-interest rate. This not only allows you to hide your money away, but you'll also be adding to that balance by earning interest.
Create a Solid Budget
Now that you have a better idea of how much this will cost you, you're going to need to put together a rock-solid budget—and stick to it. Include rent, groceries, utility bills like your cell phone and internet, and always remember that every month you'll have some unforeseen costs. You'll probably also want to make sure that you set aside some leisure money. Part of the college or university experience is taking part in activities outside of school, and this definitely adds to the life experience that makes going to post-secondary school invaluable.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to college and university, homework isn't only limited to the classroom. You'll need to put in a fair amount of research before you even go to your first class. Be prepared and know what you're getting yourself into financially before you apply. The more prepared you are in advance, the better off you'll be throughout your schooling and beyond.