Tips for the college process

Have a list of wants and needs: I had a wish list a mile long of things that would be cool to have at school, from college towns to club sports to small campuses. To make this list I talked to family, friends, current college students, counselors and teachers to determine what I am going to need to be successful in college. Talking to other people helps you gain perspective. Your teachers can advise on how you learn best and your friends probably know what you like to do.

Look at schools: I toured around 10-15 schools before I applied. All were a little different, some I went to for programs, others I went on formal tours and got a feel for the area. Being able to compare different aspects of the schools really helped narrow down my choices for my perfect school. The size of the dorm rooms, the traditions they mention and the dining halls will become huge if you live there for eight months, so be picky.

Be open minded and ask for help: Take suggestions from everyone! I liked coming from a really small high school, where I knew a lot of people and could talk to my teachers about anything. I didn’t realize that I am the perfect candidate for a liberal arts college until a counselor asked me my interests and I listed 25 different subjects! My brain is wired to see connections and I wanted to be taking classes in college that could be connected.

Don’t forget that there are people everywhere who have gone through this process too. We all struggled with which college is best, how we will afford it and whether it sets us up to be successful down the road. From the internet, to your friends, family and teachers, there are hundreds of people with advice. You are never alone in the process. At CPN, there is a whole department of people who did the college process and really want to see you succeed. Don’t be afraid that someone will think you are silly for asking the simple questions, because someone somewhere has asked it and if someone doesn’t know the answer, keep on asking until you find it.

Don’t settle: There are literally thousands of schools in the United States, and there is at least one that is right for you! Set yourself up for success and start the process early. Work on applications and research an hour a week during the school year and a little more in the summer. Make a to-do list of things you know have to happen. Look online and talk to counselors about deadlines for things like standardized testing, getting recommenders and financial aid requirements. Don’t get caught off guard and scramble at the last minute. 

Keep your grades up, if they are down, ask for help on how to get them up and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If you are not a test-taker, work on test preparation online. Join extracurricular clubs and activities. The more subjects and jobs that you see, the more educated decisions you can make on future plans. Knowing the ins and outs of the process is really the best way to fi nd yourself a place that is perfect for you.

Mistakes happen: I applied to nine colleges and universities, four of which I had never seen. Looking back now, they are colleges I would have never gone to even if accepted. I wasted a lot of energy on those applications that I could have spent on the others or just enjoying my senior year of high school. I was lucky that I knew I wanted to go to Smith College in Massachusetts as soon as I finished the tour there early in my senior year. But, I didn’t know Smith College existed until my mom suggested it. I didn’t think I would like being at a women’s college, but I loved it! I thought I would be an environmental science major, and then I took a class in the geology department and fell in love with it.

A lot of success in college is based on trial and error. If I hadn’t made the mistakes I did, taken the advice others had given me and prepared for my future, I might never have gotten to college. I never would have known I love studying rocks and hydrology. I never would have met my amazing friends. Most importantly, I don’t think I would be as happy and successful as I am today. A lot can happen in five years and since you only live once, I find that the best strategy is to live life to the fullest, find the place that you will prosper and don’t forget to enjoy yourself, every step of the way.

To learn more about the programs and assistance from the CPN Department of Education, call 405-275-3121 or visit