Because I am paying for college myself, I managed the whole process myself. It seemed scary starting out. I was the first in my family to go to college. I didn't understand what colleges were looking for and how to present myself to them. But as I worked through my applications, I was really surprised to learn how independent I could be. If I can do that, I told myself, I can live on my own.
I choose the city, then the schools
I had some exposure to an actual college campus when I went to the New Jersey Boys State Conference at Rider University. I liked Rider, but it was too close to home. I wanted to experience what it would be like to live immersed in a big city far from home. Boston was my top city, so I applied to Boston College and Boston University. I also became interested in American University, since it was in another city I liked, Washington, DC. The CollegeData site showed me I was likely to get in there, so I applied.
Financial aid is the icing on the cake
When I visited Boston College, I realized that being close to a city was not enough for me. BC is about half an hour outside Boston. I wanted to be smack in the middle of a city. Boston University has an urban campus. The whole city is accessible on public transportation. Sure, the campus is not that pretty—it is mostly cement—but I felt right at home there.
So I chose Boston University. First, it was my number one school. Second, it was the only school that offered me financial aid. The award was like the icing on the cake. I got into my number one with aid, so I was ecstatic. My other choice, American University, offered no aid at all.
My ups and downs
The most challenging part of applying to colleges was keeping focused. I took my time filling out applications and researching schools. The college application class I took senior year was a big help holding my feet to the fire. We had to fill out apps, write an essay, research colleges and careers, and apply to three schools. This helped me get going.
Before I got my BU offer, I was turned down for all scholarships and aid, even at my dad's work, which I was counting on. My first acceptance was American University, and they did not offer any aid. The $45,000-per-year price tag was pretty scary.
What I learned
Don't drag your feet with your applications. The sooner you turn them in, the better. You can relax, and it might improve your chances of getting in and getting financial aid.
The money factor
I am paying for school myself through loans (90%), grants, and part-time work as an intramural sports referee here at BU. The financial aid was not the most important factor but helped to solidify my decision to go to BU.
Michael - Boston University - Class of 2009
Combining college and cooking
I started out in the summer before my senior year looking online for schools that offered hospitality, culinary, and business management programs. Purdue and Cal Poly Pomona were the most highly ranked, so they were at the top of my list. I applied to other top colleges, like the University of Houston and Las Vegas. The rest of my applications went to a few state colleges that looked interesting, but these were not at the top of my list. The more prestigious the school in my field, the more I wanted to attend, because the opportunities were better.
Visiting pays off
When I visited, I found that every campus was completely different. The smaller schools made me feel more welcome and helped me feel more at home. They were not as overwhelming. Although many students find large campuses exciting, I felt like just a number.
I paid attention to how well organized the campus was. Cal Poly Pomona had an open house event that was well run. The people were really nice and couldn't wait to show me everything. I felt completely at home there.
I wanted a top culinary and hospitality program, and I got that in Pomona. Except for Purdue, the other colleges just weren't as competitive in those areas. Purdue was too spread out for me, and I liked the Pomona environment much better.
My ups and downs
Even with tutoring and a test prep class, my SAT scores did not change. This was very frustrating. I am just not a good test taker. My grades are much better in comparison with the scores.
When I visited Cal Poly Pomona after I applied, I talked with an admissions person who looked at my application online. That person told me I probably would not get in. Even my dad and my counselor thought I would not get in.
My Pomona acceptance was the last to arrive, so you can image how difficult it was to wait for it. I was so happy when I got in!
What I learned
One of my friends applied to 26 schools because she had no idea where she wanted to go or what she wanted to study. She actually visited every single campus! She did not have a life for her entire senior year. I think it is very difficult to choose among so many schools. You should do the work to narrow down your choices before applying.
Colleges are very different from each other. What matters is to choose a school that feels good and which allows you to get a good education.
Applying for scholarships and filling out the FAFSA can pay off. Many students don't this. There is a lot of money out there to help for college.
The money factor
My parents and grandmother are paying most of the cost. I do have $4,500 in scholarship money. Next year I will take out a loan and do work-study.
Taylor - Cal Poly Pomona - Class of 2009
“When I needed advice, Elite Education Student Service was there to guide me through every step of the decision-making process. With their help, we managed to get back on track in no time.”