How To Choose A College That Fits Your Personality

This blog article is based on the College Talks & More podcast brought to you by Mybookcart.com. Co-hosts Hanna and Cari interviewed Gwen, who offers information about the college lifestyle and tips to help boost SAT and ACT scores. She started out by giving a brief overview of herself:

Our guest Gwen

My name is Gwen. I am a mom of two kids and a wife. I am doing this podcast today because I have gone to undergraduate and graduate school as have my two children. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about college, preparing for it, and a variety of topics about college. 

What testing do students need for college: SATs, entrance exams, etc.?

Historically, the testing required for college has been SATs and ACTs. Now, some colleges don’t require any testing, but it depends on the school. When a student is in high school, they will hear information about those tests coming up. The SAT measures verbal, math, and writing abilities and can be taken multiple times. In the ACT, there are five subtests and you can use the best scores you got. The SAT measures how you assimilate what you have learned, while the ACT measures recalling of information. Some students do better on one test versus the other but my children did much better on the ACT and as a result got scholarships. It just depends on the student but it would behoove the parent and the student to research both of those tests and figure out what they think works best. When you’re in high school, you are encouraged to take both. It’s really not good to take them until January of your junior year because colleges won’t look at them earlier. Research has shown taking them more than three times each doesn’t make your score better but if you find that you’re really doing well in one versus the other, then you should plan on taking that one more versus both the ACT and SAT.

What is the best way for students to prepare so they do well on the SAT and ACT?

Taking a practice test for the SATs

I would talk to your guidance counselor at school. Also, the SAT and ACT both have websites that you can go to and take some practice tests. The websites are SAT.org and ACT.org. Since you’re going to start taking those tests as a junior in the fall, you want to start looking at practice tests for both of those. My daughter was taking the SAT and did well in one area so she went to someone who’s a private teacher for those tests. She worked on the other areas and actually brought up her scores 80 points. Even while you’re taking the tests, you can still do the practice tests or find someone who can help you do better the next time on a certain area of the test.

When you’re in high school, how do you choose which colleges to visit and how do you get the most out of each visit?

Visiting a college campus

A college doesn’t make the student. You can go to Harvard and never get a job or you can go to a small college called Queens College in North Carolina and be a lawyer. There are a lot of factors that go in but the almighty factor is the cost. You might like to go to college where you can snowboard but if it’s going to cost your parents a lot of money, you have to measure what is really important: either you get a degree and a good job or you have all these extra college experiences. If you live in the state of Florida, there are many reasons to go to college here because you have Bright Futures. If you go to a private college, they often take that but also private colleges take something called FRAG, which is a small grant you can get. It’s important to look at both where you want to go and what the financial obligations are. You also want to make sure the college is certified in the area you want to take a major in. What we did because my son got into a lot of colleges was post a basic information page that you get on the college website. I put the pages on a board and showed him what we could and couldn’t afford. My husband and I are both speech and language pathologists but no one really cared where we got our degrees, they just cared that we had degrees. In terms of visiting colleges, don’t walk through a campus, turn around and leave. Make appointments with the head of the major you’re interested in, get a tour, talk to the financial aid administration, and even eat lunch there. These tips will help you get an experience of that college because that could possibly be your home for four years. Let’s say you want to go to the University of Florida but when you get on campus you realize it is way too big for you. So you have to factor in where you’re going to feel comfortable and what kind of setting are you going to feel comfortable in versus being overwhelmed. Make sure when you set up your visits that you try to get the most out of your experience the day you go.

What are the pros and cons of going to college in state versus out of state?

If you go to a college in the state you live in, it will be cheaper. For example, even if you get a great scholarship to go to St. Louis and you’re from Florida, you’re going to have to buy a lot of clothes for winter, not be able to come home as often, and you aren’t going to know anyone. You might want to look at colleges in state as well because it’s closer to home and you can come home on the weekends if you want to. If you go to a state public college where you live, it will be cheaper because you’re a resident. Also, you should look at the GPA required to even get into that school and even though there are public colleges in Florida that are all in the same area, they don’t all require the same GPA’s. Both of our kids went to colleges in Florida for their undergrad years because we got more for our money. If you have relatives that live in a state with a college you’re looking at, that’s great. I would say still visit in and out of state colleges but in state colleges are going to be easier on you and your family in general.

How does a college student choose a major that will get them the lifestyle they want?

Getting a stable job after college

It takes a lot of communication between you and your parents. There are some students that don’t know what they want to do when they go to college and I understand that. It’s hard to determine what you want to do for the rest of your life as a junior in high school. In the end, when you go to college, it’s important to figure out what you want to make for money and how you want to live. On our way down to visit the University of Miami, my son said he didn’t know if he wanted to do engineering or broadcasting. My husband and I both knew that he wasn’t going to go to the University of Miami for broadcasting because it is an expensive private college. When he got down there and visited both departments, he decided on engineering. My son loves engineering and is good at it, so you have to combine your passion with something that will give you the lifestyle you want. Our daughter went to FSU to major in theater and my husband and I knew that it would be difficult to make money in the real world. But after her first semester, she changed her major to visual arts. We decided it would be best for her to take on a minor of communications with the visual arts. This way she was able to do what she wanted but when she came out into the real world, she had her minor which is something more stable that she could rely on if needed. Sometimes students don’t think about lifestyle and they just want to go away to college and take courses that won’t be beneficial to the lifestyle they want. There are websites that you can go to and see how much money you would make working in the occupation of your choice. For example, you can see what an English teacher would make, or an artist, or even a director of an art studio. It’s important to do what you love but also make sure you can get a stable job. When you are picking a college major, it could change multiple times but you should have an idea where your undergraduate degree is going to get you. That is something to discuss with your parents and guidance counselor at school, but there has to be a lot of communication before you go to college.

What does a student do if they are undecided on a major?

Don’t go to college with an undecided major. They will let you do that at some colleges but let’s say in your first semester you just take a bunch of different classes. Sometimes those classes won’t help you towards a major and if you’re paying full price for those classes, then that is more money. If you’re not sure about your major, try to pick one and test it out. For example, you can pick business and if you don’t like it, at least you have some courses that will translate. A friend of ours went to college for accounting and then in his junior year he decided to go into political science because he wants to be a lawyer. Many, if not all, of the accounting and his basic courses will transfer so he won’t lose a lot of credits that way. That’s why I would not go with an undecided major.

What are the differences between going into a small and large college in regards to a student’s personality and level of self motivation?

Large college campus

I’ll give an example to start my answer to this question. I have a friend and both of her children got into the University of Florida. Her daughter is very self motivated. She’s a freshman in Biomedical Engineering and she’s happy. Her daughter doesn’t mind the big campus because she’s laser focused on what she needs to do. The University of Florida has a large campus with over 2,000 acres. Also their son got many scholarships for the University of Florida, however he isn’t self motivated and he is taking something similar, but not the same as his major. His mom is worried because she doesn’t know how he will do. It’s important to have a lot of communication with your parents so they can help you. My son got different scholarships and got accepted to the University of Florida, but he hated how big the campus was. He also got into Auburn, which is a good school but there’s more to do in your neighborhood than there is in the whole city of Auburn because Auburn is the whole university. If that’s what you like then that’s great but he wanted more of a metropolitan field and not a big college so the University of Miami worked for him. When you go on at least three visits to colleges, you should talk about whether or not you like the size of the campus or the commute to and from classes. In my son’s major of Civil Engineering at the University of Florida, there were 400 students and we met with the counselor and she said she didn’t know any of the students unless they walked into her office. That was a turn off for my son because he worked hard in high school to be able to get into good colleges. He loved Miami because it was small with only 30 to 40 in a class and the counselors only advised 30 kids instead of 400. He was able to get in and talk with a counselor at a small college versus a large college. Before going to see campuses, you should determine what size you’re looking for in a college because you want to be happy with the college you choose. Personality and your preferences are important things to think about when you are planning to go to college.

What are the pros and cons of enrolling in a new college as a freshman or junior?

There are a lot of options out there for students. You can go to college classes online and you can even go to a community college and get your 4 year degree. Some freshmen are still growing and don’t know how to live on their own, budget their money, and some days they might not even go to class. If you go to a community college the first two years and go to a regular college as a junior, you don’t have to have the same GPA to get into that college and you’re more mature and you’ve taken most of the basic courses. Also, if you can’t get into a regular college, you can take basic courses at a community college nearby and then apply again to the college. If you go to community college the first two years, it is cheaper, you can live at home, you don’t have to have the same GPA, and sometimes they even offer you money to attend. By the time you finish your first two years, you’re more mature and you’re probably paying your own bills. But there are students that go right into college and they are ready. Also, if you go to a community college, it doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. There are a lot of students that do that because some parents can’t afford college.

How do parents of first time college students navigate the annual cost as well as having a car on campus?

Buying items needed for college

My daughter went to FSU and the dorm was $2,200 and Bright Futures doesn’t take care of the dorms. I paid the $2,200 and FSU called and asked if I was going to pay for the second half of the year and I thought the $2,200 was for the whole year. We weren’t ready to pay for that so we went onto a payment plan. Sometimes a college will offer a payment plan for the dorms. If you go to the college website, it will tell you what your annual fees are but that doesn’t encompass everything. Also, there are some fees that you don’t have to pay. For example, when my son went to the University of Miami, they offered health insurance but we already had health insurance so we didn’t have to pay that. Also, they aren’t allowed to have a car as a freshman on campus, but in Miami they have zip cars. We could have bought him a bike but he felt that he could walk where he needed to go. As a freshman, having a car on campus isn’t that wonderful because your friends are going to want you to take them places. Sometimes there are buses that can take you around or you can get a zip car. There are also parking fees and parking tickets that you could have to pay. When my son did have his car on campus, there were some parking tickets that he got. After we paid the first two, he had to pay his own tickets. The best way to navigate the college cost is to go online and figure out what you need for college dorms. Then, you can find discount places that can give you the best prices for the necessary items. The dorms are going to be dirty anyway so you shouldn’t find the most expensive items. It’s also important to work hard to earn money. At college, there will be students who have everything. My daughter’s friend’s family is extremely wealthy and she had $2,000 put into her checking account every month so she could live. We didn’t have that kind of budget so there has to be a lot of communication between the parent and the student about what you can and can’t afford. 

When did you start discussing college with your children?

When my children were young, we didn’t tell them that they were going to college flat out. We didn’t come to that conversation right away. We had expectations but if they worked really hard and got a C, that’s fine. If they’re slacking, you need to tell your children that you are there to take care of them and make sure they become kind people who can take care of themselves. We told them that one day they are going to want to live on their own, have their own place, have a car, and they can get that by doing well in school and going to college. Also, we would tell them that if they wanted to work at a store up the street and live with us forever, they wouldn’t be able to get those nice things and you get those nice things by going to college. My children knew by middle school that our expectations were to get a job right out of high school if they don’t want to go to college or go to college and get a good job. If they chose not to go to college, they knew that they would have to pay for room and board and if they chose to go to college, they knew we would help them pay.  My husband and I have our bachelor’s and master’s degrees and we are in education related fields so it probably rubbed off on my children. I do remember in church they asked certain people to stand up and my son said, “Well if you know my mom, we’ve been talking about college since I was 5 years old.” I think parents talk about college naturally, especially if the parents didn’t go to college because they realize how hard it is to get a job without a degree and they don’t want their children to go through that. A lot of parents start early with talking about college and that’s how my husband and I did it. 

Did the college you picked truly help you in your career?

Working hard in college to get a good job

My husband and I went to undergraduate and graduate school in different states and different colleges, and we didn’t know each other then. I come from a big family, so I went to a university that was only a couple of hours from my home. I never changed my major because I knew what I wanted to do, but my husband changed his major three times. College prepared me because I did the hard work. Just because I went to a good school doesn’t mean I’m going to get a good job. I might get a good job but it will show after a while that I really don’t have it together in my field in order to be a representative of the healthcare department or the hospital where I work. I knew when I went to college that I needed to do well so I could do what I wanted to do. The undergraduate and graduate schools did have all the courses that I needed but I also took advantage of whatever was offered so I can be the best because there are a lot of people that want to do the same job as you. I wanted to look different and I didn’t know this until I was in graduate school. I think if parents have this conversation with their children early on, it will help them navigate where they want to go to college.

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