Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday: How to Get into College- And What to Expect in College Once You Get There

The basis of this post is to explain how colleges and universities work- all those random details that everyone assumes you already know but you just might not. A skim through this article will help you in tackling the challenges ahead if you are, indeed, college bound.

What, exactly, IS a college? What is the difference between a college and a university?
In the U.S., we refer to both colleges and universities as simply 'college', but they are not actually the same thing. A college is a higher level learning institution that may award Associates, Bachelors, and sometimes Masters degrees. A single college will only offer degrees under one umbrella; that is to say, a social sciences college will only offer social science degrees, psychology, sociology, and the like. A slightly larger college may actually be comprised of several 'colleges' or schools, meaning that they might have a school (also referred to as a college) of social sciences and a school of mathematics, so then they could award degrees in psychology, sociology, mathematics, and accounting but NOT degrees in law, medicine, etc., because they don't have a school for them. A university is made of several colleges, allowing them to award degrees in many areas. A university will also almost always have schools for Master's and PhD degrees.

Associates? Bachelors? What do these MEAN exactly?
Degrees are awarded for learning that has taken place; when a certain number of credits in a certain area have been completed with sufficient grades, a degree will be given.

*Associates* Usually 2 years or 4 semesters of full-time school and around 60 credit hours
*Bachelors* Usually 4 years or 8 semesters of full-time school and around 120 credit hours
*Masters* Usually 2-3 years or 4-6 semesters of full-time school and ranges between 60-90 credit hours on top of a bachelors degrees
*PhD* Usually 4 years or 8 semesters of full-time school and about 120 credit hours on top of a bachelors degree

What is a PhD?
It means doctor of philosophy.

How do semesters work?
There is some variance, depending on the school you attend, but there are typically 2 full semesters each year that are required for full time students and 1or 2 additional semesters/terms that are optional. Your typical school wants you to get in, get your study on, and get out, so without some kind of special arrangement, you will be required to attend 2 semesters out of the year. These semesters are usually fall and spring, with fall running from the beginning of September to December and spring running from the beginning of January to the end of April. From May to August, the school will offer classes for students that are looking to get extra credit hours between the main semesters.

How long is a credit hour?
A basic required class (history, math 101) will run about 3 credit hours. That means that each week, you will have about 3 hours in class, for example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, one hour each day. Classes that require less effort may only be given 1 credit hour, for example a lecture series where you attend class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but are required only to be present and no homework is required. Many physical education classes offer only .5 or 1 credit hours, even though more time is spent in class.

What does it mean when they say 'History 101' or 'Math 250'?
Depending on your degree, there is a huge variety of classes that are both required and optional. There are so many different history classes that they need to be numbered so as to avoid confusion. Most courses that are in the 100s mean that they are first year classes and less complex. Most 200s are second year classes and slightly more difficult. 300s often require a previous class to be completed before you can enter it, for example, Math 350 may require you to have completed Math 110 before so that you are prepared for the coursework. 400s denote classes that are fourth year or the graduating year for bachelors degrees. 500s and 600s are intensive classes for students working on their master's degrees.
Sophomore? Senior? What?
First year students who are working on their 1st or 2nd semesters in school (or who have 0-30ish credits) are called freshmen. Second year students who are working on their 3rd or 4th semesters in school (or who have 30-60ish credits) are called sophomore. Third year students who are working on their 5th and 6th semesters in school (or with 60-90is credits) are called juniors. Fourth year students who are working on their 7th and 8th semesters in school (or with 90-120ish credits) are called senors.

How many classes for full time?
4-5 classes or 12-15 credit hours each semester is usually considered a full time student.

How do you get into college?
You apply. Each college or university can accept a certain number of students each year. Depending on the popularity of the college, it may get more applicants than there are spaces, just enough, or fewer applicants than there is room for. Each school looks for different things in their students and you should research the colleges that you are interested in to see if you meet their criteria. Simply go to the school's website, find their application, and start working on it.

What are the applications for college like?
Again, each school is looking for something different, but they will normally want to know a few of the same things.
Most universities will require:
*A transcript of your high school grades or your GED
*Your test scores of a standardized test, either ACT or SAT
*Extra curricular activies you have done- either clubs and extra activies in high school, or else programs and community events that you have done as an adult (plays, fundraisers, etc.)
*An essay- if this is required, the school you apply to will let you know what kind of information they are looking for in the essay
*Application fee (anywhere from $50 to $500)
Most small colleges will require:
*A transcript of your high school grades or your GED
*Your test scores of a standardized test, either ACT or SAT
*Application fee (usually less than a university)
Most universities have more applicants and are more difficult to get into than a college, which will typically have fewer applicants and are easier to get into.

Some colleges/universities will accept either or, but generally, they will prefer one over the other. The following map is not true for every case, but generally if you attend a school in an orange state, the school will want you to take the SAT. If you attend school in a blue state, they will generally want you to take the ACT.
Is college worth it?
The answer to that depends on your reason for attending. If you want to go to school solely to become better informed about the world and to educate yourself, then the answer is certain yes. If it is merely for financial gain, then the answer is maybe. Some schools are 40,000 a semester, making the overall sum for a bachelors degree well over 160,000, not including books or housing. If your degree is not in a field that has the capability to earn that kind of a sum over 5-10 years time, you may want to consider a different degree or a different school.
College takes time, money, and energy, but is a worthwhile endeavor for the knowledge that you accrue IF you have the will power and means to finish.
College will
*increase your earning potential (no, not a guarantee)
*increase your understanding of the world
*increase gratitude as you realize how much you have received through the study of history
*decrease ignorance and prejudice
As a college graduate, there is very little that I would trade my time in school for. It certainly has assisted and increased my earnings, my knowledge, my interests, my social group, and my self worth. Would I recommend it whole heartedly? Yes. Is it for everyone? No. Not everyone will enjoy or appreciate what college has to offer- but I believe that nearly everyone should take a class or two to at least try it out.
How do you get started?
1- Figure out how much you can afford for school.
2- Decide where you want to go to school- in state, out of state, out of country, etc.
3- Search the Internet for schools that are in your budget and in the area you want.
4- Look at what kind of students each school wants and try to find the ones that seem to fit you best. 5- Apply to these schools and wait to see where you are accepted.
6- Once you have received acceptance letters to schools, think about where you feel like you will be happiest.
7- Inform the school you like best that you want to attend.
8- Meet with a school counselor/advisor. There are many counselors/advisers at each school- ones for each degree and ones for new, incoming students. Make an appointment with the counselor/advisor for incoming students and they can start to advise you on what classes are good to take.

What is a major?
A major is a set program for a certain degree. Depending on what you want to do with your education, the degree you want will be different. If you want to be an accountant, you will likely require a mathematics degree, so you will want to major in math. If you want to be a teacher, you will likely want a teaching degree, so you will to major in education. You don't need to decide your major when you first start and many people even change majors throughout school.

Can you do school with kids?
Answer: Yes. Is it easy? No. Many schools, especially state universities and smaller, local colleges offer so many online classes that it is possible to apply and get into their school but then take most of your classes 1 and 2 at a time online. Some classes will require you to attend the school itself, but these can be done at night and on the weekends. This method is perhaps the easiest for anyone who has children at home but wants to attend school.

How do you pay for college?
Like it or not, college is not free. If you are worried about expenses, a state college may be best, as the costs and fees are typically lowest there.
Colleges costs
*Tuition (paid each semester)
*Books (paid each semester)
*Housing (paid monthly)
*Food, transportation, etc.
Methods for paying for college
*Cash from part-time/full-time jobs
*Grants (typically given/awarded when you apply for financial aid)
*Scholarships (typically awarded based on merit)
*School loans (normally they have generous pay-back plans)
Other questions about school/college/university? Post them as replies to this post and I will add extra paragraphs. Hope this helps anyone thinking about or just starting their college career.

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