Choosing a School
Do you want to apprentice in a trade, earn a degree, or find work after just a few weeks of training? Whatever your career goals are, there are many good reasons to continue your education beyond high school:
- Many occupations you are interested in may require additional education to be hired or advance beyond a certain level
- You are less likely to become unemployed, and will probably find work faster if you do lose your job
- You will earn more, on average, than you would without additional education
Learn all you can about the types of schools you could attend, how to prepare, and how to apply. The more you know about postsecondary education, the more options you will be able to choose from.
Types of Schools
Every school is different, even if they teach the same things.
Public & Private
Public colleges and universities receive state tax dollars while private colleges and universities do not. Both types of schools receive additional money from alumni or other groups who donate money.
In general, tuition and fees are higher at private schools. However, these schools may offer financial aid packages that can make them as affordable as public schools. So you may not want to omit a school just because of its tuition.
Non-Profit & For-Profit
All public colleges and universities are non-profit, while private schools may be non-profit or for-profit.
All of the tuition and fees you pay at a non-profit school go directly back into the school and your education in some way. Many private schools are non-profit as well. Some of the largest ones, however, are for-profit. This means the schools operate as businesses to make money for investors. While all schools pay for advertising, for-profit schools may use significantly more of your tuition and fees to pay for advertising. A portion of what you pay also goes back to investors.
On-Campus & Online
Some schools only offer one type of course or the other. However, many schools offer courses both on-campus and online.
A school where you take classes on campus is a traditional career or technical school, college, or university that has buildings where you attend classes. You must be physically present to take tests and turn in assignments.
Online schools offer courses over the Internet. You watch course lectures on your computer, and submit assignments online. You may take tests online or at a nearby testing center.
Non-Religious & Religious
The difference can be minimal or the difference can be very noticeable. It may significantly influence student life and education at a school.
Non-religious, or secular schools' policies, events, and daily student life aren't influenced by religious beliefs. Secular schools usually still allow religious activities on campus. In fact, these schools often have many different ministries from a variety of different religions and denominations. Most public colleges and universities are secular.
Schools that are affiliated with a specific religious group vary greatly. Some schools were established by a religious group or are affiliated with one, but the campus is nondenominational. Students are not expected to hold certain beliefs. Other religious schools are more devoted to their religious affiliation. These schools may require students to take religious studies courses and attend church services. Programs at religious schools can vary from traditional liberal arts to only providing training for ministry.
Career & Technical Schools
These schools teach trades and careers you can enter after focused training, and usually offer certificates.
Career and technical schools provide training in skills used in specific occupations and technical fields. You may earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree depending on the program you complete.
Some of these schools offer academic courses, but may not offer an associate degree. They may be private or public. Private career and technical schools are sometimes called proprietary schools.
Generally, career and technical schools:
- 1 day to 2 years of study
- Offer certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees
- Focus on teaching skills that lead to a job
- May not offer credits that transfer to 4-year colleges or universities
- Are usually privately owned
To learn more about the types of programs offered by career and technical schools, check out Certificates & Diplomas and Associate & Transfer Degrees in Choosing a Program of Study.
2-Year & Community Colleges
These schools offer training in trades, science, and liberal arts. They usually offer certificates and associate degrees.
Community colleges are public, 2-year schools. They offer academic, technical, and continuing education courses. Depending on program of study, students may earn certificates or diplomas, or associate degrees when they complete 2-year programs. Most students are from the local community.
Many other 2-year colleges are private schools and usually offer programs that take 2 years or less. These schools offer a mix of academic and technical courses. Students at these schools may be from the local area or from other parts of the country.
Some programs at 2-year schools lead to an associate degree in an academic area. These programs often are similar to the first 2 years of a general academic program at a 4-year college or university. You may be able to transfer some or all of your credits to a 4-year school. If you do this, the credits count toward your bachelor's degree.
In general, 2-year schools and community colleges:
- Require up to 2 years of study
- Offer certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees
- Are often funded by taxpayers and have fairly low tuition rates
- Admit anyone who has a high school diploma or GED
- Offer general education courses that transfer to a 4-year college or university or courses that will prepare you for a job
To learn more about the types of programs offered by 2-Year & Community Colleges, check out Certificates & Diplomas and Associate & Transfer Degrees in Choosing a Program of Study.
4-Year Colleges & Universities
These schools provide advanced education in the arts and sciences. They may offer degrees including associate, bachelor's, master's, and PhDs.
These schools provide advanced education in the arts and sciences with academic programs that are 4 or more years in length. When you finish a program you receive a bachelors' degree. Colleges may offer many different degree programs or only a few specific ones.
Most universities and some colleges offer graduate and professional studies like law and medicine. Depending on the program you complete, you receive a bachelor's, master's, PhD, or professional degree.
Public colleges and universities are usually more expensive than community colleges, but less than private universities. Privately-owned colleges and universities are usually the most expensive schools. Some religious schools are very expensive, while others cost less to attend than public colleges and universities. Be sure to research and compare the tuition and financial aid at schools you are interested in attending.
In general, colleges and universities:
- Require 4 or more years of study.
- Offer associate's, bachelor's, master's, doctorate, and professional degrees.
- May require high grades or high test scores, or may accept any student with a high school diploma or GED.
To learn more about the types of programs offered by 4-Year Colleges & Universities, check out Associate & Transfer Degrees, Bachelor's Degrees, Graduate Certificates, Master's Degrees, Professional Degrees, and Doctoral Degrees in Choosing a Program of Study.
Learn what you need to do to prepare for further education, whether you are in high school or are going back to school
Whether you plan to earn a certificate or a PhD, there are some very important things you need to do to be prepared for postsecondary education.
High School Preparation
If you're still in high school, start preparing now for postsecondary education.
If you are still in school, start by talking to your school counselors since they know what courses your school offers. A standard college preparatory course load will improve your knowledge and skills for any career after high school. This group of courses is typically the following:
- 4 years of English
- 4 years of Math
- at least 2 years of History and Geography
- at least 2 years of Science
- at least 2 years of a Foreign Language
- 1 year of Visual and Performing Arts
If you want to attend a selective school (with more difficult admissions requirements) you should increase the number of science and foreign language courses. You should take the most advanced courses you can.
However, you need to balance good grades against advanced courses. For example, if math is not your strong point, you should consider whether it is better for you to get poor grades in calculus or high grades in a subject you enjoy and are good at.
Find out if your high school offers career or technical courses in your area of interest. For example, if you think you want to be a bookkeeper, you should take accounting courses. If you want to be a sheet metal worker, you should take courses in metal shop and welding. Ask your counselor if there are local community colleges that allow high school students to take more advanced courses for college credit.
If your school offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses you should consider taking them as well. AP courses are college-level work, so they are a good way to prepare for the academic challenges presented by college. If you score high enough on an AP exam, most colleges will give you transfer credit. To learn more, check out: Placement & Credit Tests.
You should take the SAT or ACT while in high school. You will need these scores to apply to many schools. To learn more, visit College Admission Tests.
Most students begin the postsecondary application process in high school. Use the High School Preparation Checklist to stay on track. Check out How to Apply for more information on the application process.
College Admission Tests
Most 4-year colleges and universities require you to send test scores when you apply.
Colleges and universities use admission tests as the main indicator of your academic success, and they have a strong influence on your chances of admission.
The SAT & ACT
You will need to take one of these tests to apply to most colleges or universities. Many other schools use these tests to help place you in the correct level classes. Check with the schools you're interested in attending to find out which tests they require. You may need to take both tests if you apply to multiple schools.
It is helpful to practice before taking these tests. Since they measure how much you have learned in several years of school, you cannot cram for the SAT or ACT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions that are on the tests and develop some strategies for answering them.
Both SAT and ACT provide free test preparation booklets when you register. Review them to become familiar with sample test questions and learn how to use your test-taking time effectively.
Some school counselors run test prep groups or courses for little or no cost. Your local library and bookstore will have many test prep manuals. Some on-line test preparation companies offer one or two free tests as an enticement to get you to enroll in their preparation courses.
There are several other tests that you may want to consider before enrolling in a postsecondary school or while attending one. For information on tests used to place you in the correct courses after you are admitted to a school, check out Placement & Credit Tests.
These are tests that you will take after earning a bachelor's degree to move on to a higher degree program, such as a master's or doctorate degree. Visit each website to learn what type of program of study each test is for.
If your family qualifies as low income, testing organizations may waive your testing fees. Talk to your counselor or visit the following websites for information about fee waivers or reductions for specific tests:
Placement & Credit Tests
Many schools use placement tests to make sure you take the correct courses.
These tests are used to determine the best classes for you to take, often at a school you have already been admitted to. Placement tests measure your academic ability to ensure you are not placed in classes that are too difficult or too easy for you. Credit tests award college transfer credits based on your demonstrated knowledge of certain subjects.
There are two main placement tests: the ACCUPLACER and COMPASS. Community and 2-year colleges and career and technical schools use them to determine which classes will be best for you. To learn more about these tests, visit:
It is helpful to practice before taking these tests. The tests measure your knowledge, so you want to be prepared. However, you can't fail these tests. They are designed to find the right level of classes for you based on what you have and haven't learned. Free test preparation booklets are available online at the websites above.
Some schools may also use College Admission Tests such as the SAT or ACT to place you in the correct courses.
College Credit Tests (AP/IB/CLEP)
These tests allow you to enter a postsecondary school with credits that count towards your certificate or degree. In most high schools, you take these tests after taking preparatory classes.
How To Choose A School
There are hundreds of schools you could attend. Learn how to narrow your choices down to find your best options.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to deciding which schools would be a good fit for you. The tips on these pages will help you build a list of schools to apply to.
There are a few steps you should take before you begin researching schools. It's helpful to know your preferences, have some ideas of what you might want to study, and to be ready to apply. Learn more about these steps in Prepare Yourself.
Things To Consider
- General Information
- Student Body
- Financial Aid
- Student Life
- Student Services
There is a lot to think about when comparing and choosing schools.
You can learn about the schools you are interested in using school search. Information topics include academics, student services, financial aid, and others.
Where a school is located will determine a lot of it's characteristics.
The students in attendance, the culture on campus, and even the food will vary. Do you want to attend a school in an urban setting? Or rural? Do you want to live close to your home, or in a particular city far from home?
Do you want to travel by bike, car, or public transit while at school?
Does the school or the local area provide public transportation? What kind? How easy is it to use? How long does it run? How far does it go? Will you be able to do all the things you need to do using the available public transit? If you will use a car to get to school, is there adequate parking? It can be frustrating if there are not enough parking spaces available to students or if parking rates are very high.
Keep in mind that most areas have at least three months of bad weather.
If you go to a school in your local area, you already know what the weather will be like. If you go to a school outside your area, find out what the weather normally is like. You need to be prepared for climates that are different from your local area.
Do you want to go to a big school or a small school?
Larger schools may have more students for you to get to know, but it might also be more difficult to get the classes you want or make friends.
You may want to apply to places where you will feel comfortable.
Do you want to go to a big school or a small school? Look at the make up of the student body. If you are an older student, will you see other people your age? Do you want to attend a school where the students are predominantly your gender or the opposite gender? Or do you want to go to a school where equal numbers of males and females attend? Do you want to attend a school where the racial or ethnic make up reflects your local community or is more diverse?
How many students will be in your largest and smallest courses?
Introductory courses often have large class sizes. What about the advanced courses? Will it be you, a few students, and the instructor? Or will there be 50 or 100 other students in the course? Some people like the anonymity of being in a large course. Others like the contact they get with the instructor in small courses. Which of these is right for you?
Cost of Attendance:
The tuition and fees of a school may not reflect how much it actually costs to attend.
Will you have to pay out of state tuition? Do you have scholarships? Many schools offer substantial financial aid packages to students. You may also want to consider using student loans. Find out what the school will actually cost you to attend. To learn more, check out Paying for School.
Is financial aid available from a school to help you pay for your studies?
Most schools offer aid, but some technical and junior colleges do not. What is the average debt load is for a graduating student? While school is a good investment, you don't want to graduate with more debt than you'll be able to pay off. If you want to work in an occupation that pays $25,000 a year, you may want to reconsider a school where students graduate with $25,000 in loans. To learn more, check out Paying for School.
Ease of Admittance:
Some schools are easier to get into than others, depending on their enrollment type and what they are looking for in students.
Do you want to attend a school that offers open enrollment, where nearly anyone who qualifies is admitted? Or do you want to attend a school that is very difficult to get into? Regardless of your preference, be sure to apply to at least one school that you know you will be admitted to as a backup plan.
International Baccalaureate & Advanced Placement:
Some schools accept these credits, others do not.
If you've taken IB or AP courses and tested for college credit, you'll want to consider if a school accepts your transfer credits or not.
Your certificate or degree will mean more if your school is accredited.
Many schools belong to associations that check for compliance with relevant standards. The standards vary from group to group, but the association does the assessing. This process is called accreditation. This is very important if you want your credits to transfer from one school to another. To learn more about accreditation, visit Protect Yourself.
Will the school help place you in the correct class level based on your academic work so far?
It can be frustrating to be in a class that is too advanced or too basic for you. Does the school offer placement tests to make sure you are starting at the right level of difficulty?
Graduation & Completion Rates:
Some schools appear to offer great programs taught by quality faculty, but do not help their students succeed.
Often these schools will have very low graduation and completion rates. Check the schools you are interested in to make sure that they value students' success as much as students' tuition money.
Many schools allow students to take classes online or on-campus.
Even if you're attending a school with a campus, you may want to take certain courses online.
Think about if you want or are able to attend full time or part time.
Does the school allow students to attend part time? If you have children, a job, or both, you may only be able to go to class and study a few hours each week.
Evening & Weekend Classes:
If this is important to you, find out if this is an option.
Some schools offer weekend and evening classes to make it easier for students who work during the day.
Libraries, Computers, & Science Labs:
Ask about these resources when you visit campuses so that you can see what resources are truly available to students.
How many libraries are available on the campus? How many volumes do they hold? How often are new books purchased and put on the shelves?
Are the computers state-of-the-art? Are there enough computers available in labs so you will have easy access when you need it? Will you need to provide your own computer?
Are there enough science laboratories? Is the equipment up-to-date? Are the labs properly vented? Will you have enough supplies to conduct your experiments?
This can be very important if you have spent a significant amount of time in the military.
Some schools will accept all of your military training as college credit. Others may accept some training, or none. Does the school accept the Montgomery GI Bill? To learn more, visit About the Military: Education After Your Service.
What kinds of clubs or activities are available on campus?
Can you participate in music activities, such as band or chorus, if you are not a music major? Can you participate in sporting activities, even if you just want to play club or intramural sports and do not want to pursue professional sports after college?
What does the local off-campus community have to offer?
Will you be able to attend concerts in the local area? Is there a focus on more than one type of music? Are movie theaters available in the area? Are there museums nearby? If you like outdoors activities, will you be able to pursue them while attending school?
Does the school offer the sports you enjoy?
Are they available at different competitive levels? If you are planning on competing in an NCAA sport, you'll need to meet with your coach and counselor to make sure you're on track. To learn more, check out Paying for School: Athletic Scholarships.
Do students like living in available housing or do they complain about the facilities?
Is on campus housing available for students? Are freshmen required to live on campus? What is the condition of the buildings?
Fraternities and Sororities:
Do you want to attend a school that emphasizes Greek life (fraternities and sororities)?
Is there a certain fraternity or sorority you are interested in? Or would you rather attend a school where this is not a key factor in the social life of the school? Find out where your chosen schools fall before you apply.
Even if you don't need help studying in high school, it can be very useful at a postsecondary school.
Does the school have study services? What's their availability? Are private tutors available?
Even if you are a person with a disability, you should still be able to achieve your educational goals.
If you have a physical, mental, or learning disability, you'll want to confirm that the school can accommodate you. Do they offer additional services to ease your transition to the school? What form of verification paperwork do they require? Disability services may provide everything from physical accommodations in dorms, to note-takers, extended test times, or translators. Don't overlook this critical service if it applies to you.
Having a family shouldn't stop you from attending a postsecondary school and achieving your goals.
Many schools offer childcare on campus for students who are parents of young children. However, there is often a long waiting list for these services. Does the school help parents find low-cost childcare in the community?
Some schools offer better services to help you find a job after graduation than others.
Does the school have a career center? Will they help you in your job search when you graduate? Will they help you for a certain length of time after you graduate?
Explore schools and get in-depth information about the schools you're interested in.
College fairs are a great way to learn about schools you are interested in and even find out about schools you may not have considered. To find college fairs sponsored by schools in your area, talk to your school counselor. To attend a national college fair, visit:
Before You Go
Just like a job fair, you will get more out of a college fair if you prepare in advance. The more you know about a school in advance, the better questions you can ask admissions representatives.
Create a list of specific schools that will be at the fair that you want to learn more about. Check out school search and visit their webpages, and write down a few things that you like about each school.
Next, create a list of questions that reflect your particular interests. You don't want to waste time at the fair asking questions that are easily found in college brochures or websites.
It isn't enough to ask admissions representatives how good a particular program is. They will likely tell you that it's one of the best. Instead, your questions should be unique to you. Some questions to consider include:
- Is it easy or difficult to get into classes in the majors I'm interested in?
- What opportunities are there for students to gain hands-on experience?
- Is my particular extracurricular activity difficult to get into?
- What would you tell me that an administrator wouldn't?
At the Fair
On the day of the fair, remember to bring:
- Your list of colleges and questions to ask
- A notebook and pen or pencil to take notes
- A backpack to carry all the brochures you'll collect
If you registered to attend, bring a copy of your registration. Many fairs include codes on registrations that admissions representatives can scan to record your contact information. This way you don't have to write it down over and over. This will give you more time to ask questions.
After you talk with a representative, write down your impressions and their answers to your questions. You should do this before moving on to other schools so that you keep your information straight.
Many college fairs also offer workshops on subjects such as applying for financial aid. They can be a great place to learn about the college admission process and have questions answered.
- Staff and Students
- Bulletin Boards and College Newspapers
- Dormitories or Other Student Housing
- Campus Facilities
Once you know which schools interest you, visits are a great way to learn more.
You can read a school's brochures, take online virtual tours, and live chat with current students, but the best way to know if a school is right for you is to visit it. You can learn a lot on a campus visit that you can't get from a brochure. A visit to the school itself is a helpful way to see if it will meet your needs, whether it's a 4-year university or a school offering short-term programs.
Many schools offer official campus tours before and after you are admitted. It is also helpful to visit a school during the middle of the term. This way, you can observe typical day-to-day campus life. E-mail, write, or call the school to make appointments with a financial aid counselor and the admissions office. When planning your visits:
- Make appointments. Schedule your tour, meetings, interviews, and dormitory overnighters ahead of time so you're not shut out after traveling all that way.
- Get a map of the school from their web site to find parking, buildings, and other facilities. Bring your map as you wander around campus. This is a great time to pretend you belong here, and approach students and staff with your questions.
- Start planning early. You'll have to coordinate campus appointments with your preferred days to visit the school, your parents' schedule, and your current commitments.
- Take a camera and a journal. Keep your notes and photos for each school together with their brochures and letters. Tree-lined walkways and brick buildings tend to look the same after two or three visits. It will help to have a separate folder for each prospective school.
Don't forget your own unique interests. You may want to visit when you can watch a theatre production or a lacrosse game. Don't visit during exams or during holiday and term breaks, as students and staff will be too busy or gone.
Staff and Students
Pay attention to how the admissions office staff and current students treat you. Watch the current students interact with each other. Do people seem happy? Do they treat each other with respect? As intimidating as it may sound, walk up to a few students and ask if and why they like it there.
Bulletin Boards and College Newspapers
They'll cover a range of topics, including fraternity and sorority news, athletic events, political issues, and opportunities for fun. Do the activities on campus reflect a mix that appeals to you?
Dormitories or Other Student Housing
An official campus tour will probably include a dorm room. Ask for a visit to the kind of housing that fits your budget and interests. You may be interested in a cooperative residence (where you pitch in housework in lieu of some cost) or one of the smaller or older dorm halls. Be sure to check out their cafeterias as well.
It will be important to make the most of the little spare time you'll have after attending class, studying, working, and sleeping. What do you like to do to relax or have fun? Work out? Read? Hang out at a café? See if the campus' facilities will help.
If you're visiting a career or technical school, such as a cosmetology institute, make sure their equipment and tools are updated and well-maintained. For more things to keep in mind as you visit schools, check out Things to Consider.
Not all schools have your education - or best interests - in mind.
The quality of schools varies. Some are well established and have good reputations. Others are new and don't have a reputation. Others have bad reputations, but manage to remain in business. It is up to you to check out the school before you enroll. A school may tell you that it is approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Just because a school participates in the federal student aid program does not mean the U.S. Department of Education endorses the quality of the education the school offers.
Accredited schools are usually quality institutions that can be trusted. You should still do some research to make sure their programs are worth your money. There are accrediting institutions that should not be trusted. You can trust accreditations from associations recognized by:
- US Department of Education: ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/edlite-accreditation.html
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation: chea.org
Unaccredited schools require even more caution and research. Some are quality institutions, but many are not. Those that aren't are often called "diploma mills," because the diplomas they award students are either fraudulent or, due to inferior training programs, worthless.
While most private career or vocational schools are reputable and teach skills necessary to get a job, some make promises they do not deliver. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has brought charges against many private schools for false advertising. The FTC has received complaints and ordered some private schools to correct the way they represent training and employment opportunities. For example, some schools may:
- Misrepresent chances of future employment in certain industries.
- Misrepresent earning levels for certain careers.
- Fail to tell students about cancellation and refund policies or fail to make refunds in keeping with their policies.
- Misrepresent the thoroughness of their job training.
- Misrepresent their business connections with specific employers or industries.
- Offer degrees after minimal study, or even just review your resume before issuing a degree.
- Charge abnormally high or low prices for degrees.
For more information on deceptive practices and how to protect yourself from diploma mills, check out:
Before You Enroll
Make sure the school will provide you with quality skills that will help you in your career. Research these areas before you enroll.
Research before you pay any fees or tuition.
Investigate several types of training programs before committing to a career or technical school. Use school search to help you find out about the school and the occupations you are interested in. See the Employment and Outlook, Wages, Preparation and Licensing/Certification topics in Occupations to get facts about the occupations that interest you. Make sure formal training is necessary or recommended to get the job you want.
Contact employers you would like to work for.
Ask if they have hired, or would consider hiring graduates of the school, and if not, why not. Keep in mind that a school's good reputation may not help you if jobs are scarce in your field when you graduate.
Ask for printed information about the school's accreditation and licensing.
Accreditation means a private educational agency or association has evaluated the school and found it meets certain minimum requirements. In most states, private career schools are registered. However, cosmetology and barber schools are usually licensed. Contact your state's Department of Education if you have questions about a school's accreditation or licensing.
Find out the success rate of the school's programs.
Find out what percentage of students graduate from each program. A high dropout rate could mean that students are dissatisfied with the program.
Learn about the school's faculty and classroom facilities.
Ask about the qualifications of the instructors and the size of most classes. Examine the school's equipment, such as computers, to see if it is up-to-date and in good working order. Find out if the equipment used in the program is the equipment most employers use. You should also check out the textbooks.
Ask about the job placement aspect of the program.
Ask about job placement rates, the names of employers the school has placed students with, and the name of the contact person at each company. If the school says it will help you find a job, what does this include? Will the school contact potential employers and set up interviews? Will you receive counseling on how to interview for, obtain, and keep a job?
Check with local consumer protection offices before enrolling.
See if any complaints about the school have been filed with the local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or consumer protection unit of the State Attorney General's Office.
Ask to review a copy of the school's contract.
Read the contract carefully before you sign it. The contract explains your rights and responsibilities in dealing with the school. Make sure all the school's promises are in writing. Know the tuition and supply costs and understand the school's cancellation and refund policies. The school must explain its refund policy in writing. The school must tell students about any changes in that policy. Does the school have a re-entry policy if you have to leave school because of prolonged illness, pregnancy, or family problems?
How to Apply
Get application tips, advice on college admissions tests, and inside information on how schools choose students.
Hard work is important to your success at a postsecondary school. It's also essential for your success in the application process. Every school's application process is a little different. However, similar schools usually have similar application processes. Pay close attention to your application requirements and deadlines. Print and use the checklists on the right sidebar to stay on track.
Applying To Career & Technical Schools
Many of these schools will admit anyone who meets the admission requirements.
Many career and technical schools have an open admission policy. This means most applicants are accepted regardless of how they did in high school and on the SAT or ACT. You generally need a high school diploma or GED to apply. You also need to fill out an application. Some schools require a letter of recommendation or personal interview. You may also pay an application fee.
Keep in mind that just because a school has open admission does not mean that the program that you want to take will also be easy to get into. Registration for popular classes and programs may be very competitive.However, you aren't completely free of the SAT and ACT. Some schools require you to submit your standardized test scores for placement purposes. Others will have you take placement tests once you are admitted to the school.
For more on these tests, check out College Admission Tests and Placement & Credit Tests.
Applying to 2-Year & Community Colleges
Many of these schools will admit anyone who meets the admission requirements.
Many 2-year and community colleges have an open admission policy. This means most applicants are accepted regardless of how they did in high school and on the SAT or ACT. You do need a high school diploma or GED. You also need to fill out an application, and may have to pay an application fee. Some schools also require a letter of recommendation or personal interview.
In general, 2-year schools require you to:
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Submit your SAT or ACT scores
- Take a placement test
- Fill out an application
- Submit a high school transcript
- Pay an application fee
Keep in mind that just because a school has an open admission policy does not mean that the program that you want to take will also be easy to get into. Registration for popular classes and programs may be very competitive.
You should still take the SAT or ACT if you plan to apply to a 2-year or community college. Some schools require you to submit your standardized test scores for placement purposes. Others will have you take placement tests once you are admitted to the school.
For more on these tests, check out College Admission Tests and Placement & Credit Tests.
Applying To 4-Year Colleges & Universities
Most of these schools have very specific application and admission requirements.
Applying to these schools is more complex than applying 2-year schools. Be sure to give the process some time and thought. In general, 4-year schools require you to:
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Submit your SAT or ACT scores
- Fill out an application
- Submit a high school transcript
- Pay an application fee
Highly selective colleges accept only a small percentage of applicants. If you apply to these types of schools, you must do additional tasks as part of your application. You may need to write one or more essays. You may also need to have an interview with a school representative and submit letters of recommendation.
Once you have submitted your application, all you can do is wait to hear from the school. The admissions committee will evaluate your application and determine if you meet their academic standards. They also look for students who are well rounded. In general, schools look at the following items when evaluating your application:
- Grade point average (GPA)
- Class standing
- SAT or ACT scores
- Types of courses you took in high school
- Extracurricular activities (e.g., band, school clubs, volunteering)
- Application essay
- Personal interview
Be aware of application deadlines. Many schools have deadlines in December or January and send out acceptance letters in early April. You may be able to have your application fees waived if you qualify:
Many schools accept the Common Application. This allows you to complete one application and send it to several schools you are interested in. For more information, visit:
For more on the SAT and ACT, check out College Admission Tests.
Types Of Admissions
Many 4-year colleges and universities offer alternative admission timelines in addition to the regular fall schedule.
Schools that have rolling or continuous admissions review applications as they are received. They do not have one deadline for all applicants. You usually get an answer within six weeks of submitting your application. You should apply early in the cycle because there are more spaces available.
Many four-year schools give students a chance to apply before the regular admission deadline. This means you apply in November instead of January. You usually receive a decision from the school by the middle of December. You will receive one of three responses from the admissions committee: acceptance, rejection, or deferral to the regular admissions cycle.
Some schools will let you apply early decision only if you don't apply to other schools or only if you apply to other schools on the regular admission schedule. If you apply early decision and are accepted, you are committed to attending that school. You must withdraw the applications you sent to other schools.
While you still send in your applications ahead of regular deadlines, early action is more flexible because you can apply to many schools. If you are accepted to a school, you do not have to withdraw your applications from other schools. This way you can compare financial aid offers from all the schools where you are accepted. However, you will still need to make up your mind early so that the spot a school is holding for you can be given to another student.
Sometimes called early admission, this doesn't refer to the admissions process that high school seniors go through. Instead this is a program for academically advanced, mature high school juniors. These talented few are admitted as college freshmen at the end of their junior year of high school.
The best college essays are the ones that make you memorable. Use these tips to perfect your essays.
College application essays, sometimes called "personal statements," are important. The importance varies from school to school, but they are definitely read by the college admissions committee members. Your essay is an indicator of your values, your basic skills, and your ability to handle the academics of the institution.
Not every college requires a written essay as part of its application process. In general, only more selective colleges and universities require application essays. Use caution when using the same essay for multiple schools, as schools often require unique essays about specific topics.
Most of the college application process consists of objective measures of your accomplishments: SAT or ACT scores, high school GPA, lists of extracurricular activities. Your written essay is your chance to show you are more than your scores.
A great essay can distinguish you from a student with a similar or slightly better academic record. Your essay can also help you if the admissions committee sees you as a marginal applicant, or you have a questionable academic record.
Allow plenty of time for your essay to take shape. Don't wait until the last minute. Take a week or two to let the essay develop. After you have completed a draft, put it aside for a few days and return to it. You will have a more objective eye for revisions. Always revise. Never let your first draft be the final version.
Think about your topic. Don't write what is obvious.
Work on your opening.
Try to grab your reader's attention with your opening sentence or paragraph. Make them want to finish reading your essay.
Use an outline. Come to a conclusion. Make sure your essay answers the assigned question or addresses the topic given.
Keep it concise.
Stay within the length guidelines. If no limit is given, try to keep it to one and a half pages, double-spaced.
Flawless spelling and grammar are a must. Do not rely on a computer's spell check. Ask counselors, teachers, and parents to proofread your essay. Tweak your sentences, style, voice, grammar, and tone.
Focus on something you care about.
If you write about something you are passionate about, you will have a greater chance of making your reader care about you too.
Do not preach.
If you write about about politics, religion, or other controversial subjects, explain how your views have affected your life. Acknowledge that you have clearly thought about the opposing view.
Handle sensitive topics appropriately.
There is a fine line between sensitive and tasteless. Don't make your reader uncomfortable.
Let your personality show.
Write in your own voice and be yourself. Include your thoughts and feelings. Do not assume your essay needs a formal tone, but be careful not to use gimmicks or questionable jokes.
Don't just list accomplishments.
Instead, write about what you learned about people from your volunteer work, or about a difficult time in your life, or a time you failed at something and learned from the experience.
Don't use excuses.
If you have something in your academic record you would like to explain, make it quick and avoid making your essay one giant excuse. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Don't use overdramatic life stories.
If you experienced a particularly difficult life situation write about how it effected your own personal characteristics. Focus on the positive aspects.
Avoid popular references.
Many students write about the latest blockbuster movies or popular books in their essays. If you do the same, your essay likely won't be memorable.
Do you already have credits from an AP course or other test? Be sure the schools you apply to will accept your credits.
Transfer credits are college credits earned at a different school than you are applying to, or earned in a different way. They allow you to apply the courses you've already taken to the certificate or degree you are working towards. Credits can be earned through online or on-campus courses, college credit tests, and military training.
Every school handles transfer credits differently. Some schools do not accept any credits not earned at their institutions, while other schools accept nearly any college credits. If you have transfer credits, you need to research the schools you are interested in attending to find out if your credits will be accepted. Most schools limit how many credits you can transfer.
If you are attending a career or technical school or a 2-year or community college, find out if their credits transfer to other schools in your state. If you decide to earn a more advanced degree later, having credits that transfer could save you a year or two of schooling and thousands of dollars.
Most schools accept transfer credits earned through college credit tests, such as Advanced Placement (AP). Check out Placement & Credit Tests for more information.
If you have transfer credits, you should include your transcripts with your applications. This will ensure that you are enrolled at the appropriate level in the school you choose to attend.
If you know how schools choose to admit students, you can create a better application.
How schools admit students depends on how selective each school is. It's important to apply to a range of schools, including a few that you know you will be accepted into.
Many career and technical schools and 2-year and community colleges have open admission polices. If you meet their minimum standards you are guaranteed admission.
More selective colleges and universities base admission on many different factors. Their goal is often to create a diverse, well-rounded student body. They may be very interested in what you personally have to offer the campus beyond your academic qualifications.
Consider a school's minimum qualifications as a starting point that is expected of all applicants. It's important that you stand out beyond these initial requirements. The main academic factors selective schools consider include:
- High school grade point average (GPA) in relation to the difficulty of courses taken. A 4.0 GPA doesn't carry much weight if the courses taken weren't challenging. A lower GPA stacked with advanced placement and honors courses is more impressive. To learn more, check out High School Preparation.
- Class rank relative to class size. Schools consider how many students are in your graduating class when they review your class ranking.
- Entrance exam scores (SAT or ACT). The more prestigious the school, the higher the score needed to be competitive. To learn more, check out College Admission Tests.
Selective schools are looking for students who stand out and will also be a good fit. They will likely consider:
- Application materials, including essays. Your personal statement or essay should be interesting and thought provoking, as well as demonstrate your greatest strengths. For tips on writing a strong essay, check out Application Essays.
- Involvement in extracurricular activities. Schools want to see a commitment to community service, leadership, or a special talent.
- Interviews. The most selective schools will interview in person to see if you would be a good fit for their institution.
- Legacies. Schools usually give preference to students whose parents are alumni.
To learn more about the admission requirements of the schools you are interested in, view the "Admissions" topic in each school.
The majority of the data for the undergraduate and graduate schools comes from Peterson's, a Nelnet Company. Peterson's surveys two- and four-year colleges and universities each year to gather the most current information about each school. This information may be supplemented by data directly from colleges and universities.
While the majority of schools respond each year, some do not. Thus the data for some schools may be more than one year old. This is why it is important for you to contact schools you are interested in. Either through the school's web page or admissions brochures you can access the most current admissions requirements, tuition, and other information that changes frequently.
The information in About Schools is from a variety of sources, including the U.S. government, private organizations, non-profits, and expert authors. To learn more, visit their websites.