With over 30 colleges to choose from in Miami Dade county and 2400 around the country…
…Interviews, essays, and student loans…
Plus the big question…
What should I do for a living?
College preparation can be a lot to take in.
That is why we decided to help out by sharing our experience guiding hundreds of students through the process in this simple 5 Step college prep guide.
A quick warning, this guide is quite in depth and may take 8-10 minutes to read.
Here’s what the guide covers:
- Career Planning
- College Affordability
- Choosing the right College
- Admission Tests
- The Application process
Before we get started:
Some of the questions in this guide could be difficult to answer straight away. If so, don’t worry. Just keep them in mind when thinking about which college to attend.
Also, about the question; When should I start preparing for college?
Our answer: Yesterday.
College is a significant stepping-stone to your life as an adult. The sooner you start thinking about it, the better. Overall, we recommend starting to prepare for college during your junior year. That way, you can go through your final year with a clear picture of what you are going to do next.
So, let’s start.
Step 1. Career Planning
Plan backward. A college education is a journey to a destination:
The beginning of your professional career.
To know what path to take, you need to know your destination, first.
Unfortunately, most students pick their major because it “sounds good” or it is something their parents wanted them to study, only to realize…
….it is not the right choice for their future.
The problem with this is:
Over 80% of students change their major at least once, which results in wasted time, money, and unnecessary stress.
However, how can you be sure you are making the right decision when answering the big question;
“What do I want to be”?
…When you have never actually done the thing you are choosing to study? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
I. What are your skillsets?
Are you highly analytical, or perhaps more creative? Are you good with people or better at doing something alone?
We all have natural talents and practiced skills. Think of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Remember, a weakness is often one side of a coin that has your strength on the other.
Still not sure?
That is ok. There are plenty of career and personality tests out there. Any of them can help you gain a better understanding of your skills and strengths. Here are ten you can look into.
After you have a skills list, the next question you should ask yourself is:
II. What are your interests? Are they related to a possible career or area of study?
Some people know since childhood what they want to be. For example, I know someone who dreamed of becoming a pilot ever he was eight years old. (He is now a captain at an Australian airline)
Others only know whether they enjoy certain things.
A friend of mine loves playing video games that let him create machines, engines and program robots. This is a good sign that he might excel in mechanic/electrical engineering or robotics.
Still don’t know?
Don’t worry. Many of the greatest people in the world often started doing something very different from what they ended up doing.
Whatever you do choose, make sure it is practical. The world is changing. Think about how your chosen career could be affected by technology and social changes.
This brings us to the last question:
III. How does the future look for your desired industry?
Let’s be realistic.
Big changes are happening in most industries.
Automation, computers, and robots doing work previously done by humans will affect up to 1 in every 5 employees by 2030.
What impact do you think the invention of self-driving cars will have on taxi drivers, truck drivers, and the whole logistics industry?
Not only would specific careers be short-lived but competition for the remaining jobs could rise in many industries over the coming 20-30 years.
The good news is:
You have an incredible opportunity to look at what’s coming tomorrow to choose a career path today that will be automation proof.
What is an automation proof career?
It is a career based on tasks either that cannot be done by a computer, or that it would be difficult for computers to do them, such as engineering, science, design, social work etc.
The best way to find the right career is through research. There are tons of resources online and you can always call us for a consultation.
Step 2. College Affordability
Education is valuable, but it is not price-less.
How much should we spend on college?
There is no absolute number, but we advise the amount you spend on your education should relate to your current capacity, financial options, and your earning capacity after graduation.
Many parents save for their child’s college education. However, not all can afford it. Even those who do manage to save often fall short of the entire costs associated with a college education.
This is why one of the great ways for students to “bridge the gap” is by get part-time work while in university to help pay for tuition.
This allows students the freedom of graduating with less debt, plus less pressure to take a job straight out of college that may not be the best fit.
When you are looking at what your current capacity is, ask yourself:
- How much do I have saved?
- Can I do something today to help pay my tuition and expenses?
- If so, how much can I realistically make while not affecting my studies?
- According to average costs, what is my estimated shortfall?
There are different options available for those wanting to supplement their current capacity. Scholarships, grants, and student loans are readily available for college applicants needing help.
Did you know:
Over 70% of college students across the US use loans, scholarships and grants to help them through college.
Whereas scholarships and grants do not need to be paid back (which is why they are called gifts or awards), student loans do.
One of the benefits of student loans is that they are usually easier to get vs. scholarships, which are often award based. Whereas grants are mostly needs based, ie low income or minority students.
At YCC, we suggest first looking into and applying for available scholarships and grants before taking out student loans. If you get approved, at least your loan amount is reduced. This makes it easier to pay back once you graduate.
Lastly, if you do decide to borrow money through a lender, friends or family, think about how you will pay it back and whether you are choosing the most efficient option.
You could borrow $50,900 for a four-year degree at a private university that results in a career paying $50,000 per annum (before tax).
But you might find yourself struggling financially to pay it back. Especially if you don’t get a job straight out of college.
(which happens to many graduates)
Alternatively, a public college may offer the same or a similar degree at $25,290, which would be much easier to pay off on that same estimated 50k salary.
Keep in mind:
Going to more expensive, private or prestigious university, could give you greater career opportunities in certain industries, such as the legal and medical fields.
This is why it is good to ask around first, to find the right college at the right price for your chosen line of career, which brings us to:
Step 3. Choosing the right college
There are 47 colleges in a 40-mile radius of Miami.
How can you know which one is right for you?
When choosing a college, remember:
Right. Reputation. Expense.
There are plenty of colleges to choose from, but most importantly, you should pick one that is right for you.
- Does it have the faculty you would like to attend?
- Is the faculty well equipped with good teachers?
- How do you feel when walking around (remember, it will be like a second home)
- Is it conveniently located for you?
Think beyond the courses and costs. Do you like the college culture, atmosphere, facilities? Take into consideration that you will be spending much time there. So make sure it ticks all (or at least most of) the boxes.
A degree is as much a status symbol as it is preparation for your career life.
When choosing a college:
Know that each one will have a reputation that supplements or detracts perceived value of your education and professional worth accordingly.
Let’s say that you studied at MIT, or Harvard. Your degree would hold more “social currency” in most places than having studied at a local community college.
That community college may be well-known at a local level for its top-notch accounting graduates, which may be perfect if you want to work in an accounting firm in South Florida.
Think about each college’s reputation. What does it have to offer when you enter the job market? Is it worth the additional cost for a more prestigious college if it boosts your career?
For some, it is worth it to spend the more on a particular college if it feels right or has the right reputation for their career. They are right to think that way.
The cheapest or closest option is not always the best.
Find the college that ticks all (or at least most) of the boxes for you. Does it feel right? Does it give you added social currency?...
…And does it fit your budget?
Going outside of your budget for the right reasons is fine. Weigh the benefits vs the costs to make sure you get the best value for your dollar.
Using The R.R.E. approach should help you narrow your select colleges to just a few. Try and pick only three colleges as your “finalists.”
When searching for a college, make sure to visit the campus.
…It has to feel right too.
Once you have your list of 3 finalists, do a web search for their average SAT/ACT scores. This will give you a clear goal for your admission test results.
Which brings us to our next topic:
STEP 4. Admission Tests
SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject tests.
These are the common standardized entrance exams used by colleges around America.
Colleges use these tests because each the testing standards differ for each high school.
(Getting an A at one school does not guarantee the same level of competency at another)
Having tests like the SAT, or Scholastic Assessment Test, gives colleges a fair and unbiased comparison between students.
When should you take your admission tests?
We recommend students take their SAT and ACT exams in the spring of their junior year and fall of their senior year.
Preparing for your admission tests.
The more you prepare, the better. On average, we recommend at least 40 hours of guided study with a qualified tutor before taking the official tests. Also, it helps if you take at least two practice tests before your real admissions test.
Here are a few places to find SAT practice tests:
One of the biggest pitfalls we see with students preparing for their admissions tests is a lack of planning. Many students wait until the last moment to begin studies, which often leads to poor scores.
Create a study plan to make sure you are on track and ready when the time comes. A study plan is a simple break down of when and how you will study. Here are a few easy questions to ask yourself when making a study plan.
- What dates will I take the admission tests?
- How much time do I need to prepare for each test? (40 hours minimum)
- How much is that if broken down into weekly study?
There are many registered testing SAT testing centers in the Miami area. Here’s a search tool to find the one closest to you: Search tool
Once you have successfully chosen your desired career, figured out your budget, chosen your preferred college and passed your college admission tests…
It is time for the final stage:
Step 5. The Application Process
You have everything you need, and now it is time for the final step…
The application process. Let’s go through it, step by step.
- How to Apply
- The Application Form
- The written essay
- The face to face interview
- + Letters of recommendation
- + Your admission test scores
How to Apply
The application process can be a costly experience when done in person, as application fees can be as high as $70 per college.
(That is another reason why we narrow down our college finalists to three.)
A cheaper and more accessible alternative is to apply online. There are usually no or minimal fees when applying for college via their online portal.
Most colleges will use one of two services for their acceptance process:
It is good to do a little research on each to know what to expect.
When filling out your application form, show off your uniqueness with your extracurricular activities, responsibilities, community service and personal achievements. Don’t be shy.
If you can not think of something you have done to put down on the application, ask your parents and friends for help. Another person’s point of view often helps the process.
But try not to use terms or phrases that are too casual. Remember, they are looking for responsible young adults who will show dedication to their responsibilities.
The other factor that colleges use to see what sets you apart is your essay:
Writing your college application essay
The college application process includes a prompted written essay. Although the essay is not a primary requirement for acceptance, admissions officers admit to commonly using the essays as a final deciding factor.
Here are a few tips for getting the essay right:
- Brainstorm a few different angles before starting.
- Let the first draft flow naturally.
- Go back to edit afterward.
- Make sure your essay has a clear introduction, main section, and conclusion.
- Be creative. This is your opportunity to show your personality.
The Face-to-Face Interview
Not every college requires a Face-to-Face interview. If your chosen university does, see it as an opportunity. If you have followed all of the steps in this guide, you have clear reasons why you specifically want to attend that college. Make sure to tell the interviewer why the college feels right and what you hope to achieve while attending.
Here are a few other things you can do to stand out:
Prepare with friends and family
Don’t confine yourself to a set script, but prepare yourself for the conversations that could happen in an interview with mock question and answer sessions with a friend or family member. You would be surprised how much it helps to spend just half an hour on practice.
Show your interest in attending the college. Ask questions about the faculty, campus amenities, classes, and anything else you would like to know. Remember, this process is as much about you making the right decision as it is for them.
Relax. As big as this may seem right now, just see the interview as a conversation to get to know each other.
Now you are ready.
I hope these five steps have helped you navigate the sometimes confusing college preparation process and that you find the perfect college in Miami Dade (or elsewhere) for you.
Keep in mind that although it can seem like a complicated process, if you just follow the steps in this guide, you will get there - step by step.
Need more advice about Miami college prep? We are here to help. Contact our office for a chat, and we will personally guide you through the entire college preparation process.
College visits! Yay – one of the most exciting parts of the application process.
The College Board recently announced they will open a testing date for the SAT/SAT Subject Testing in August 2017.