Finding the Right College (Part One)

Is it a Pizza Kind of Day?
Or salad. Or tacos. Sometimes that all-you-can-eat-buffet sounds amazing but maybe the single dish of ice cream does the trick.

We’re really sorry if you’re reading this right before lunch hour. Besides getting your stomach’s attention, what we’d like to like to point out is that colleges are like a kind of smorgasbord. A smorgasbord of some 5,300 different dishes and it’s not very likely that you’ll need to sample all of them. (Even if we did happen to make you really hungry just now.) You’ve got one plate, one appetite, so you’re going to think about what you want on that plate. What’s going to really hit the spot and not break the budget?

The point is, there are A LOT of colleges and universities in the U.S. — yes, really like 5,300 of them — and they’re not all the same. If you’re a junior or a senior in high school, you’re probably hearing from a lot of them right now. Quick! How many different KINDS can you name?


How many did you name? What did we leave out? OK, we couldn’t resist a little trivia, but let’s move on.

We could write through next Monday’s dinner hour about all the majors, the programs, the certificates, the degrees. [Promise, we won’t do that, but here’s the official list if you want to go down that rabbit hole.]

Yep, there is absolutely this monster variety of colleges out there. Luckily, the best way to find the right college doesn’t start with that list, it starts with YOU. Shiny brochures aside, not every college is going to be equally amazing for you. So the first step in creating a college list is making a list of your interests and your priorities for life after high school.

Are you determined to live at home during college or are you itching to experience an entirely new area of the country? Those packed college football games can be loads of fun, but that might mean 100+ students in your Intro Bio class. What sports, clubs, work opportunities matter to you outside the classroom?

The point is to start the college search with your priority list in mind. Colleges come in different sizes, locations, and with different vibes and strengths. And you should know that some colleges do a much better job than others of connecting with their students and getting them to graduation. Don’t let some college ranking tell YOU what your dream college is.

College cost and your budget has to be part of this process. We’ll unpack what you need to know in an upcoming newsletter.

Action step: Take a look at chapter two in The Guide, where we outline some really good ways to think about what you want to find in a college. Watch our short video below and you’ll nail it.

Fair Opp Faves: Tools We Like

We’re going low-tech on our Fair Opp Fave. Take out the ole’ pen and paper and write your personal responses to the college checklist that we outlined on pages 8-9 in the latest edition of The Guide. [Hint: this checklist asks what you care about. Think and write about the Academics; the Location; the College Size; Public/Private; Housing; Social Life; Food; Athletics; Extracurriculars; Finances.] Hang onto this sheet because you’re going to need it to build that college list! [Stay tuned for our next issue, when we walk you through how to build that list.]

And now in the financial aid corner….

Who knows what the FAFSA is? [Bonus points if you know what all the letters stand for.]

Who loves the FAFSA? [crickets]

The FAFSA is an application for aid. It’s THE single most important thing you can do if you want to receive financial aid for college. And yet, two million students who could have—and should have—tackled the FAFSA just didn’t do it last year. $24 BILLION unclaimed college dollars. That’s crazy when you think about it.

We’re not asking you to love the FAFSA. We ARE asking you not to leave college money on the table.

The FAFSA had a special occasion this week, because it opened up on October 1st for students who are looking for financial aid for next school year: 2019-20. [That’s your cue.] Help FAFSA celebrate this special occasion and knock this one off your college to-do list right now. Seriously, lots of college money goes to students who are first in line for it.

Here are some things that you CAN love about the FAFSA:

It’s the first step for getting a Pell Grant (doesn’t need to be repaid), and this can be a good chunk of money: the annual Maximum Award for a Pell Grant in the 2018-19 school year= $6,095

It’s free to complete [DON’T pay to submit this]

There’s a nifty mobile app now that you can use (see our Sept. 4 newsletter)

Dodge the most common mistakes with this list.

In many states, you can find free workshops with knowledgeable volunteers who can help you fill out the form. Ask your counselor or try searching “College Goal [your state]”

Action step:

Set up your FSA ID on the FAFSA website and then keep it in a safe (and memorable) place—you will need this ID every year that you fill out the FAFSA. You can watch this video with really rousing music on how to create the FSA ID, or you can quietly read this tip sheet.

What’s Your Question?

Send us your questions and we’ll respond to them here!

“I’m just feeling overwhelmed by how many colleges there are. Where do I start?”-Zoe Y.

Yes, go ahead and start with an UGH. Seriously. This college application process seems WAY too complicated and stressful. Your news feed is probably highlighting all kinds of ominous tales of what can go wrong. The good news? The more you plan, the better this is going to go. You’re reading this newsletter, you’ve got all kinds of information and resources on our website: solid approach for a solid plan. Take a deep breath and read our article above on how to tackle this. You don’t roll out of bed and just run a marathon, right?  That would be crazy overwhelming. Not a healthy approach. We’ve got examples in our Guide of a much saner approach. A written, detailed, reasonable timeline with specific steps. You can do this!

In Your Region

Here’s a very handy U.S. map of links to college aid programs in each state. Yes, most of this aid goes to students who are attending a college or university in the state where they live, but you’ll find exceptions. These state-by-state websites are a great resource for finding state-based scholarships and grants for specific fields (like education, medicine, or dentistry). You may find that you can qualify as a resident after just 12 months of living and working in that state but be sure to understand the requirements beforehand. Don’t forget about the tuition exchanges that we shared in our last newsletter!