Thursday, July 9, 2015

July DIY Week - Preparing to Choose Your College

     So this post is a little out of the ordinary for a DIY, but I kept thinking about things I wish people had taught me, and I really wish there had been someone to walk me through the entire pre-college process.
      The first thing that you need to decide is where you want to visit. I knew that I wanted to study English
and Communications, but I wanted my English degree to be focused towards Creative Writing, which narrowed down my search quite a bit. I only toured schools in my state, and, for the most part, they were less than six hours away from where I lived. I found most of this out online, or from the college fair that I went to as a Sophomore.  If your school or a school near you is having a college fair, I highly suggest attending. I'm such a nerd, but honestly it was a lot of fun getting to talk to the school's reps and getting a good idea of what they were looking for from me before I even went to the school.
     My dad and I then went on a major road trip during my Junior Year spring break where we visited, all nine of the schools I had shown interest in. At the beginning of the week, I was enthusiastic about every school I visited, but by Thursday, it was easy to tell which schools made me feel comfortable, and which just didn't seem like a good fit. I am not kidding, when I say that I left a college tour early, because I hated the bricks on the buildings. It wasn't just that, but at the time I felt so uncomfortable, that even the bricks were driving me crazy. I took out all of the state universities, because I realized that large schools just weren't for me, and narrowed it down to four private schools that I would apply to.
     If you're not sure about touring, I will say that some schools waive the application fee if you tour their school. Every private school I visited offered this deal, and one of the two public universities did as well. It also gave me the ability to truly experience what going to school there would be like. I mean, I was able to narrow down nine schools to four.
     The next step was applying, which I got done August before my senior year. I cannot stress how important I think this is. Most schools early action deadline is in December, and regular can be anywhere from January to February, but while most of my friends were freaking out about applying to college while trying to juggle school work, I got all of mine done when I had loads of free time in the summer. And get this! All of my schools had rolling acceptance, meaning that whenever I applied, they would get a decision back to me in a month's time. I knew what schools I had been accepted to before most of my friends even applied. It took so much weight off of my shoulders, so I highly recommend this if you can do it.
     But Shelby, how do you apply?
     I'm glad you asked. All but one of my applications could be filled out on the greatest website known to high school students, Common App. The Common Application, is an online application that a lot of schools use, where you can fill out the basic questions on every application (name, birth date, family, etc. ) and send it to each school on your list. This application also adds specific questions and essay's for your school, which allows you to apply to every institution at once. It really is a life saver. I was going to apply to the University of Louisville, just for kicks and giggles, and decided not to because they didn't use the Common App. I love it that much. You can find it here:

  After I found out where I had been accepted, I knew that I needed to narrow down my four schools, to at least two, hopefully just my number one. All but one of my schools offered over night visits or class sit ins. Liberty University offered an entire weekend, where I went to a football game, sat in on a class, and got to stay in someone's dorm, called CFAW (College for a Weekend). Personally, the school was too big for me and I didn't really have a great experience with the person I was dorming with, but one of my friends goes to Liberty and she was great about showing me around and making me feel welcomed. At the end of the weekend however, I knew it wasn't the school for me. I felt anxious while I was there, and even though it was a great school and I loved spending the weekend with my mom, it just wasn't the right fit, and that's okay. Even though my dad was pretty bummed. 
     I then visited Hollins University for the third time for their Prospective Students weekend. Again, I got to sit in on a few classes, shared a dorm room with a current student, and was welcomed into the school's activities. I had a better time there, and my current student was awesome, I still follow her on Instagram. I loved the Children's Literature class I took and really felt like the school wanted me to be there. It secured Hollins in my top two schools.
    My parents and I decided to take Randolph College off of the list when we couldn't find a weekend to stay at the school, but later we got an email inviting us to that exact thing. Opps! The good new is, my parents weren't to thrilled about the school, and while I thought it was beautiful, it wasn't too hard to let go.
     Randolph-Macon College didn't give me the option to stay
in a dorm, but they did have
what is called Macon Days, where I got to take a few classes and see a little bit more of the school. I only live an hour and a half away from Randolph-Macon so this was great for me, but I can see how it would be difficult for those who lived farther away. I fell in love with Randolph-Macon on this day, and I wasn't sure then, but I think it became my number one school that day.
    I now had my top two schools, and because I wanted to be thorough I visited them both again. This is not necessary. Most of my friends only visited their top school more than once, but I honestly had no idea where I wanted to go. I was invited to scholarship days for both schools, and while I got to stay overnight at Hollins again, this time I stayed at the hotel with my mom, I only got to be at Randolph-Macon for a few hours. I visited each school, one more time after the scholarship days, just to clarify which was my number one. At this point I knew I loved Randoph-Macon but Hollins was the smarter choice financially. My cousins went with me to Accepted Students Day at Randolph-Macon and they really
made me see that I couldn't put a price on how comfortable and at home I felt at Randolph-Macon. I
knew they were right, and by the end of that day I was almost ready to make a decision. However, I owed it to Hollins to attend their Accepted Students day as well.
    They were still so nice and welcoming, but they whole time I just wanted to go home. I kept looking at my schedule, trying to see how much longer I had. It just wasn't the school for me, and while it scared me to voluntarily put myself in more debt that I needed too, I couldn't let go of the happiness that I felt when I was at RMC.
     I paid my deposit about two weeks before the deadline of May 1st, and got my brick in the mail a week later (Graduating Students get their names engraved in a brick at RMC).
     From there, I became a College Student and the tasks flew in, but that's another story. Applying to college is stressful, scary, and most other negative 's' words, but it's also thrilling and new. I'll be the first to graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in my nuclear family, and that's pretty cool.
    I think the best advice I can give is to do things sooner than you have to. I am a total procrastinator, but I made sure to get my college stuff out of the way before I was rushing to meet a deadline, and because of that I got to have fun with it. I got to visit schools four or five times, which I really needed to cement my decision, and I got to create memories with my family. I am the queen of waiting until the last minute to pick a school, so I know how tough that can be, but at the end of the day, I truly believe that you will know what school is right for you. Almost everyone I have talked to says that they just felt it when they found the right school, and the same thing happened for me.
     So don't stress if you don't know what to do or where to go. There's time for that, and the answers will come eventually. Life is full of choices, and you've made it this far. Now you're off to great places, you're off and away.

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