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5 Questions To Ask Before Making Your College Choice

As a high school senior currently involved in the college application process, the last few months have been long and complicated. At this point, you have visited several colleges, submitted applications, written essays, double-checked deadlines, and filled out enough forms to last a lifetime. For many, the final step of the process has finally arrived. If your lucky, you were accepted to a few or several colleges you applied too. Now, you must choose where you will spend the next four years of your life.

Most schools set the deadline for choosing a school for May 1st. I highly advise you to review the deadline for each school to ensure they do not have there own, earlier deadline. Regardless of when the deadline may be, the choice of where to attend college is not something to take lightly. It is a decision that will have long-lasting implications on your future, career, and overall quality of life. As you consider your options, here are five things to think about before making this critical choice.

#1 – Does the school provide the type of environment you need to succeed?

It is easy to be impressed by a sprawling campus that has beautiful buildings, new classroom technology, big-time campus events. The quality of the school is essential. However, it is not about how wonderful the campus looks or the school appears to be. It is about the environment it produces and if it is right for you. If the school is not providing what you need to be successful, then you need to ask yourself why you would go there in the first place?

To understand what exactly you need, you can ask yourself some basic questions. For example, what kind of class size are you comfortable in? If you benefit from smaller class sizes and situations that allow you to ask questions, then you should avoid the schools that offer mostly large lecture hall type classes. How easy or difficult will it be to get from class to class? If the school you are considering has your future classes located on different campuses, that is something to take note of. The key is to collect as much information about what life will be like at that school and decide if it will serve your needs.

#2 – What types of career services to offer current students and graduates?

 If there are two or three colleges that you are considering that appear similar, this could be a crucial tiebreaker. While college is meant to help you grow as a person and become independent, it’s primary purpose is to prepare you for a fruitful career that will allow you to make the impact you seek. If you are going to spend four years and thousands of dollars on a school, you need to be sure they have the necessary services to help you obtain a job when you graduate.

 As we have spoken about in past blog posts, it is crucial during campus tours to visit the school’s career center. This is the department that is supposed to help you find internships, craft your resume, and help connect you with employers after graduation. Does the school you are considering to offer these services? If you are unsure, connect with alumni on LinkedIn and them directly about how helpful the school was with these tasks. It would be best if you were choosing a school that will act as your partner and does everything possible to ensure you start your career off on the right foot.

#3 – What do the alumni have to say?

During this process, you have hopefully asked a lot of questions. You have inquired about various topics with your tour guide, admissions counselor, and faculty you have met along the way. While their answers are essential and can be valuable, it is crucial to gain information for those who are not currently employed by the school. It’s not that these people will give you incorrect information; it just means that they are more likely to provide you with positive answers because they work for the school.

This is where school alumni come into play. Alumni are a great resource because they used to be a student and have already gone through all of the things you are about to encounter. They will give you an honest insight into the school. This is where you ask your questions about internships, dorm rooms, food quality, class size, and anything else that is important to you. Ask about where they are in their career and the role the school played in getting there. Lastly, ask them point-blank if they could go back in time would they still choose that school. By connecting with 3-5 alumni, you can get the complete picture you seek.

#4 – What makes this college worth it?

I have spent the past few years asking college graduates about their time in college and what they would have done differently. Nearly every single graduate answers by talking about student loans. Simply put, graduates did not do enough research when it came to the loans they were signing up for. The result was massive debt waiting for these students after graduation. They were caught off guard by the considerable monthly payment they were being required to make.

I am not saying that you should not take out loans to cover the cost of college. However, if you are going to be taking out loans that impact your future, you should know precisely why you are doing. It is crucial to understand what makes this college worth the price tag. If you are deciding between a few schools, and one is considerably more expensive then the other, you owe it to yourself to find out why that is. Ask yourself, is this college worth this amount of money? If they have the major your want, a great internship program, and an amazing alumni network, then yes, it might be worth it. However, you may find that cheaper option on your list also has all of these things. If the more affordable, less known school, is going to deliver what you need to succeed, then that might be the school for you.

#5 – Am I ready to go to college?

This last question is more about internal discovery and honesty; then, it is about any particular school. The college admissions process comes on strong and basically takes over your life for several months to over a year. You get so caught up in paperwork and research that you may lose sight of what is truly important. College is the step in life that is supposed to prepare you for the real world. It may seem like the obvious next step, but that does not mean it will be an easy one.

Before you choose a college, you need to conduct some self-discovery. Are you mature enough to go away to college? Are you ready to study harder and longer than you have before? Do you know what your plans are for after college? What are you going to study, and why did you choose that area? It is okay if you do not have all the answers right now. Just be sure to take the time to answer them before you move forward into one of the most important phases of your life.

Conclusion

Choosing a college is a choice that will impact your quality of life for decades to come. You owe it to your future self to make a choice that is in your best interest. You also have every right to ask if a school is worthy of your time and your money. As long as you do your research, ask the right questions, and take it seriously, you will end up with a choice that will set you up for a successful college experience and real-world career.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

Campus Building - University of Nebraska

5 Things To Notice During A College Campus Tour

With the weather starting to get warmer, on-the-ball high-school juniors will be going on college campus tours. Campus tours are an ideal opportunity for juniors to learn more about schools they might apply to, including facilities, course offerings, and campus services. In past posts, we have talked about the importance of asking the right questions on college campus tours. This week, we are shifting focus away from questions you ask others to zero in on the things you need to take note of yourself.

Choosing a college is a crucial decision that has a long-term impact on your future. It is a choice that should not be taken lightly and should be done after you have collected as much information as possible. However, while it is crucial to understand college stats, job placement rates, and course offerings, several things will be up to you to notice. This could very well make or break your decision to attend a particular college. Here are five things you need to take note of when visiting a college campus.

Classroom Quality

Yes, you have to apply to and be selected by a college. You are, in a sense auditioning yourself in the hopes that they choose you. However, you are also auditioning them. Never forget that a college must earn your time and money just as much as you need to secure your acceptance into that school. With tuition rates as high as they are, you have a right to know exactly what you are paying for.

When on a campus tour, attempt to see as many classrooms and lecture halls as possible. If your tour group skips a building, then go back and tour it on your own. Also, if you know what majors you are interested in, be sure to visit classrooms used by the departments you are targeting. When viewing all the rooms, take note of the type of technology they do or do not have, including smartboards. Do desks have enough space for a notebook or laptop? Are desks old and wobbly or new and solid? This is an indicator of whether or not the school invests in its facilities.

Dorm Room Size

Most college students are so excited about being on their own they don’t take the proper time to examine their new living quarters. The idea of having your own space away from your parents can be thrilling and overwhelming. This is why you need to ground yourself and understand what you are signing up for. Take a hard look dorms during your campus tour and make sure you can be comfortable in them.

Many schools are known for accepting more students than they can house because they do not want to turn down the tuition revenue. The result of this can be overcrowded dorm rooms holding more students really fit. Your campus tour guide will show you one or two hand-picked rooms. Examine them and confirm they are of decent size. Then, connect with alumni and current students via LinkedIn and Facebook and ask about their campus living experiences. This fact-finding will come in handy when comparing schools down the line.

If you are planning to live off campus, see if there is adequate public transportation or at least parking close enough to campus that you are not taking an extended hike to and from class each day.

Surrounding Area

The focus of any college campus tour is the actual campus. However, it is equally important to drive through the surrounding area and town where the college is located. Regardless of whether you are going to dorm or commute, you will be spending a considerable amount of time in that area for the next four years. This area and what it includes it just as important as any building you visit on campus.

The first thing to take notice of is the type of town that surrounds the school. Several schools I have visited over the years have been in the middle of lower-income cities. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. However, the surrounding streets appear to be less than safe than request a copy of the school’s yearly safety and incident report. This will tell you if there is anything to be worried about.

Second, what does the town around the school have to offer? Does it include simple services such as a grocery store and places to eat? Again, this is not something you think about when visiting a college and learning about the education they offer. However, based on my conversation with graduates, having easy access to things like groceries and entertainment becomes more important than they thought initially. The last thing you want is to move in on campus and then learn it’s 45 minutes to the closest grocery store or movie theater.

Building Quality

Earlier, we dove deep into the importance of taking classes is clean, well-maintained classrooms. It is equally important to examine the buildings on campus. Once again, this is a reliable indicator of how much the school reinvests into their campus and infrastructure. Each building you go into should showcase the school’s effort to create an inclusive learning environment for its students. If you leave your campus tour unimpressed, that could be an indicator of what else the school is hiding.

Specifically, when is the last time the buildings you are touring have been renovated. Are the hallways clean and fresh or old and run down? Once again, your tour will undoubtedly focus on the newest buildings. If you have to, tour the other buildings on campus by yourself. Lastly, make sure you know exactly where you will be spending the majority of your time. It all comes back to the type of experience you want to have each day on campus.

Student Body Attitude

The last item on this list focuses on the overall attitude and vibe of the students you encounter on campus. This one is tricky because even the happiest students can seem blah early in the morning or on the way to a challenging class. The key here is to be aware of the various students you encounter across the whole campus. What is their overall attitude and demeanor? Does it appear as if they are having fun, or are they most likely walking heads down in silence?

If you are taking your campus tour on the weekend, take note of how many students and cars are on campus. This is a sign of how active the campus is on the weekend. If it feels like a ghost town, then chances are the student body is made up mostly of commuters. On the flip side, if you notice students playing games, parking lots full of cars, and various signs of life, then you most likely are looking at school with a vibrant and active student body.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things you know to research and look for when looking at colleges. You will be presented with a ton of information without even asking for it. The key is to know what else you need to look for – the things they don’t cover in brochures and tours. During each visit, imagine yourself at that school. What do you need to have the best experience possible? Choosing a college is not a time to settle. It’s a time to be stubborn and only accept an opportunity that will earn your time, money, and deliver the best experience possible.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

Cartoon of 10 people in varying career uniforms

Using a Personality Assessment to Select a College and Major

If you’re an ambitious high school student – which I assume you are since you’re reading this article – you have a lot on your plate. There are your classes, extracurricular activities, standardized test prep, and so much more.

And then there’s getting ready for college.

With so much going on right now, it can be tough to find time to think about your future college and major. ‘Where and what do I want to study?’ is one of the most important questions you’ll answer at this point in your life. As a result, you need to take it seriously and give it due consideration.

However, the question should not add stress to your life.

In this article, we’ll discuss a tool that can help you make these important decisions just a little bit easier – personal strengths assessments.

Personal Strengths Assessments and You

Personal strengths assessments, also known as personal interest inventories, have been around probably as long as the printed word. After all, it’s human nature to want to identify our strengths, weaknesses, preferences, dislikes, etc.

What can a personal strengths assessment tied to college and career aspirations do for you? In short, the results can give you a new perspective on what you want at this point in your life. Things may change in the future (e.g., You switch majors in college.), but as you must make some big decisions during your junior and senior years of high school, a personal interest inventory can make some things clearer.

An Important Disclaimer

Before you start looking up personality tests, I want to give you a disclaimer in the form of a short story. Back in my teaching days, my principal was a huge fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, one of the more well-known personality assessments. “Broderick,” he would tell me, “you’re such an INTJ.” When I finally got around to looking up what ‘INTJ’ meant, it bummed me out for a lot of reasons, mainly that my boss was boiling down my personality into four letters.

What made me feel better was learning that Myers-Briggs is, to put it mildly, a flawed instrument that has no basis in psychology or human development.

A lot of personal strengths assessments are the exact same.

My story has two takeaways. First, research a personal strengths assessment or interest inventory before putting any stock in the results. Second, although today’s assessments have come a long way, I want you to remember that results aren’t perfect. They exist to give you guidance, not pigeonhole you into a type of college or career path. In other words, if a result doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.

Even so, if an assessment gives you a result you didn’t expect, it doesn’t hurt to research that possibility. Maybe you’ll discover a college or major that matches your evolving interests.

Final Thoughts

MyKlovr is partnering with an acknowledged expert to launch its own personal strengths assessment and career interest inventory shortly to help users like you make better-informed decisions. When that day comes, we encourage you to answer the questions honestly and consider the results a valuable tool as you prepare for your life’s next stage.

But please, with our personality assessment or any other, take the results with a grain of salt and trust your – and don’t forget your family’s – best judgment.

3 Things To Review On Any College Website

In today’s world, the first thing we do when we hear about something that interests us is hopping on the internet and look it up. This is no different when you are starting your college search. Before you start your college visits or have a full understanding of what you are looking for in a college, you tend to hop online and starting visiting their websites. Most students begin to visit sites of colleges they have heard of before simply so they can start to look around.

The issue is, if you dive into a college website without a plan, it can get very overwhelming very quickly. As you learn, colleges have a lot of moving parts. Furthermore, their official website is tasked with relay a high volume of information to a variety of audiences. Students, graduates, alumni, professors, job seekers, and the media are just some of the various groups that use this website to gather information about the institution.

Over time, if you choose to consider and apply to the school seriously, you will understand which parts of the site are most valuable at different times. However, for those who want to conduct primary research, I have listed three things to looks for and review when visiting a college site for the first time. As I mentioned, as you move forward, you will need to review additional sections more carefully. For now, to avoid being overwhelmed, you can stick to these three parts.

Admissions

When you enter the site, you will most likely be greeted with a lengthy menu of options. Start by clicking on Admissions. This is where you will need to start if you are giving any thought to attending this school. If you don’t get in, then the other stuff doesn’t matter. Once you land on the admissions page, click around to find the “undergraduate programs” section. This may be in the form of a new page or a downloadable catalog.

Take a few minutes to review the various courses that are offered. This will allow you to learn what the school focuses on. That college with the billboards on the highway may not offer you anything you are interested in. On the flipside, by reading the descriptions of the different courses, you may discover something new. You do not need to make any decisions at this time, but it is helpful to begin to understand what this and other colleges have to offer.

Before leaving the admissions section, find a link to request more information. This usually is a simple form that allows you to exchange your e-mail for a PDF brochure about the school. It also shares your information with an admissions counselor who can reach out and answer questions. Again, you are not committing to anything, but it may be helpful to speak to someone about the information you just learned about the school.

Student Life / Campus Life

These two sections may be combined into one page or separated into two different parts. The purpose of both sections is to show prospective students, like yourself, what life is like on the campus of that school. They will show pictures of past events and provide information on the various clubs, sports, and future events open to the student body. This is a great way to learn more about the non-academic side of the school. If the site boasts photo albums of happy students and a long list of events, then it’s clear that they prioritize the happiness of there students.

This is also where you can look for activities you might be interested in joining. They may offer an organized club centered around a hobby you have always wanted to take up. Joining one of these clubs or groups could be an ideal way to make friends right away. These are the little things that are worth noting because they might convince you to choose this school over similar ones on your list.

When diving into content that speaks about campus life, dig around to gain a better understanding of what the campus is like. How big or small is it in size? Are all dorms and class buildings located within walking distance of each other? One of the things I work with my college-bound coaching clients on is determining what type of environment they need to succeed at school. Will they thrive on a large campus, or should they be sticking to smaller schools to ensure they are comfortable and able to focus on their academics. Beginning to understand the makeup of the different campuses will be valuable when comparing these schools int the coming months. 

Alumni

The last section to visit before getting to overwhelmed with the alumni section. This may seem odd since you are not even a student yet. The alumni section is not terribly overwhelming. It also does not force you to make choices about what information to read about. It is a section devoted to students who have graduated from that school and the successes they have enjoyed.

Every school will boast an alumni network that includes former grads that are now in the workforce. Research this network to understand how many grads are in it, where they are located, and how active they are. If a school boasts active alumni, it means typically those grads enjoyed their time in the school enough to actively give back. This is yet another insight into what life might be like as a student at that school.

The alumni network can also have an impact on your career after graduation. When you graduate, you are among thousands of grads who, on paper, look identical. You all come from similar schools with the same degrees and grades. When it comes to getting that first job, being able to connect with a hiring manager that went to the same school as you could be invaluable. Being able to call on alumni to help grads get jobs is a huge selling point for any school. Now, you will need to continue to do extensive research as you move forward to ensure this network is as valuable as they claim. If it is, then it could be the driving force behind your final selection.

Conclusion

As you move through this process and determine major and other things you are looking for in a school, you will return to the site and take advantage of the additional information it has to offer. For those just starting, it is essential to have a basic plan when visiting a website with such a high volume of information. The three sections above will allow you to get comfortable in navigating college sites. It will also let you to get familiar with what college is all about and what it has to offer you and your future.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

New Years Resolutions for High School Students

Believe it or not, 2019 is almost over. As a high school student, I didn’t take the time to think about the year that had passed or the upcoming one. I was usually in straight survival mode, just trying to get to Christmas break. Once on break, I didn’t dare think about school or how I could better myself in the new year. As an adult, I can only wish I had played less video gaming and done more planning for my future.

Don’t get me wrong; holiday vacations are a time to take a break from the routine of the school year. However, out of the 10+ days you get off, it would be beneficial if you put aside a few hours to focus on your future. By simply committing to sitting down for a few hours one afternoon after Christmas, you will be setting yourself up for success for the upcoming year.

Setting resolutions for the new year is a popular topic and exercise for most people this time of the year. Millions of Americans commit to making changes such as eating better, exercising more, switching jobs, or starting a new project. The reason so many people have to make resolutions to change bad habits is that they never took the time to prevent them from becoming habits in the first place. Another reason why this exercise is so crucial and with several days off in a row coming up, there is no reason not to do it.

Year In Review

You can start this exercise by thinking about the year that just passed. Specifically, list three things that went well. This could include excellent grades, new habits, making a sports team, or anything that you look back on with joy or pride. Once you list them out, think about what you did to make them happen. What positive habits did you create to reach these milestones? By doing this, you are accomplishing two critical things. First, you realize what works for you and what solid habits you already have.

Second, you have proven to yourself that you can handle stressful situations and accomplish your goals. When it comes time to start looking at colleges, you can enter the journey with confidence, knowing that you have already had many of the positive habits you will need to navigate such a complicated process. You will also look at that list of habits and figure out how to best put them to use.

What’s Next?

As you already know, you can’t live in the past. If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know my message is based on being prepared for the future. I cannot tell you how many college grads tell me they regret not planning for the next steps in life. Therefore, your time during this project should be focused on what’s coming next for you in 2020.

What major life events are taking place? Are you taking the SAT’s? Are you visiting colleges? Perhaps, you will turn the legal age to start working and plan on finding your first job. List all of these out so you can see just how vital these upcoming 12 months are. Then, think about if you are ready to tackle these significant life milestones. If not, what specific things do you need to accomplish? If the SATs are on your list and you have poor study habits, then this is the time to make a resolution to improve those habits. If you are getting ready to enter the workforce via part-time work, then resolve to find a job where you will be challenged to grow. Choose a job that will help you become a better person. Ideally, you will work somewhere that you can mention on your college application

Create Sub-Resolutions and a Timeline

The majority of new years resolutions fail. This is because people set broad goals without mapping out how they are going to get there. Furthermore, they do not acknowledge that they need to make specific changes to reach their desired destination. For example, “losing weight” is a weak resolution because it’s too vague. There is no way to gauge success or pre-determined deadlines designed to hold you accountable. Also, most people say they are going to lose weight but admit that they need to change there eating habits or commit to incorporating exercise into their daily routine.

The point I am making is that if all you do is make resolutions such as “Study more” or “get a good job,” then the odds of the resolution creating a lasting impact are very slim. You need to break these resolutions down into attainable sub-resolutions. Once you do this, then you can assign yourself deadlines. This will give you small goals to reach for and motivation or completing them in a timely fashion.

Below I have taken the popular resolution of “Study More” and broken it down as an example to follow:

Original ResolutionStudy More
New ResolutionBreakdown studying into multiple nights instead of just one
Sub Resolution #1Study for 1 hour per night leading up to exam day
Sub Resolution #2Complete Sub Resolution #1 for 5 straight exams
TimelineComplete Sub-Resolutions #1 and #2 by March 1st

 

As you can see, you have taken a broad goal and transformed it into specific mini-goals. Each time you learn of an upcoming test, you will schedule 1 hour of studying each night the week leading up to the test. You want to ensure this habit sticks, so you are committing to not only doing it for the first test of the new year but for accomplishing the feat for five straight exams. Lastly, by setting a goal of early in the year, you are motivating yourself to complete those five consecutive exams as soon as possible. If you do not set a deadline, you may slip and figure you have all year to complete the sub-resolution.

Conclusion

The theme of this new year should be “Preparing for the future,” and there is not a better time than to start now. You can enjoy Christmas and the days afterward. However, before the new year hits, set aside a few hours to complete the tasks above. This process will help you create better habits for not only the new year but every year after that.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

How To Choose a College That Fits Your Specific Needs

One of the most overwhelming parts of the college selection process is the sheer number of options to choose from. Even if you have a general idea of what you want to study, it is easy to be intimidated by all the different colleges that offer your desired major. This scenario can lead to students limiting the number of schools they research or choosing the wrong college altogether.

Over the years, I have spoken to many graduates regarding the college application process. Many of them talked about not knowing where to start and often just simply choosing a school without doing the proper research. As I have documented in past posts if you are going to dedicate four years and thousands of dollars to a college than you need to be sure it is the best fit for you.

As a high school student looking at colleges, it is important to remember that you are unique and that you should never make decisions based on what everyone else is doing. Before you start spending time researching and visiting colleges, take the time to think about who you are a person and student. Only you know what kind of environment and situation you need to be successful. To get started on this journey of self-discovery, I have listed a few key items to think about when determining what type of college is right for you.

Class Size

Class size is an aspect of college that often gets overlooked. As a high school student, you are used to a classroom of fewer than 25 students. In college, class sizes will vary based on the course, the major, and the school you are attending. Some colleges will offer class sizes that are similar to a high school setting. Others conduct the majority of their courses in large lecture halls where you could be seated with 50-100 other students.

When you start looking at schools, figure out how important class size is to your success as a student. Are you someone who benefits from individualized attention? Do you learn best when you can interact directly with the teacher? If this sounds like you, then one of your first research questions should be how large the class sizes are. There is nothing wrong with deciding that a huge lecture hall is not for you. The important thing is that you are putting yourself in an environment that is best suited for your learning needs.

Campus Size

College campuses come in all shapes and sizes. The stereotypical college tends to be large, with many buildings sprawled out across several campuses. However, smaller colleges can and will offer the same level of education. Do not buy in the myth that the bigger the college, the better it is. It is not about what works for most people. It is what works best for you.

If you attend a college with multiple campuses, you may be forced to take a bus to each class. This might not seem like a big deal at first. However, you have to factor in all the other new things that you will be getting used to. I have spoken to several students who have spoken about how the transition became too overwhelming and their grades suffered as a result. Some of these students were unable to recover and ended up transferring back home. 

How are you when it comes to time management? Do you think you will be able to thrive in a scenario where your three classes from the day are all in different areas? If yes, then, by all means, continue to look at those large sprawling campuses. However, if the situation seems overwhelming, you may want to look at colleges that will allow you to take all your classes within walking distance of each other. Again, there is no wrong answer here. It’s about knowing what works for you. The last thing you want is to be so stressed about getting to the class that it takes away from your ability to learn and grow as a student.

Distance From Home

Another common stereotype surrounding college is the idea that you must go away to school. Society often portrays college as this four-year party and that the only way to get the right “college experience” is to live in the dorm, away from your parents, family, and friends. This is not only false but is a dangerous trap that many students fall into.

Yes, there is a benefit in going away to college. You get to meet new people, experience new things and learn how to be independent. That being said, just like everything else on this list, it’s not for everyone. It is a significant life change that requires the ability to transition quickly in new surroundings. Not only are you getting used to a new city, friends, and bedroom, but you will be doing all of this while taking new, challenging courses.

This is not an impossible task. Thousands of students do it successfully every year. The key is to understand if you are that type of student. Will you thrive in the situations I just mentioned? Perhaps you benefit from being surrounded by family and friends. Contrary to popular belief, you can still get a valuable college experience by staying local and commuting to class. The important part is that you are honest with yourself from the start to avoid making a costly mistake in the future.

Conclusion

There is no one right answer when deciding what makes the right college. The answer is different for each student because each student is unique. Everyone reading this post has different strengths and weaknesses. Only you know what you need to be successful in school and eventually in life. Applying to college is a serious process that deserves the proper time and attention. Set aside the time to understand what you need from the start and you will be able to select a college that will set you up for long term success.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

Applying to college? Here’s where to start.

You’ve decided that you are ready to start the college application process. Chances are you’re a sophomore in college and realize that this is the time to begin thinking about colleges. The problem is once the initial excitement about looking at colleges wears off, you are left staring at a mountain of information, tasks, deadlines, and options that can leave you overwhelmed.

The entire process can take over two years and includes several different phases. These phases include but are not limited to, researching schools, campus visits, applications, researching majors, and financial aid. So, before you even start this long and winding journey, let’s talk about a few things to do right at the start.

Why are you going to college?

College is a serious commitment. You are committing four years of your time and thousands of dollars of money to this next step in your education. Therefore, you need to be clear as to why you have made this choice. If your current answer is “I don’t know,” “Because I am supposed to,” or “My parents are making me,” then you need a new answer.

College is your opportunity to create a future of your own choosing. This is the beginning of a journey that, if done correctly, will prepare you to build a career and life of satisfaction and fulfillment. Now is the time to start thinking about what you are looking to get out of college? Do you want to meet people in a particular field? Are there certain subjects you want to learn more about? Having a basic idea of why you are going to college can help you figure out which schools you should be looking at.

What Type of Person Do You Want To Become?

What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question that you have been asked several times in the duration of your life. It is also a question that is closely tied to choosing a college. The issue with this question is that it can limit your choices. You are forcing yourself to make a life-altering decision without understanding all of your options. Instead, before you start looking at colleges and majors, ask yourself, “What type of person do I want to become?”.

This question is designed to open you up to new possibilities and ideas. Think about when in your life do you feel the most accomplished or satisfied. Perhaps, it is when you are helping other people and giving them the advice to solve a problem. Maybe you should become the type of person who helps people for a living. Your next step is to list out all the jobs that are associated with that type of person. Finally, take the time to find people who are currently doing those jobs and learn more about them.

Once you complete this, you will have a much better idea of what majors and careers you’re interested in. By learning more about these possible jobs and careers ahead of time, you will know which ones you maybe passionate about and which ones you can forget about. This allows you to focus solely on schools that are going to help you become the person that you want to be.

Determine The Type of Environment You Need To Succeed

If you have read my past posts, you know the basis of my advice comes from surveying and interviewing college graduates. The majority of these grads often speak about how they did not take enough time to determine what they as an individual needed from a college to be successful. They got caught up thinking they had to go away college or choose a big-name school with a huge campus and successful football team.

Take the time to do some self-discovery and be honest about your academic and personal needs. Is going away to school a good fit for you? Will you be successful in large lecture halls, or should you find a school that offers smaller sized classrooms? Will you be okay in a new town and living with new people? How important are things like seeing family and friends when it comes to your mental health?

There are no wrong answers to these questions. The only wrong path is not taking the time to ask these questions at the beginning. These answers will guide your college search and help you only focus on schools that fit your needs. Remember, you are a unique individual that needs to do what is best for you.

Tell Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell. You may think that is not true and that you are boring or are uninteresting. First, I am almost positive you are more interesting than you give yourself credit for. Second, it is your best interest to figure that out sooner rather than later. You will be applying to the same college and thousands of other high school students. The last thing you want is to blend in and look like every other applicant the admissions department sees.

Take the time to map out your personal story. Start with why you are going to college and what you are looking to accomplish. Write out your interests and passions. Think about how going to college is going to help you build the life you want. Think about what that life looks like and what you are doing to get there. List out all of your accomplishments, awards, and past jobs. Make a list of teachers, co-workers, and other individuals who would be willing to vouch for you as a person.

This will help you begin to craft the story you will tell during your application process. This story will accomplish three main things. First, it will give the admissions counselor a better understanding of who you are as a person. Second, it will show the counselor the value you will add to the school if accepted. Third, it will help you stand out during your college essay. It could be the edge you need to get in over a student who just picked an essay topic off the internet.

Get Serious and Get Organized

Looking at colleges should be an enjoyable experience, but it is also not something to take lightly. You will be spending a considerable amount of time and money on college and want to ensure you get it right. There are also several deadlines and tasks to keep on track of. Before you even begin, figure out how you are going to keep track of everything.

The myKlovr platform can help you accomplish this. It allows you to enter all these crucial deadlines and due dates in one place so you can keep track of everything. It also provided reminders when an important date is approaching. However, this is only half the battle. For this to work, you must be committed to putting in the time and energy to the entire process. Understand what’s expected of you and commit to staying on top of it for the duration of the process.

Conclusion

If it’s time to start looking at colleges, then it’s time to get serious about your future. Yes, it can be overwhelming. You will most likely make a few mistakes along the way. The critical thing to remember is that if you apply yourself to the process and give it the time and attention it deserves, then you will be just fine. We covered a lot of valuable information at a very high level. 

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

3 Popular Myths About Going To College

By Kyle Grappone

According to a recent research study, about 70% of high school graduates attend college. This means there is a large number of students and parents who are looking to consume college related content to prepare for this critical process. This high demand for content has resulted in an overwhelming amount of articles, interviews, case studies, and videos about what you need to know to make the best possible choice when selecting a college.

Typically, this blog is dedicated to helping you sift through all of that well-intentioned advice. It is essential to identify all the factual information out there. However, it is also important to admit that there is a lot of incorrect data, as well. Somewhere along the way, various myths regarding what’s important about college starting popping up. Therefore, this week, we are going to debunk three popular myths regarding going away to college.

Myth #1 – You must go away to school

As a society, when we speak of college, we automatically connect it with going away to attend it. Somehow, we have forgotten about millions of students who attend college and still live at home. When you begin this process, you will be tempted to look at schools far away from home. After all, the idea of being out on your own is very attractive. Attending a college out of state is an opportunity to become independent, meet new people, and experience new things.

For many, this is the right call. It is important to get out into the world and experience things that are different from what you are used to. However, if this is your next step, you have to do it for the right reasons. Do not go away to school because you want to get away from your parents or you want to party all the time. If you are choosing a school far from home, you should do so because it aligns with your goals and your plans.

Also, there is nothing wrong with deciding that going away is not for you. The most important thing a student must do when looking at colleges is to understand what type of environment they need to succeed. Are you the type of person who benefits from familiarity? Will a new bed, town, and friends on top of harder classes be too much to adjust to? If that is the case, please understand it is okay to choose a college close to home. This does not make you lazy, nor does it make you ill-equipped to handle new responsibilities. It merely means you have identified what you need to succeed and refuse to put yourself in a situation where that is not going to happen.

Myth #2 – You must go to a 4-year school

Community colleges get a bad rap. For some reason, they have been labeled as a place that are reserved for those who were not driven or smart enough to get into a four-year school. This is not true. Community colleges offer high-quality education at lower prices than there four-year counterparts.

A community college is an excellent choice for someone who is not clear about what they want to study in college. It is also an option for someone who knows they want to go to college but cannot yet afford it. You can attend for two years and complete your basic requirements while you work and save money for the last two years. This allows you to continue your education and take our fewer student loans.

Again, this comes back to what your plan is. What are you looking to accomplish? Why are you going to college in the first place? Understanding your needs and goals is imperative. Many of the college graduates I speak to talk about how they regret not going to community college first. They speak about “falling into the trap” of thinking that only the unmotivated start at community college. Do yourself a favor and research your local community colleges. You will be pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer and how it can fit in perfectly with your future plans.

Myth #3 – You have to have all your career mapped out before you start college

This is the biggest one of all. I left it for last, so you have something to think about after you have finished reading this article. There can be a tremendous amount of pressure placed on a high school student when it comes to planning for the future. They often think that by choosing a college, they must also know exactly what career they want to pursue and how they are going to get there. I promise you; this is not true.

The most flawed question we ask students is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. This implies that they must already know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. It is flawed because how are you supposed to be able to answer that question without knowing what all the options are. This is not a time for you to be making these types of decisions. This is a time for you to be asking yourself, “What type of person do I want to become?”.

By exploring this question, you are opening yourself up to a field of options based on the type of person you want to work towards being, and the impact you want to have on the world around you.  This allows us to have an idea of what we are working towards while keeping our options open.

You are not expected to have a concrete answer regarding your future before you go to college. College is supposed to be the time in your life when you ask more questions. Where you explore your options, talk to those who came before you, and then start to determine what you want to do with the next steps of your life. You do not need to have everything figured out; you need to start thinking about what questions you need answers too.

Conclusion

The college application and selection process is challenging. There is a lot of information floating out there. Most of it is based in fact and therefore can be helpful. However, there are, unfortunately, several myths surrounding this process that need to be addressed and debunked.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life, including college, entering the workforce, and the real world. He offers several students focused services, including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.  

5 Things To Expect When Going Away To College

By Kyle Grappone 

College can be a once in a lifetime type of experience for a young student. For those lucky enough to go away to school, it is an opportunity to meet new people, experience new things, and learn skills that will propel you into the next phase of your life. However, going away to college can bring with it several unexpected challenges. When I speak to college graduates, they often refer back to the bumpy transition they had when starting freshman year. As you prepare for this next step, here are 5 things to expect when going away to college.

Not Everyone You Meet Will Be Like You

Often, towns and high schools will be filled with similar people. Most residents and students will share similar characteristics and backgrounds. If you grew up surrounded by people like yourself, you may be tricked into thinking the whole world is like this. It is very common and is often the cause of issues for new college students. They arrive on campus and encounter other students of different backgrounds and upbringings.

The key is to be prepared to have an open mind. The way you view the world is not the only way. Your opinions can be strong, but be open to new ways of looking at things. Most importantly, do not shy away from something new. If you grew up in the city, seek out those who may have grown up on a farm. This is the best way to enhance your knowledge about the world around you. The real world you are going to enter after college will have more people that are different than you than are similar to you. It is best to begin getting used to that now and use your new surroundings to your advantage.

There Is A Quiet Consequence To Missing Class

In an earlier post, we spoke about taking over the things your parents currently do for you. One of the items on that list was waking yourself up for school. That will come into play as soon as you begin classes. If you overslept in high school, the consequence was loud and obvious. Your Mom probably started yelling at you or your school called home to say you did not show up to class. Again, that most likely caused you to get yelled at. College is different.

You are responsible for attending class. Yes, if you miss it, your parents will not know. However, your teacher will know. Depending on your professor’s policy, those absences could impact your final grade. It will be easy to skip class knowing that no one is going to yell at you or call home to inform your parents. However, know that you are still very much being reprimanded for missing class. In many ways, deducting points from your final grade is much worse than a parental scolding.

Not Everyone Is There To Learn

Colleges exist to educate young adults on the road to the real world. Most students have spent the last few years working very hard to get into the school that they did. They have chosen their major and class schedule and are ready to go. You may think that everyone is as focused and motivated as you are. You may be surprised to find out that not everyone is.

When you enter freshman year and settle into your dorm, you will quickly see some people are there simply to party. These are the students who are always playing video games and watching movies. They stay up late and never go to class. You will often wonder how is it that they have so much free time while you are stuck in class or studying in the library. It is because they cannot handle going to school with no parental supervision.

The most important thing is to not fall into this trap. It will be very tempting to join these slackers. After all, they will always be doing something more fun than going to class or studying. The thing is, these students do not last very long. They are usually gone after the first semester or two. All they did was waste their time and money and delay their education. These students will have to start from scratch at a college back home. Be prepared to rise above these types of distractions.

A Dorm Is A Terrible Place To Study

Your dorm building will be useful for many things such as sleeping, bathing, and hanging out with your new friends. Studying and doing homework is not one of them. As previously mentioned, there will always be people doing something more fun than what you are doing. Even students who go to class will have free time when you do not. There will always be someone knocking on your door or making noise in the hallway. Even if you do get some studying done, you will always be tempted to cut it short to join in on the fun next door.

Accept the fact that doing work in your dorm room is not going to happen. Instead, make the library one of your first stops when you get to campus. Some campuses have more than one, and others have libraries dedicated to specific majors and programs. Be sure to take a tour and understand where the best places to get some peace and quiet. Start to get into a routine of going to those spots in between classes. This will allow you to give your studies the time and energy they deserve.

It Is Very Easy To Gain Weight

This last one has nothing to do with academics. It has to do with your health. Most students report that they gained some weight when going away to school. Between the options in the dining hall, the take out order with new friends, and your parents no longer making healthy meals, it will be incredibly easy to gain weight.

This can be prevented by preparing for what is coming. First, ensure that you are going to the campus gym 3-4 times a week. Even if you have never gone to the gym before, this is the perfect time to start. Second, make an intentional choice to eat healthy foods and reasonable portions. Now that you understand the importance of these habits, you are much more likely to start building them from the beginning and stick with them throughout the year. 

Conclusion

Going away to college is a wonderful yet complicated experience. There are a lot of new things, people, and situations you will not be used to. The best advice I can give is to speak to those who have already gone through it. Ask current college students and graduates what it was like for them. They will give you all sorts of advice to make your transition as smooth as possible.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

3 Ways To Stay Motivated During Your Senior Year

By Kyle Grappone

Senioritis. Nearly every high school student has heard of this term and almost all high school graduates have suffered from this at one point or another. In case this term is new to you, senioritis is the term used to describe how seniors feel about school before graduation. They have worked hard for several years, chosen what college or trade school they are attending and begin to lack motivation when it comes to school, classwork, homework, or studying.

It is important to note that feeling this way does not mean you are lazy. It is natural to want to take a break after a stretch of difficult or time-consuming activities. The college application and selection processes are long and difficult. Once you decide on that next step, you will feel inclined to reward yourself on a job well done. Yes, in some ways, you do deserve a slight pat on the back for getting into college. However, this is hardly the time to take the foot off the gas pedal. This is the time to keep moving forward and working towards your goals. To help with this, I have listed 3 things to remember in order to stay motivated during your senior year.

#1 – Colleges still care about your grades

The majority of college acceptances are based on successful completion of your senior year classes. Remember, colleges are looking to accept the best and the brightest. If they are going to let you come to their school, they want to make sure you are going to be a hardworking student and represent the school well.

Imagine putting in all that hard work and telling everyone what college you will be attending just to have it taken away due to poor grades. If you used getting into college as motivation before, there is no reason to stop now. As you sit in class, think about your future. Think about the college you will be attending and the things that made you choose that school. That should supply you with the motivation to keep working hard towards your goals and not slack off as your time in high school comes to an end.

#2 – It is only going to get tougher from here

Your senior year may feel like the end of an era. However, it is just the beginning of the rest of your life. Each step from here on out will be tougher. As you get older, more and more will be expected of you. College classes are longer than high school classes which means there is more you need to learn each time. The class sizes are larger which means less personalized attention. The professors move faster which means they expect you to already know how to pay attention and take notes.

The point is that you need to use your senior year as a time to build up important skills such as note-taking and studying. This is the time to learn how to focus on and increase your attention span.

Pretend you are already in a college lecture hall. Instead of going straight to your teacher with a question, try to answer it on your own. Try your best to take exceptional notes and absorb as much information as you can, regardless of what class it is. Use your senior year as a practice to prepare for the tougher courses and experiences that are coming next.

#3 – What are you working towards?

When I coach my students, we always begin with the same question. I ask them what type of person they want to become. We talk about the type of life they want to work towards. What are they passionate about? What are they good at? We figure out what type of impact they want to have on the world and then we create a plan to achieve that goal.

Figuring out your purpose is key to staying motivated. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, but you should begin to think about where you are going. Think about why you are going to college and what type of career you are looking to achieve. Any type of life you want is going to require hard work and determination. It’s going to require you to become the type of person who always works hard and is trying their best. That type of person does not slack off in their senior year, or ever for that matter.

Conclusion

Senior year is not the end of the road. It is simply a stop on a much longer path to your future. You must continue building towards becoming the type of person that you will be proud of. Skills like problem-solving and independent thinking only become more valuable as you get older. It is up to you to continue to work at building these skills and preparing yourself to enter college and eventually the real world.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

A Different Approach To Your College Application Essay

By Kyle Grappone

Colleges will receive thousands of applications every year and each application requires you to write an essay. This is the chance for colleges to get to know you better as a person. Are you the type of student that will thrive at their school and end up being a successful alumnus? Naturally, colleges only want the best students, and try their best to avoid accepting those who may not have the maturity, drive or character to represent the school in the best way possible.

There are a lot of pieces of content out there that speak about how to write your college application essay. However, that advice is only going to take you so far. You are a unique individual with a unique past and set of skills. You must look inside yourself and write an essay that tells your story. If you want your essay to stand out, you must take the right approach when writing your college application essay.

Describe What Type Of Person You Want To Become

The odds are pretty good that at some point in your life you have been asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. The issue with this question is that it tends to hold you to one answer. You become stuck on one path, working towards one type of job and career. Furthermore, you are most likely picking that job because it’s one of the few careers you are aware of. Most of the graduates I have surveyed over the years never took the time to research all the different career paths that were open to them.

Before you start your college application process, take some time to ask yourself “What type of person do I want to become?’. When you ask yourself this question, you are no longer beholden to one job or one career path. Instead, you are opened up to a field of opportunities around the type of person you want to become and the impact you want to have on the people around you. Think about what you enjoy, what you are good at, and what you believe you want to spend the rest of your life working towards.

Then, talk about it in your essay. This will accomplish two important things. First, you will stand out. The person reading your essay is most likely in the middle of reading hundreds of essays in the coming weeks and months. Most of those essays will be very similar and talk about why they want to study a specific major. Your essay will cover a broad theme and give the reader an insight into why you are applying to college and what type of student you will be.

Second, this topic will showcase you as an intelligent thinker who is passionate and serious about their future. Remember, schools are using this essay as a way to get insight into you as a person. Anyone reading your essay will see that you have taken significant time out to map your future. You will begin to position yourself as someone who will be an excellent student that the school can be proud of.

Explain How That School Is Going To Help You Become That Person

This is where we get specific. Many students tend to write one essay and send it out to all of their college choices. While this is common practice, it also means that your essay will read like every other one that has been sent in. Your goal now, and always, is to stand out in a way that shows your value and tells your story.

Once you have determined your person, spend time researching the school. Make a list of the possible majors you could take that align with your desired path. See if there are certain faculty you will be working with. Learn about the career center, campus events, and any other opportunities that are going to help you along the way. Begin to tell the story of someone who is driven to become the best version of themselves, and has specifically chosen this school to do that.

Again, this technique helps to accomplish two key goals. First, it gives you a chance to do even more research about the school and confirm it is the right fit. Second, you are showing the reader how dedicated you are to your future. Instead of writing a generic essay, you took the time out to write a letter specifically for that one school. This allows you to show your passion and dedication which proves that you will become a valuable asset to the school if accepted.

Make The Reader Envision You Succeeding At That School

This is where we bring it all together. The individual reading your essay has been tasked with determining if you are the right fit for that school. They have been told to find the best students possible. Students who will come to campus, get good grades, participate in the community, and become successful alumni and proud representatives of the school.

The story you are telling them must be helping them envision you at the school. You want them to envision you going to class, walking around campus, and attending events. You are telling the story of a hardworking, driven student with a clear vision for success. You are showing them how their school, and all these wonderful resources, are going to help you become a valuable student and graduate.

Conclusion

By the time the reader is done with your essay, they should feel as if they need you at there school. That you are the type of student who will play an active role on campus and ultimately become a graduate that they can be proud of. Do not be afraid to be different and go against some of the advice you may read on the internet. Your essay is about telling your story and proving to that college that you are exactly what they are looking for in a student.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

 

5 Questions To Ask A College Alumni

By Kyle Grappone

Selecting a college is an important choice with long term implications for your future. Wherever you choose to go, you are dedicating four years and thousands of dollars to that college and in return, you expect a positive and worthwhile experience. Even more important, the college you end up at needs to give you the best chance to succeed. It must offer you multiple opportunities to prepare you for your chosen career and the real world that awaits you. It also must provide the type of environment that will help you to learn and grow as a student and as a person.

So, how do you know if the college you are looking at is going to deliver these things? Yes, you should research the college ahead of time. One of the most important steps in your college selection process is taking campus tours and asking questions. We covered what questions to ask your campus tour guide in an earlier blog post. While you are visiting the school, you may meet alumni who went to that school. It is fine to ask them questions – but remember that they were chosen to be at that tour or open house for a reason. The school knows they are going to speak about them in a positive light.

To ensure you are getting the whole story, make sure to reach out to at least 3 alumni via social media or mutual connections. This is where you will get the full truth, the good and the bad, about the school you are looking at. Once you find these graduates, you should  ask them specific questions in order to get the information you need and not waste anyone’s time since many will be working professionals. Here are 5 questions to ask and what types of answers to look for.

What was your major and are you working in that field today?

This question is important because a student experience can vary depending on what their major was. Out of the three alumni, you speak to, ensure at least once studied the same subject(s) you plan on pursuing. This gives you an idea of what your time will be like. If certain classes are difficult, you can plan ahead by ensuring you take that class at a time where you function at a high level.

The second part of this question is just as important. This will give you insight into how well the school prepared their graduates for the real world. If the graduate responds by telling you that he is not working in his major you may want to dig deeper. This may lead to an important discovery such as finding out the school has a lackluster career center or has no process in setting their graduates up with companies after graduation.

On the other hand, you may discover that the school in question does a great job in assisting students in their transition into the workforce. These types of positives should be documented and will come in handy when you are comparing schools. Again, it is important to understand every aspect of this school before making this crucial decision.

What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at the college?

 Even if you do all your research and choose the ideal college for your needs and goals, the transition can still be difficult. If you are going away to school, then you are starting a new routine, with new people, in a new environment. If you are not careful then this massive change can overwhelm you and your grades may suffer.

 By asking this question you are getting advice from someone who has already been there. Not only can they tell you what to expect, but they may also bring up something you never even thought of before. This lets you prepare ahead of time and ensure that whatever is coming will not distract from your schoolwork and knock you off course.

 You may also learn something interesting specifically about the school. For example, several students I have spoken to were not prepared to follow a bus schedule to get to class. Many of them missed at least one class due to this issue. Students also talk about the weather at their school and how different it is from where they grew up. It’s up to you and your needs as to whether or not these are disqualifying factors. For some, learning a bus schedule is no big deal. For others, they may prefer to be able to walk to and from class and have complete control over their schedule. The important thing is that you know these issues exist ahead of time and can plan for them.

Did you feel the college prepared you for the workforce and the real world?

Almost any school can teach you the basics of any course of study. However, you want to be sure you attend a college that goes above and beyond that. Not only are you going to college to learn, but you are also going to prepare for the next steps in life and start to build a career and life you will enjoy. This question lets you know if the college offers the opportunity you need to do just that.

This is also where you will most likely get the most passionate answer from the alumnus. Did the college provided them with a great education, valuable internships, and help in finding a job? 

This is where you want to look for trends in the answers you are getting. If you are hearing the same positive or negative things it can help you paint a picture of what it will be like to attend that school. Be sure to document these answers so you can refer to them later. The biggest thing to look out for is whether or not the school is going to help you reach your goals and start your career off in the right direction.

What was your favorite and least favorite thing about the school?

Again you are looking for two things in the answers you get here. Emotion and trends. This is where you can tell if a student feels passionately one way or another about the school. It also helps continue to paint that picture we started in the last question. Either way, these answers should help you understand if the school you are looking at is worth your time and money.

Pay attention to how much time they spend answering both parts of this question. If they go on and on about all their favorite things and cannot name anything negative, then that is a great sign. On the other hand, if the conversation once again turns negative, that is a red flag that needs to be explored. Again, you should not disqualify a school because someone has something negative to say about it. 

Lastly, examine the quality of these answers. If the best part of the school is the parties or the ice cream, that is not a good enough reason to go there. Just like if the worst part of the school is that the football team is in last place or you have to walk up several hills, that is not a good reason to cross it off your list. You want to look for answers such as quality of the lecture halls, campus life, access to resources, and other things that are rooted in education, academics, and the impact on your ability to grow and succeed.

If you could go back in time, would you attend the school again?

If you are in a situation where you feel like you can only ask one or two of these questions, be sure to ask this one. You will get an honest answer and most likely get the reasoning behind it. Notice the emotion and passion when they answer this question. If they say they would attend again – they will speak highly of the school and you will be able to tell that they enjoyed their time there. If they would not attend again – you will learn why and it could be the main reason you decide not to go to that school.

Conclusion

Speaking to alumni is just one part of the college selection process. At the end of it, you will need to choose a college that fits your specific needs and goals. Talking to people who went to that school is an ideal way to learn about what to expect. The most important thing is to look for trends among the answers you get. If you are lucky enough to speak to alumni in person be sure to notice the emotion they use when talking about the school. By asking these questions you will have important data points that will help you when it comes time to picking a school.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several students focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

 

5 Questions To Ask When Considering A Student Loan

By Kyle Grappone

Student loans. That is by far the most common answer I hear when I ask college graduates what they regret about their past choices. To be clear, they do not regret taking out loans. They regret not researching their options. Most of the college grads I talk to claim they had no idea what they were signing up for.

Most graduates apply for and accept student loans without understanding how they work. The result is that most grads are surprised about how much they have to pay back every month after college. An unexpected large monthly payment can have a serious impact on your future plans. Before applying to any student loan, be sure to ask these 5 questions.

What Is The Total Amount Of Money I Am Borrowing?

First, it is crucial to understand how a loan works. A loan is an agreement between you and a bank. They will give the money you need but it will cost you. This cost is called an interest rate. Simply put, they will grant you $1,000 at 10% interest to spend on college but they are going to expect you to pay back $1,100 after your graduate.

If you know the amount you think you will need to borrow, be sure to review all the documents and understand how much money you will be expected to pay back. If you borrow $10,000 you will end up paying back closer to $13,000 when it is all said and done. That is how a loan works and it is important to know that when you are determining how much you want to owe after graduation.

What Is The Interest Rate Of This Loan?

We have established what an interest rate is and how it works. You should always know what the interest rate of your student loan is going to be. You should also be actively researching loans from various sources and comparing your options. Do not assume that the option you are looking at is giving you the best offer. 

It is important to research your options when it comes to your interest rate because of the impact it has on your life as an adult. The longer it takes to pay back your loans, the more you have to pay back because of your interest rate. The lower the interest rate means the less you will have to pay back over time. That is why it is worth it to take your time and compare all of your options to ensure you are getting the best deal.

When Do I Have To Start Paying This Loan Back?

Not all loans have the same terms and conditions. Do not assume that every loan is the same and that you do not have options. Pay close attention to these terms when you are considering applying for a loan. Make the choice that makes the most sense for your situation and future.

You should know exactly when you will have to start paying back the money you are borrowing. Some loans require you to begin your monthly payments the month after you graduate college. This could become a serious issue if you cannot guarantee you will already be in your first post-college full-time job immediately after graduation. The last thing you want to do is miss a payment and hurt your credit score as a result.

Look for loan options that give you some breathing room after graduation. Loans that do not require first payment until 3-6 months after graduation will give you time to secure and settle into your first full-time job and begin saving some money. Regardless of what you choose, you should know what your payment schedule is going to be like and how you plan to make those payments on time every month.

What is the Minimum Amount I Have To Pay Back Each Month?

The biggest shock to college graduates is the amount of money they have to pay back each month. It is a shock because they did not bother to research this before signing their loan applications. Graduates have personally told me their stories where they graduated from college, bought a car, got ready to move out and then were blindsided by their first loan payment bill.

In addition, to shock, most graduates feel serious regret once they realize how much of their paycheck is going towards paying off their loans. If they had known this was going to happen, they would have researched more options and perhaps even chose a more cost-effective college to attend.

Figure out the exact amount you will be required to pay back every month. If your minimum payment is going to be over $500, what does that mean for your future? Will you be able to buy a new car and move out of your parent’s house? How much does an entry-level job in your field of interest pay after taxes? These are the numbers you need to be looking at while making this important decision. 

Would The Minimum Amount Be Less If I Went To Another School?

Let me be clear, you should not choose a college strictly based on cost. There are several factors to weigh in making this choice. I cover them all in my online course ‘How To Select The Right College For You’ where we talk about what makes college worth the money. If you are going to spend all that time and money in a college, you want to make sure it is worth it.

Once you determine how much your minimum payment is for College A, run the numbers again against the other colleges on your list. If your minimum payment drops by $100 a more per month, that is something worth taking note of. If those colleges are offering the same courses and opportunities, it would benefit you in the long run to borrow less. You do not have to choose the most expensive college to get the best education.

Conclusion

Student loans are not necessarily a bad thing. They can be a useful tool that allows you to attend the college of your choice and build the career and future you want. However, they are not be entered into lightly. They deserve a significant amount of time and research. You should completely understand what you are signing up for and what will be expected of you after graduation.

 

We cover this topic in even more detail, as well as the other parts of the college selection process in my on-line, on-demand course entitled “How To Select The Right College For You”. I invite you to check out all of the topics we cover and watch the first lesson for free.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

 

5 Ways To Make This School Year The Best One Yet

By Kyle Grappone

Like it or not, the new school year is almost upon us and in some parts of the country, it is already here. As a student, I remember having a hard time being excited for the new school year because it meant the end of summer vacation. I had developed a mindset that each school year was the same. I treated it as a nuisance that I had to trudge through.

What myself, and many of my fellow graduates who I have spoken to over the years, failed to realize was that each school year was a unique opportunity to build towards our future. The beginning of each year was a chance to start fresh, set goals, and build towards the type of person we want to become and the life we want to live. If you are thinking that this upcoming year will be just like last year, here are the 5 ways to make it not only better but your best one yet.

#1 – Determine What You Are Working Towards

What is the one thing you want or need to accomplish this school year? Is it developing better study habits? Narrowing down your college list by visiting campuses? Has your GPA suffered due to lack of motivation or concentration? Figure out what you need to accomplish this school year. This will give you the motivation to pay attention in class, try harder on your tests, and give you a reason to start each school day with excitement instead of dread.

Let’s put it another way. What is one thing you want to be able to say about yourself in June? Is it that you know where you want to go to college? Perhaps, there is a class that you have always struggled in and it is hurting your GPA. If you have an interest in a specific career, take this time to research it and figure out what you can do this year to move towards that career. Pick something you want to accomplish and use that as your driving force when school feels boring, routine, or overwhelming.

#2 – Learn a brand new skill

The more skills you have when you enter the real world, the better off you will be. Do not just spend your free time watching TV and playing video games. Pick something you have always wanted to learn and carve out time each week to learn it. Ask your family members what was one skill they wish they knew before going off to college or entering the workforce.

First, this will give you a leg up on your fellow students when they are applying to college. You will have something unique to talk about during your college essay or interview. Second, it keeps your creative juices flowing. When it is time to take a break from school work you can turn to something that will be fun yet challenging. Lastly, on those days where school feels like a drag, you can power through knowing you will be doing something fun later on that day.

#3 – Identify and Break One Bad Habit

We all have bad habits. However, there is a difference between the annoying small ones and the life-altering big ones that prevent us from reaching our full potential. For me, it was not staying organized with my class notes. I was constantly shoving my worksheets and other important pieces of paper into my backpack and often losing them completely. I thought they were worthless once class was over. However, my lack of organization came back to haunt me when it came time to study for tests. My grades suffered significantly as a result.

Think about last school year and about any habits that prevented you from doing your best, growing as a person, or reaching your goals. Then, write down when this habit pops up the most and how it hurts you the most. Once you understand where this habit is doing the most damage, write out your step by step plan to fix it. For example, if you always wait until the last minute to finish a project, create a process for yourself. Start by listing out the different things you need to do for that project. Then assign a daily or weekly due date to each part. Take a minute to register how good it feels when you complete each part, knowing that you will have less work to do moving forward.

#4 – Begin Building Your Network

The idea of a network might be a bit foreign to you. In simple terms, a network is a group of working professionals that you have developed a relationship with. You can call on people in this network for advice when it comes to applying to college, internships, and your first job. Your network is also invaluable when you are researching possible careers and majors. These are the people who have come before you and have the advice you need to make the right choices.

To ensure you are building the right network, you first have to start thinking about what types of jobs and careers you are interested in. This list may change, but to start, think about what you are passionate about and what interests you. Then, make a list of jobs that align with those interests. When you are ready, seek out working professionals who are currently working those jobs. You will be amazed and what you will learn about their jobs, what they went to school for, and what your life might be like if you pursue that career.

#5 – Develop A Growth Mindset

All of the ways I just mentioned play into the idea of developing a growth mindset. That term can mean many things. For you, as a high school student, it means keeping your mind open to new ways of becoming a better and smarter person. Actively seek out opportunities where you can develop a new skill, meet new people, and learn about your future opportunities.

Every morning when you wake up for school, make the decision that you are going to take a positive approach to the day. Get yourself excited about your classes by remembering what you are working towards. Approach the upcoming day knowing that you will learn new skills, lookout for opportunities to grow, and be working towards building the future you want for yourself.

Conclusion

Too many graduates, myself included, floated their way through high school. Each day, month and year were treated the same because they never took the time to think about what was coming next. I challenge you to challenge yourself this upcoming school year. Decide that this is the year you make significant changes in your lifestyle and attitude. Ten years from now, when you are living a life of purpose and satisfaction, you can look back on this year knowing it was the year that started it all.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

5 Questions To Ask When On A College Campus Tour

By Kyle Grappone

College campus tours are a rite of passage. Ideally, you pick a beautiful fall afternoon and drive to the campus of the college you are considering attending. An upbeat tour guide takes you to the nicest buildings, gives you impressive stats, talks about the latest events on campus and paints the school in a bright, positive light. It can be a lovely experience. However, if you don’t ask your own questions, and understand what you are looking for in a college, the entire experience can be pretty useless.

When I speak to college grads about their college experience, they often talk about how they did not spend enough time researching colleges and determining if they are the right fit for themselves. I am a firm believer that a student needs to determine what they are looking for in a college and what type of environment works best for them. It is crucial that you are asking the right questions and seeking the information you need. Here are five questions you should be asking on every campus tour.

What Is The Average Size Class?

In my online course, How To Select The Right College For You we spend the entire first lesson talking about determining the type of environment you need to be successful. Certain colleges have class sizes that are similar to the ones you experienced in high school. However, larger colleges can have class sizes of 50, 75, or even 100 students.

Larger class sizes mean less face to face time with your professor. It also means you may not be able to ask as many questions and will have to figure it out on your own. Take time to think about how important this is to you. If you are an independent learner, you may not care about how many students are in your class. If you are someone who enjoys asking questions and often needs specialized attention to understand concepts, then a smaller class size should be a top priority.

When Do I Have to Declare A Major?

Before you choose a college, you should have an idea of what type of industry you are interested in. In the course mentioned above, I encourage students to discover what type of person they want to become. This allows them to understand what they are interested in pursuing as a career, without having to commit right away. If you have an idea of what you are interested in but want to keep your options open, the deadline for declaring a major is crucial.

Some colleges require a declaration by the end of your freshman year. Others allow you to wait until the end of your sophomore year. If you enter college undecided, it will enable you to continue to explore your options. You can use this time to talk to other students, faculty, alumni, and the career center about the various career options that will be open to you. It is crucial to have a plan and understand when you have to make important choices, such as choosing the right major for you.

What Type of Internships Do You Offer?

When you graduate college, you enter the workforce with hundreds of other graduates who, on paper, will look exactly like you. You will have similar degrees and come from similar types of colleges. Internship experience is what is going to help you stand out. Internships will allow you to showcase your skills and prove you can be a reliable, valuable employee.

    Internships are also a great way to understand what your chosen career is going to be like. You can learn the day to day responsibilities of your career and ensure that it is something you will enjoy doing on a daily basis. Lastly, this is an opportunity to connect with working professionals and learn from them. You can pick up valuable pieces of information about how to apply to jobs, workplace professionalism, and much more. If you create a secure connection with a particular contact, you can ask them for a letter of recommendation. This is a letter that tells future employers how valuable an addition you will be to their team.

    Ask your tour guide or admissions counselor to provide details about the internships the school offers. Do they have partnerships with companies in the area? Do they have an active alumni network that is actively looking for interns for their companies? If you do not get the answers you are looking for, contact the career center. Stop by after a tour or ask for staff members email address. Make sure that you are going to be able to apply to and serve in several high-value internships during your years at that school.

How Do Students Get To Class?

This is an important question that often gets overlooked. It ties back into my earlier point about finding a college situation that works for you. Smaller colleges have all their buildings on one campus. A students class is never more than a 10-minute walk away from their dorm building. This makes getting from one class or activity to another very easy. Larger colleges often have several campuses. Students are required to take a bus to each class, and that bus will not wait for you if you are late.

    You should not disqualify a school if it has several campuses or requires mass transit to attend class. You should determine if that is important to you. You should also know that this is something you will be required to do and plan for it accordingly. Several grads I have spoken to over the years had no idea what attending one class entailed. They were thrown completely off guard, and their grades suffered as a result.

What Percentage of the Student Body Commutes to Class?

Again, this is important if you are planning to live on campus. If you choose to dorm, then you are committing to spending a significant amount of time in a new place. If you go several hours away, then you will be spending most of your weekend there as well. You want to make sure there is stuff to do. That the school is committed to planning events for students who stay on campus. If the majority of the student body commutes from home, the school may not invest a lot in keeping the small number of dorm students entertained.

    Now, a high percentage of commuters does not necessarily mean you will be bored to death on the weekends. If it appears as if the school you are looking at is considered a “commuter school,” there are a few follow up actions you can take. First, ask about campus events. Is there something every weekend or are they only highlighting the big, yearly events? The second thing you can do is take a look at the flyers around campus. What types of events are they promoting? Look for events where you can hang out with friends, meet new people, and experience new things.

While you are looking, see what types of networking events they provide. Do they have guest speakers or opportunities to meet working professionals? This will tell you how invested the school is in preparing you for the workforce. Knowing that you can keep busy meeting new people and learning new things could be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a college.

Conclusion

A college should earn your money and your time. They should be offering you a wide variety of opportunities that are going to help you build the career you want and become the type of person you want to become. You should also have a clear picture of what life is going to be like at that school. You need to know you will feel comfortable in order to be set up for future success. It is up to you to take control of this process, ask the right questions, and choose the college that is right for you.

About How To Select The Right College For You

This online, on-demand course is designed to help students navigate through the college selection process. We help the student identify what type of environment they need to succeed and coach them through asking the right questions to get the information they need to make the best choice for themselves and their future

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at www.ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org

3 Things To Do Before Starting Any School Year

By Kyle Grappone

Summer vacation is a time for relaxation. It is time to take a mental break from the previous school year and allow yourself to enjoy the company of family and friends. However, like it or not, the next school year is right around the corner. I am not trying to be a bummer. I am trying to help you avoid the mistakes that past students have made.

Many of my college-age coaching clients often speak about how they wasted their time in high school and never thought about preparing for college or the real world. A lot of my friends and co-workers say the same thing. It is very easy to float through school and do just enough to get by. The key is to plan and ensure that each year has a purpose and is helping you build towards the future you want.

Today, we are going to talk about three things to do before starting any school year. The great thing about this list is that it can be used over and over again. Regardless of where you are in your educational journey, these three tasks can be completed each year to ensure you remain on track and prepared for the next steps in life. These are valuable habits that you can start now and will reap long term benefits for years to come.

Determine What You Are Working Towards

When I was in high school, I had one goal. Survive. Looking back, this was a pretty stupid mindset to have because it did not motivate me to do anything. All I tried to do each day was pass my classes with the least amount of effort possible. I treated each school year like they were identical, and like a chore, I had to complete. My result was a rude wake-up call in college when I lacked the studying habits and discipline to succeed in my classes.

Take a look at the upcoming year and discover it’s purpose. If you are a high school freshman, this year is dedicated to building a strong GPA, solid study habits, and exploring new friendships and opportunities. If you are a sophomore or junior, you are working through the college application and selection process. If you are a senior, you are choosing a college and preparing for what’s to come once you get there.

What are you working towards this year? What is the purpose of you being in class? What skills do you need to develop to reach your goals? Take the time to understand what specific goals you are working towards. This allows you to put together a clear path to success and supplies you with motivation throughout the year. This purpose and motivation are critical when you are sitting in a class you do not like or feel like slacking off halfway through the year.

Perform An Educational Audit

Before you enter the new year, there is always something of value to learn from the one that just passed. In my book, To The Next Step, I require the reader to perform this type of audit before the beginning of each new year. The purpose is to look back on your classes, grades, and habits to see what worked and what needs work.

The most important aspect of this audit is to understand what classes you did well in. This will help clarify what you are interested in and what you enjoy learning about. These findings can prove useful when you are starting to research possible majors and colleges. You also need to understand what classes you did not do well in. The reason for this is twofold. One, it allows you to pinpoint where the biggest threat to your GPA is going to be and how to plan to fix it. Two, it gives you insight about what you do not enjoy in school and what you will most likely not enjoy studying in college or working out in the real world.

Calculate your yearly and overall GPA. Understand exactly where you are, and set a goal for where you want to be next year. Again, this will motivate you to push past the temptation of being lazy and develop a mindset that allows you to reach these goals. Also, as you research colleges, you will begin to see what type of GPA they are requiring. You are much less likely to get caught off guard if you have been monitoring your grades and working towards improving them each year.

Take Over Two Tasks Your Parents Currently Do For You

This last one has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with preparing for the real world. A major downfall of college students who go away to school is their inability to perform basic life tasks once they are on their own. Even college graduates who move out are often overwhelmed with stress regarding making doctors appointments, going grocery shopping, budgeting their money, and other adult tasks that come with growing up.

If you are a current student, as soon as you are done with this blog post, I would like you to make a list of every single task your parents currently do for you. Then, at the start of each school year, take two responsibilities from that list and commit to owning them. For example, when the new year starts, commit to making your own lunch and scheduling your own doctor’s appointments. These are two simple skills that if learned now, will make life a lot easier for you down the road.

The tasks you choose are entirely up to you. My advice would be as a high school student choose tasks that you know you will have to do in college. As a college student, select tasks that are waiting for you in the real world. It is much easier to transition into becoming a responsible adult over several years then to attempt to do it all at once.

Conclusion

It is never too early to plan for the future. The easiest thing in life to do is not to care or care just enough to get by. That might work now but trust me you will come to regret it later. My advice, based on the regrets and missteps of past graduates, would be to attend school with purpose and passion. Outline your goals before each school year and develop the mindset and work ethic you need to achieve them.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one-on-one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org. 

3 Ways To Use Your Summer Vacation To Prepare For The College Selection Process

By Kyle Grappone

Summer vacation is in full swing as thousands of high school students are entering into the freest and unchained part of their year. For many, this is a time to go to the beach, hang out with friends, and watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix. While breaks are essential to restore and replenish your mental health and well being, it is crucial that this time not be lost entirely. For most high school students, some part of the college research and selection process is right around the corner.

Ahead of the Pack

Almost all American High School Students enjoy 10-12 weeks of summer vacation. The majority of these students will do very little of anything school related. Meaning, those who take the time out to plan for the upcoming school year will be miles ahead of those who do not. Being ahead of the competition is never more critical than when it comes to applying for colleges.

Why Should You Care?

If you are currently a student on vacation, you are probably asking why you should be thinking about applying for colleges when it is seemingly months away. Yes, technically, you could wait until the fall to begin and continue your college selection process. However, that is what everyone else is doing. Take this time off to stand up and stand out. Why? College admissions standards are rising due to the increased amount of applicants. The competition for state colleges has increased dramatically due to the rising costs of private colleges and universities. Summer vacation is the perfect time to devote your time and energy to researching and finding the best college for you.

#1 – Conduct Self Discovery

All of your tests and finals are officially done. You no longer have to cram for exams or spend time writing papers. This means you have more time to focus on yourself. Use this time to answer a few key questions before you begin making one of the most significant decisions of your life up to this point.

First, why are you going to college? Have you ever thought about that question before? Most students plan to go to college because they believe they are supposed to or their parents want them to go. These are not sufficient reasons to dedicate a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources to something. Think about why you have chosen college as the next step in your life and what are you looking to get out of it.

Second, how are you going to pay for it? I have surveyed over 100 college graduates regarding their time in high school and college. The biggest regret they have is not learning more about the loans they are signing up for. In my online course, How To Select The Right College For You, we dedicate an entire lesson to understanding student loans and another to determining if a college is worth the money. For now, start by talking to your parents about what you can afford and determine a rough estimate of how much money you may need to take out. Then make a list of all the questions you have about student loans and seek out help from a financial professional.

Lastly, what type of future are you trying to build? I challenge all my coaching clients to determine the kind of person they want to become to plan for the kind of future they are working towards. Use this time off to think about what you enjoy doing and what brings you the most satisfaction. Begin to envision the type of life and career you are looking to create for yourself. This will give you clarity when you are learning about schools and the programs they offer.

#2 – Plan 3 College Visits

Most colleges conduct their official, group tours in the fall and spring. That does not mean you cannot conduct your own tour this summer. By touring a campus in the summer, you will be able to enjoy the visit stress-free. If you miss something, you can always come back during the year.

If you already have one of several colleges on your list, reach out to the admissions office and express your interest in taking a tour. Chances are high someone in the office can arrange to meet you on campus for an afternoon. A private tour is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the school and ask all the questions you want without the craziness of a large group. It also allows you to get used to touring campuses and learn what to look out for.

Aim to complete three college visits. If you do not have that long of list or it is not logistically possible then visit your local campuses. Even if you cannot schedule an official tour, download a campus map and give yourself a tour. Once you have your tours set, make sure you create a full list of questions. These questions are designed to learn about the culture of the school; their plan to prepare you for the workforce and their dedication to your progress and development.

#3 – Talk To Those Who Have Come Before You

This time in your life is a complicated one. You undoubtedly have a lot of questions about colleges, universities, majors, student loans, dorming, and more. Luckily for you, this entire process has been done before, by people you know. The answers you seek usually lie with those you have come before you.

Instead of waiting until the fall and the return of tests and projects, use your downtime to compile a list of questions you have. What about college is stressing you out? What about going away to school are you nervous about? What about financial aid confuses you? Now is the time to organize your thoughts and figure out who to talk to.

Begin to look into your inner circle of family and friends for recent college graduates. They will be to provide insights into the process, what to do, and what to avoid. Use this time off to set up lunch and coffee appointments. Be sure to bring your list of specific questions and record their answers.

Lastly, create a LinkedIn profile this summer and connect with alumni of the colleges you are looking at. Again, these former students can give you insights and truths you will not find on the school website or on an official campus tour. Be sure to respect their time by providing a short list of detailed questions. Thank them for their time and inquire if you may keep in touch throughout the process. These types of connections will prove invaluable as you move forward in your college search.

Conclusion

Summer is a time to prepare for the next step in your life. Yes, you should still go to the beach, see friends, and watch Netflix. However, be sure to use some of this free time to get clear on your goals and vision. Determine what you are looking to get out of college and what type of future you are working towards. Your future self will thank you for it.

About Kyle

Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.

With So Many College Majors Available, How Do I Choose The Right One for Me?

By Romina Cajas

School is almost over and it’s time to decide which college major or career path you are going to choose. Well, this is probably one of the first hardest decisions you’ll have to make as it is going to impact your future. Here are 5 steps that you can follow to make sure you are making the right decision.

1. Come up with a list of things you like or interested in

Start to figure out what things you enjoy doing the most. Writing a list of 5 to 10 things you enjoy spending your leisure time in or you are interested in learning more about will help you find out which career fits your personality. You want to study something that makes you feel happy and curious about.

2. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are might help you discover the pros and cons of different majors. An easier way to find out these qualities is to make an introspection of what school subjects you liked and good at in school and what subjects you struggled the most.

3. Project yourself in the future

Try to see yourself in the role that you chose. How would you feel? On the other hand, it’s also important to think about the financial aspect. It’s known that money is not all in life but let’s be honest, everyone wants to make money. Is the career that you are pursuing going to give you financial stability in the future?

4. Try to find someone to guide you

Sometimes you may think you have everything under control, let me tell you it’s never a bad idea to have some extra help. It’s important to find someone you can count on, older people have more experience and can guide you and help you have a clear vision. There are a lot of people that would be happy to help you and give you good pieces of advice. It does not matter if they are family members, teachers or even both, being open and listening to their opinions might help you make better choices.

5. Research as much as possible about your different options

There are different ways in which you can find out more about the different career options. The first approach is the basic and popular one, just google it! Do your own research and see different information. On the other hand, the most “sophisticated” way to do it is by doing interviews, yes! Interviewing people that are working in the field you are interested in.

Final Thoughts

It is important to take the time to make the best decision. Even though this is a hard and important decision you should know that your major is not going to define you. In the end, everything comes down to you as you can achieve whatever you want in life.

How to Make the Most of Summer to Prep for College Admissions

By Thomas Broderick

It’s late May, which means summer vacation is right around the corner for millions of high school students like you. As both a former student and teacher, I remember those days fondly. It was like the light at the end of the tunnel. Just hang on a little longer and I’d be rewarded with nine glorious weeks off.

Yes, I expect you to use this upcoming summer break to get a little R&R. However, if you’re a rising high school sophomore, junior, or senior, I encourage you to spend a little time over the following weeks to prepare for college admissions.

That said, let’s dive into what you can do to make the most of this summer while still leaving you plenty of time to relax.   

If You’re a Rising Sophomore

Now that you’ve completed freshman year, you should have a decent understanding of your academic strengths and weaknesses. You also (hopefully) found at least one extracurricular activity that you enjoy. Let’s turn this new knowledge into an action plan.

What You Should Do

  • If struggled with English or math your freshman year, spend 2-3 hours a week reviewing lessons on Khan Academy. Using Khan Academy or a similar service will both improve your English/math skills and prevent you from forgetting what you learned.
    • If your parents can afford a tutor, that works, too. 🙂
  • Spend about 7-10 hours over the summer researching colleges online. Here are some potential Google searches:
    • Colleges that have strong [Insert the name of your favorite subject here] programs.
    • Community colleges in [your state].
    • Best public colleges in [your state].
    • Colleges that award scholarship for [your extracurricular activity/high GPAs/good test scores].
  • As you research potential schools, you’ll notice that a lot of them come with big price tags. Talk to your families about what the can/will contribute to your college education.

What You Could Do 

  • As you’ll take either the PLAN or PSAT test during your sophomore year, you need to decide whether you are going to prepare for either test. Many students take these tests ‘cold’ so they can understand their natural strengths and weaknesses. This is fine, but if you are aiming for a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to put in some PSAT prep.

If You’re a Rising Junior

Becoming a junior is a big deal. You’re an upperclassman now, and college is just two years away. This summer you’ll need to take a more active role in preparing for your future. 

What You Should Do

  • Go on at least two college tours.
    • By researching colleges online, you should know already have a few that interest you. It’s time to hit the road with the family and see these colleges up close.
  • Decide whether to prepare for the ACT or SAT.
    • You’ll likely take both of these tests during your college admissions journey. However, as many students discover that perform slightly better on one test over the other.
  • Curate scholarship opportunities.
    • Continue your research from last summer and select 5-10 scholarships that you can apply to now or when you become a senior.
          • Although application deadlines might not be for another year, researching now means that you still have time to improve your grades/increase your volunteer hours/etc.
  • Sign up for challenging classes.
    • No, I don’t mean ‘take all AP courses.’ Yes, for some students, that’s challenging. For others, it’s a recipe for burnout/failure/etc. You need to choose a curriculum that’s challenging for you.
    • In other words, if you made an A in a non-honors course, consider taking the honors course in that same subject area as a junior.
      • The same advice applies if you did well in honors courses as a sophomore. Maybe it’s time to take 1-2 APs your junior year. 

What You Could Do

  • Take an ACT or SAT prep course.
    • Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are a milestone for high school juniors. By preparing for these tests now, you might earn a good enough score that you do not have to retake them later.
  • Intern or volunteer.
    • There are plenty of internship or volunteer opportunities in your local community. Find one that represents a cause or issue you believe in and spend 5-10 hours each week interning or volunteering. 

If You’re a Rising Senior

College admissions season is coming up fast, which means that this summer you’ll decide which colleges you’ll apply to in the fall. The following advice should help you make up your mind and put the final touches on your application packets.

What You Should Do

  • Take additional college tours.
  • Prepare to retake the ACT or SAT.
    • You took one or both of these tests during the spring. Now that you have the results, you can create a study plan that involves tutors or free Khan Academy resources.
    • I’d recommend spending 1-2 hours a week on test prep. This way, you can retake the ACT or SAT in late August or early September. These test windows are excellent as you’ll have your results in hand before college applications are due. 

What You Could Do 

  • Start application essays.
    • It’s never too early to start your application essays. See my article on the topic for more information.
  • Keep interning or volunteering.
    • If you interned of volunteered last summer, keep up the good work by trying a new experience this summer.

Final Thoughts

Summer is a great time to relax. By all means, stay up late, sleep in, and have a good time with your friends. But remember that time is a resource like any other. This summer, invest some time in your future by preparing for life after high school. Future you will thank present you.

 

How to Obtain the Best College Recommendation Letters

By Thomas Broderick

Throughout four years of high school, you put in a tremendous amount of work to create an excellent college application portfolio. You take – and retake – standardized tests. You write – and rewrite – college admission essays. In other words, dedicated students like you fine tune their applications to match their dream colleges’ expectations. However, there is one part of your application portfolio that’s mostly, but not entirely out of your control:

Your teachers’ recommendation letters.

Yes, these sealed envelopes or confidential online forms contain information that can go a long way in convincing college admissions counselors that you’re a perfect fit. And although you’ll never have the chance to edit, review, or even see what these letters contain, there’s a lot you can do to ensure that your teachers write glowing endorsements of your academic potential and all-around goodness as a human being.

Having been on both sides of the teacher’s desk, let me share my recommendation letter expertise with you.

Why Recommendation Letters Matter

As you know, a lot goes into a college application portfolio. The essential pieces are your grades and standardized test scores. After that, your essays and extracurricular activities allow admissions counselors to see you as a person rather than a set of scores and letter grades.

Last, but certainly not least, come the recommendation letters. They provide a different, fresh, and just as relevant, personal perspective. And since they come from adults who are trained educators, they carry a lot of weight.

And that’s why recommendation letters matter…a lot.

Step #1: Choose Your Teachers Wisely

If you’re an academically gifted student, it’s likely you excelled in the majority of your classes. First of all, good for you. However, having a lot of options raises an issue: which teachers do you pick?

Here’s some all-around good advice:

  • At least one letter should come from a teacher you had during your junior year.
    • Junior year’s the toughest one of all – at least for most students – and a letter from a teacher who had you then can say a lot about how you work under pressure.
  • If you’ve taken AP/IB courses, try to get a letter from one of those teachers, too.
    • Let’s say you excelled in your first AP course and earned a high score on the AP exam, too. Discussing this accomplishment in your personal essay and including a recommendation letter from that teacher would be the perfect combination.

If you struggled in some courses, still consider whether those teachers could write you a good letter. Did you come in for extra help and improve your grades along the way? College admissions counselors love applicants with grit, those who buckled down and invested the time and effort to raise their grades. A turnaround story is just as compelling as a ‘he/she was an academically gifted student’ story.

Step #2: Include an Information Packet

Even if a teacher just had you last year, they may be a bit fuzzy on your personal and academic details. That tends to happen when teachers see 150+ students a day. That’s why when they agree to write you a letter, give them a small info packet detailing your academic and extracurricular accomplishments along with any other information they may need (e.g., a sample of your work from their class) to jog their memories.

Pro Tip: In this packet, include a personal note that discusses what you got out of their class. It never hurts to butter up – compliment – your teacher, too. Just don’t go too overboard.

Step #2.5: Give Them Plenty of Time

Teachers are extremely, significantly, tremendously busy people. They put in a ton of effort, most of which you don’t see. That’s said, please give teachers at least two weeks – preferably three – to write you a recommendation letter.

Step #3: Be Grateful

So, the letters are done and in the physical or electronic mail. As you take that sigh of relief that your college applications are finished, don’t forget about your teachers. It’s time to get them a thank you gift.

Why a gift? Well, besides being the right thing to do, your teachers just did you a HUGE favor. It’s time to show a little gratitude with a gift card or something small that’s in the $10-$20 range. If you’re a bit shy, give it to them just before winter break – that’s when good students like you give gifts to their teachers anyway — and include a personal note thanking them for helping you out.

And when the day comes you get into your dream college or university, please let the teachers who wrote you letters know. It’ll make their day. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Good test scores and excellent grades are a dime a dozen in the college admissions world. Genuine recommendation letters are much rarer and can nudge an application from the ‘waitlist’ to ‘accepted’ pile. Will the letters teachers write for you do this? You’ll never know, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the time and effort to obtain the best letters possible.

So, if you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior, make sure to let your best teachers know they did an excellent job before the school year wraps up. Your teachers will likely remember your kind words…and be more inclined to write you a recommendation letter when you need it. 😉

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