There are quite a few factors to consider when making the choice about your first year in college.
1) What environment would you like to be in during your freshman year in college? For example, would you like to live in a dorm? Commute to school? What size school would you like to attend? How many students do you want in your classes? What distance do you want to be from your current home? What size city or town do you want to live in this first year of college? What type of diversity is important to you in your college choice? Do you want to go to a college with a specialization like a co-op college (both classroom and paid work opportunities as part of the curriculum), arts college, same-sex college, or block plan college (take only one class at a time for about three and a half weeks)?
2) Have you applied for different types of financial aid yet? Make sure to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), state aid, and lots of scholarships
3) How many opportunities do you want in your freshman year (both inside the classroom and outside of the classroom)? Consider things like class size, your ability to work directly with professors, internships, research opportunities, extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities.
4) Do you have an idea of what you want to study/major in or are you still exploring those areas?
Your answer to these questions will help determine what will schools will be the best fit for you for your first year in college. The good news is that you can keep all of your options open until at least the May 1st Decision Deadline as long as you take the SAT or ACT at least once and stick to all of the college and financial aid application deadlines.
I recommend that you research, visit, and apply to any community colleges that you're excited about attending. You can apply to community colleges for free. You should also research, visit, and apply to any four-year colleges/universities that you think would be a good match for you. If you happen to receive free or reduced lunch at school and/or are part of any AVID or TRIO programs, you can apply for many four-year colleges for free. Here's an additional list of colleges that your can apply to for free, apply free with a fee waiver, or apply to for free within your state (http://bit.ly/Apply2CollegeFree). Many colleges will also allow you to apply for free if you've visited their campus or have met with an admissions counselor at a high school information session or college fair. If you have a College and Career Center at you high school, I recommend following up with the counselors in there and/or your academic counselor to help you narrow down the schools that might be the best fit for you. It will be easier to make a final decision (closer to May 1st), when you have the financial aid offers from all of the schools that you've applied to and can compare those offers side-by-side.
Jenny recommends the following next steps:
- Answer the four questions listed in the post to help determine what type of schools to start researching, visiting, and applying to for your first year of college.
- Make sure that you're applying for all of the free money that you're eligible for including scholarships (like theThe Excelsior Scholarship: https://www.ny.gov/programs/tuition-free-degree-program-excelsior-scholarship) on great sites like (one my favorite) JLV College Counseling (bit.ly/jlvmoney), the FAFSA (https://fafsa.ed.gov), and for state financial aid (for New York: https://www.hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/apply-for-financial-aid/apply-for-aid-start-here.html and for all states: https://www.nasfaa.org/State_Financial_Aid_Programs).
- Research colleges and universities on sites like College Navigator (https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) or Chegg (https://www.chegg.com/schools).
- Visit all of the community colleges and four-year colleges and universities that interest you and take advantage of fly-in programs to visit colleges that are further distances from your home (https://getmetocollege.org/what-colleges-look-for/2018-fall-diversity-visit-programs).
- Visit your school's College and Career Center and/or your academic counselor to help you narrow down the schools you've been researching and to see if they have local scholarships available for you to apply for (usually less applicants than the regional or national scholarships). Remember, to keep all of your options open, take the SAT or ACT at least once, apply to all of the schools that you feel will be a good fit by their application deadlines, and apply for all of the financial aid possible to give yourself until (at least) the May 1st College Decision Day deadline to make a final, well-informed decision.