College Corner: The Criterion’s Guide to Secondary Education – Steps to Start College Edition

University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee

University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee

Molly Schroeder, Artist and Reporter

Once you make the decision to go onto college, you would think that making that one decision would lead you to a more clear path of where you are thinking of attending. However, the steps to college are not necessarily easy for everyone.

Some friends may have known where they were going since they were young while others didn’t even know what career path they planned on taking. It seems unfair that the world is throwing sudden independence onto a young adult who has been dependent for the most part of their lives, however, the bird has to leave the nest at some point.

What is unfair is that one believes they must choose what they want to do for the rest of their life which isn’t exactly true. If one is not sure of what one wants to do, one should take the option of entering college with an undecided major or perhaps take a year or two off before getting started at college.

It is hard for the first child to be sent off to college without having an older sibling to learn from for college errors. It is especially hard for first-generation college students who feel they don’t have any idea what to expect. However, the College Corner of the Criterion has you covered.

Step one would be to decide what one likes about a college and start scouting out multiple colleges one would feel comfortable attending. If there are too many colleges one is interested in, the next step would be to narrow down choices.

Parts about finding a good college include what majors they offer, familiarity to the campus, closeness to home, urban vs. rural areas, graduation rates, class sizes, public or private, GPAs accepted, and more.

Step two would be to check out each of the school’s websites. This way, one would get to know what a school is truly about. The sites can help one find scholarships, the history behind a school, and what the school is best known for.

Related to step two, step three is actually applying for colleges. One can apply to a few or many depending on the person. It is recommended to apply to a handful of schools just in case one isn’t accepted to their first choice. 

Applying for college can be a long process of filling out applications. Try to find the best way for one to apply, such as using the common application that copies down one’s basic information from one application to another. The University of Wisconsin college website also does this for applications.

While in the process of applying, make sure to always hit a save button before leaving one’s computer. It would be a waste of time for simple information that took an hour to write to disappear. If a school requires an essay to be written (which not many do these days), one may want to have a trusted editor proofread their script and double-check that one answered the correct prompt.

Step four is applying for financial aid. College is expensive, and financial aid is here to help any needy college student be successful through grants, loans, state scholarships, and more. Usually, the priority deadline is the first of January of the year one is starting college (if in the fall).

By going to fasfa.gov, a student can then look up all their preferred colleges’ codes and send them in with the FAFSA digitally to patiently wait for their financial aid packages from each individual college to come in the mail or be emailed to them. Generally, public schools don’t send out their financial aid until after the priority deadline.

Step five is to apply for scholarships endlessly. College is expensive, and it is best to earn as much money as easily as you can to attend college with the least debt possible. Scholarships offer money ranging from small amounts to huge rewards for filling out surveys, writing the best essay, or doing certain events. 

The first application one should fill out is the local scholarship application found on Craig’s website under ‘For Students’. This can be turned into the office and in return, be given to colleges nearby.

The school regularly updates a list of scholarships every few months, sending out emails to the seniors. This spreadsheet contains local scholarships and also who the scholarship is intended for. For example, a scholarship could be given out to specifically FFA students who are looking to major in agriculture. It is best to apply to any scholarship that applies to a student.

Other scholarships can be earned through random websites such as bold.org and nitrocollege.com. These usually can lead one to other websites with new essays as well as a chance to win a small scholarship each month.

Most importantly, it is best to go to the school website of one’s preference and apply for all the applications offered there for scholarships that apply to one’s interests and future major. 

Many scholarships require essays with various prompts. A suggestion would be to create a document to put all of one’s college essays into just in case another scholarship has a similar prompt that one could reuse an essay for. It is better to work smarter than harder.

When it comes to first-drafted essays for big scholarships, one should make sure to reread over their work and let a trusted editor proofread over it, just like when writing essays for college. A suggested class to take your senior year is TC Written Communication. In this class, students will practice writing narrative essays which can in return be used for scholarships.

Often, scholarships require letters of recommendation from teachers. Do not be afraid to ask teachers, counselors, and coaches to write a letter of recommendation because they are here to help their students be successful.

 If emailing a teacher to ask if they can write a letter of recommendation, make sure to include where to send the letter to, what they need to include in the letter, and thank them in person later on.

Step six is to visit all of one’s top colleges. Although a college might feel good on paper, it is ideal to experience it for oneself to properly judge. Though another’s opinions can be a great influencer, it is best to always take a tour to decide if one actually wants to go to a certain college or even to get to know their way around their future home for the next few years.

Along with visiting, a student should attend orientations in person or online such as zoom calls to get to know a college better. Orientations include specific discussions about one’s intended majors while allowing for time to hear from students and teachers from that college.

Generally, there is time provided during orientations to ask questions and even meet potential classmates in the call’s comments.

Step seven would ideally choose the college one is definitely going to, else the next few steps will be a bit difficult to complete. If afraid one is choosing the wrong college, it is never wrong to switch colleges at the last minute or even transfer during later years. The most success comes from being at the right place.

Step eight includes reading new-student information on the webpage of the website, seeing opportunities like honor societies, communities, and building options. There most likely is a housing contract online that one should complete and send in. During this time, it is important for a student to decide if they want to live on campus or at home.

Step nine would be to make a down payment for both tuition and housing for commitment to a college. Most colleges do not have great refunds, so choose wisely.

Step ten would be to start completing one’s course placement requirement if entering as a freshman. Undergraduates and graduates that attended the college before most likely completed their course placements during the school year before. 

Make sure to take classes that suits oneself. For example, if a student has taken an AP class or has received college credit while in high school, it would be a waste of time and money to retake a class one has already taken.

 Vice versa, if a student feels that they are good at a subject, make sure that one knows

the content being taught in a class. One would rather take an easy class and get credit rather than flunk one class full of seniors and waste money. Make sure

Step 12 includes making decisions before deadlines. Make sure to register for one’s specific semester classes by the date listed (For example, UWM has a deadline of August 1 for fall). Other deadlines include making changes to room choices, roommates, programs, or meal preferences. These are all little decisions that are mini-steps to push one further towards college.

When choosing a room, check what type of majors/what year of students are staying in which buildings. It is best to pair oneself in a dorm with familiar faces from classes to provide easy-to-find study buddies. 

Many programs can also help one find new friends as well as study sessions and special opportunities like field trips or studying abroad. It is best to stay involved in college, even if one feels busy because usually, they can provide relief to a student with something fun to do as well as even providing learning opportunities to help with school subjects.

Make sure to read the pamphlets provided or check the website for different meal plans. College food can be fattening or healthy based on different options but can differ from student to student.

Step 13 is to check one’s room assignment. After these assignments are received, it is best to reach out and contact new roommates and suitemates to introduce themselves and make room plans together. 

For example, talking to a roommate early could lead to the pair deciding they both like fish, therefore getting a fish tank for their room. Exciting things can happen if you get to know your roommates.

Step 14 is to go shopping and make a plan for moving and packing. When shopping/packing, bring items that will aid in the college experience such as an alarm clock, coffee maker, and things that remind you of home. Different programs move in at different times, so one might arrive sooner than roommates. 

Make sure to grow comfortable with your dorm and don’t bring more than you can handle. The college dorm life is one of small-space living. Bringing items like foldable storage compartments will be a lifesaver. More ideas for dorm life will come in the next article of College Corner.

Step 15 is to keep checking one’s email and school website/account for important updates or upcoming events/deadlines. When at college, it is also important to keep up with information. However, the most important people to stay in touch with are one’s parents or guardians who most likely are supporting most of the payments during one’s first year of college.

From the Craig Criterion to all graduating, we congratulate you and wish a successful path on whatever you decide. Contact our staff to let us know what other things the College Corner should talk about. Until the next time!