By Reyna Gobel
When you think about college, you may envision attending a small private college, a four-year state university, or a technical school. Each has something important to offer.
Don't choose colleges based on college-type preferences alone. There are many possible avenues when continuing education. Consider a variety of them by searching for schools based on career goals, your personality, and your interests.
discover or refine career goals
Do you have an idea of the career you want after college? Start researching your career possibilities with the help of your school counselor.
"The student needs to do career interest inventories and research careers of interest, which will help [him or her] to set goals for the future," says Brian Law, president-elect of the American School Counselor Association, Alexandria, Va.
School counselors also can help you pick an elective to refine goals. For instance, one of the students where Law works wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Law instructed the ninth-grade student to take a health-occupations elective. As it turned out, the student didn't like the sight of blood. He still wants to pursue a career in medicine, but one that's less invasive.
What if you're no longer in high school? Many school counselors will help alumni. You also can do internships, ask professionals in a field you'd like to pursue if you could shadow them for a day, or take career surveys online on websites such as CaliforniaColleges.edu.
find a school with career and major preferences
Once you have a general career direction, your school counselor can help you find colleges that have programs for your major field of study. Websites from many states also can help locate colleges that may be a good fit. From this list, you can narrow your search by researching factors such as campus size, admission standards, tuition, and average size of financial aid packages offered.
You can choose to include both two-year and four-year colleges in your search. You may find a career such as computer programming that you could train for in a two-year or four-year program.
You wouldn't buy a car or an outfit you've never seen, nor should you make one of the biggest decisions of your life without visiting the campus where you'll spend the next two to four years—maybe even six if you continue your education through a graduate-level degree. Schedule a campus visit to each of your top choices. If you can't visit the campus in person, virtual tours on campus websites are the next best thing.
How much difference can a campus visit make? Michael Barton, project manager for student-friendly services at the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, Sacramento, Calif., encountered a student who fell in love with a school on a campus visit, but was also tempted by a big-name school to which she was accepted. After much deliberation, she chose the school with the campus she adores—and she's very happy there.
transfer from community college to four-year school
You want to go to a four-year university, but your grades aren't high enough, you'd like to stay closer to home a little longer, or you want to save money by going to a less-expensive community college for your first two years. Your solution may be a transfer agreement.
Research careers with the help of your school counselor.
Barton suggests asking for a transfer agreement with the grades and courses required for transferring to the four-year university at which you'd like to continue your education. It's important that the transfer agreement gives you guaranteed admission upon completion of your end of the bargain.
The courses you generally will need to take when preparing to transfer, in addition to core courses, are called major prep, says Barton. These are the early courses for the major you plan to pursue. For instance, if you plan on a business major, your four-year university choice may want you to take Business 101.
invest in your future
Go into career and college selection with an open mind, your school counselor's help, your family's input, and the attitude that you're willing to put the effort into making the best decision to make sure you choose a career you will enjoy.