4-year Universities vs. Community Colleges

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By Alia

Let’s start by playing a little true or false.

1. Universities are big while community colleges are puny.

Answer: FALSE; there is such a thing as a small university and community colleges are plenty big.

2. You get a better education going to 4-year universities versus community colleges.

Answer: FALSE; you get equal education in my opinion (but some universities are picky and might not take credits from elsewhere).

3. Community colleges are for people who weren’t successful the first time around or are behind and need to play catch up.

Answer: FALSE; plenty of people go to community colleges – it’s easier on the wallet, not because they lack the ability to go somewhere else.

4. You need to be super rich or take out a student loan to afford college.

Answer: FALSE; you can get scholarships and grants (free money) to go to college and there are even programs like Power of You (POY) that pay for everything.

5. The system is corrupt and if I’m not the right color I won’t make it.

Answer: FALSE; anyone can make it and you’d be surprised how many people want to see you succeed.

Conclusion – Much of what you hear relating to who goes to community colleges and who goes to 4-year universities is false.

So what’s true?

The difference between going to a community college or university is where you plan to go and how you plan to get there.

Universities are great for their high reputations, they offer more classes, they offer high degrees.

Community colleges are for everyone, they are cheaper than universities, they can be the start or finish.

My advice to you, someone who is in high school right now, is go to a community college and then university if you so desire. Starting out at a big university could be everything you dreamed of, but more than likely you will have more debt. You might end up changing your major and realize you wasted not only your time, but a lot of someone else’s money.

If you want a path where you pay less and get more, I say take my advice. I say go somewhere where people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and ages with all different backgrounds. I say go somewhere where you can get the same education for less hassle and less out of your pocket. I say go somewhere where you can stumble and get back up with little to no repercussions.

Take it or leave it, but that’s my advice.

When I was deciding where I wanted to go to college, my first choice was the U of M: Twin Cities Campus. I used to work there in the multicultural center in Appleby Hall. I got to learn the layout of the campus by giving tours to children in grades K-8.

I loved it there. I loved the art, I loved the science, I loved the tree full of shoes.

That long bridge was the coolest canvas every club had claim to. I felt alive every day I went to work there and sometimes it was a painful reminder being alive. I didn’t even want to look at other schools, that’s where I wanted to go, but the college and career center at my high school wouldn’t let me pick just one place. They said I needed to apply to at least three schools and I was so bummed, I didn’t care about anyplace else.

I finally gave in and “looked” at some other places. I didn’t want to leave the city, so that narrowed my search fast. I found the Arts Institute and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) both were in the right place and offered majors I liked. Then I compared costs and saw something surprising – the tuition at MCTC was nowhere near the tuition for the other two options.

I thought, “well they must be so cheap for a reason,” and decided to check out what exactly they were lacking. I took a visit to the school and it didn’t take long before I heard about the Power Of You program. It also didn’t take long before I realized there was nothing missing. There were so many paths for me to take at MCTC for a fraction of the cost, excuse me, for no cost.

I was baffled.

I didn’t know you could go to college for free. The Power Of You program at MCTC took me in and I was surrounded by a group of hard working staff ready to pay for my tuition. All they asked was that I say “hello” every so often, go full-time, have a decent GPA, give back to the community and graduate from a Minneapolis high school.

My parents were sold, and even though I loved the U of M to death, I was too. I did my big exams in high school, sent out my applications, etc. Both the U of M and MCTC accepted me, but at the end of the day, I chose to go to MCTC after doing all my research on the two choices.

MCTC is everything I wanted in a college, even more so than the U of M was. I go to MCTC now as a full time student and I work for the school as a tutor helping other students. I have never been more at home on a campus, they have everything I want/need.

Best of all, I can still continue on to finish a 4-year degree at the U of M, if that’s what I decide to do, and I will have spent a lot less on earning credits my initial years out of high school!

It’s not really a secret, but I never liked school. I did well, but middle school and high school were not only zoos, they were claustrophobic to me. After seeing students trying to jump out of windows on the 3rd floor and dancing on tables and bullying left and right, I was so sick.

In middle school my bullying experiences weren’t from other students, they were from the dean. So you can see, I thought school was a joke. A very messed up joke. I wasn’t even proud of myself when I graduated. I thought college would be as lame if not MORE lame, but college has been awesome. It sometimes doesn’t even feel like school to me, I have too much fun.

Maybe you like school already, that’s cool. I just know too many of us go through it unhappy. I even mentioned before, I have depression. Why am I being so personal? Because I want you to hear my story and maybe it will help you.

My real point is don’t give up. Don’t give up even if things look bad and you feel gross. Don’t give up even if it seems you have no place to go, you always do. Like I’ve said, college isn’t for everyone, but what’s important is that anyone can go to college.

Whether you pick a community college or university, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re a step closer to your dreams and you aren’t being worn down. Make the healthy choice, make the smart choice.

I know you can succeed.

Apartment vs. Dorm Living

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by Elliane

I would like start out this blog post by saying that I am really enjoying second year, much more than my first.

That being said, my life is very different now compared to my first year. Last year I lived in the dorms here at McGill University, with a single room, communal bathrooms, and a mandatory meal plan.

Now I am living just off campus with my best friend for my roommate, I don’t have to wear flip-flops in the shower, and I can eat all the pasta and peanut butter I want.

In my opinion it is very important to live in the dorms or some type of university housing (rather than an apartment separated from the institution) during the first year away from home.

There are definite pros and cons to dorm living. Some pros include: inclusive community, pre-furnished space, not having to make your own meals, and (usually) close to campus. Of course, every person is different and some of those pros may seem like cons.

Dorms are a fun place to spend your time and meet new people. My dorm last year had a bunch of parties (even a prom!) but was very study-friendly during finals and promoted a nice studious environment. There was a no tolerance bullying policy and the entire residence system is considered a “safer space.” I met my best friends in “rez” last year, even though I am not the most social person. In saying that I think there is definitely a place for everyone and people for every person to meet in residence. This is why I think spending your first year in residence is important because then you have people to spend the rest of your years with (and maybe the rest of your life.)

Living in my apartment for the past month (4 weeks today!) has been such an amazing time. My first piece of advice for apartment living would be to choose your roommate wisely. Mine is my best friend Harriet who I can easily describe to be my other half. We know what annoys each other, we understand each other’s limits and respect them, and (most importantly) we have so much fun!

Even if your roommate is not your best friend, make sure you get to know them and spend some time learning about how you work together. Alternatively, if your roommate is your friend, establish some “roomie rules” because living together can be stressful.

Another upside to living on my own is that I get to cook for myself. I am an avid baker and a decent cook so I do enjoy setting aside time to make a nice meal. Let me tell you, though, there are some nights when I get home and think to myself “Nope. Sandwich tonight.”

And you know what? That’s okay! Living by yourself and being an adult, everyone has those days when they slip a little so don’t beat yourself up if you feel your “adulting” (as we like to call it here) slipping.

This year I am definitely more conscious of what I’m buying and how I’m spending my money. I’m not sure if it’s because I am living on my own and paying for groceries but I think that must be a factor. You would be surprised to see how much groceries cost and how quickly they add up!

I highly recommend living in an apartment after your first year so make sure you do if you can! Some colleges require you to live in dorms all four years, others it’s only two.

If you are still looking into where you want to go to college, think about what you want to do after your first year and do some research about your prospective choice’s options!

A Guide to Cliff-Jumping: Handling Senior Year Stress

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by Avery

My senior year of high school felt like walking closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.

I pictured graduation as the point at which I would jump off, not to certain death or anything quite so drastic, but into a whole new world to learn to navigate, a huge gaping unknown. While I was terribly excited for the jump, the idea of losing the feeling of my feet on the ground I was so familiar with was a little stressful.

Senior year can be terrifying, super fun, super tense, exciting, or confusing. It can seem to take forever or whiz by scary-fast. Handling all of these feelings can be extremely hard, not to mention that if you plan on going to college, you will have an absurd number of details to keep track of.

The stress I experienced didn’t come from my schoolwork, but from logistics—the worry that I couldn’t “get it all done” in time. Myself being a pretty poorly-organized individual, I probably made these details harder to manage than they had to be. So, dear reader, please learn from my mistakes!

Senior year stress seems to come in two main phases:

First: Securing your parachute, getting snacks for the road, arranging transportation, quadruple checking your parachute…Sorry to bring back this cliff metaphor, but bear with me.

This is college/future-related stress. It’s when there are always more details creeping up on you. You’re busy as heck touring colleges, writing application essays, applying for scholarships, etc. This time requires a lot of decision making as well as hard work, which can be a lethal combination. Here are some suggestions for handling this death-by-details stress:

  1. Keep a calendar of your deadlines and requirements. At the beginning of each week, make goals of what you need to accomplish, and write out the specific steps necessary. Give every task a few extra days to account for slow “processing”.
  2. Keep track of who you need to talk to. Maybe it’s your counselor or teachers. Remember that these people are very busy around this time, and you may need to give them extra time to accomplish tasks like sending your transcript or writing letters of recommendation. Waiting for others (such as your counselor) can be one of the most stressful things about this time. But remember, once a task is out of your hands, you can’t do anything else about it, so just let it go. Chances are, there are better places to channel your energy than worrying whether or not your transcript has arrived at a college. (That said, it’s okay to send a follow-up email if the person has not responded within a reasonable amount of time – sometimes people need a reminder)
  3. Consider setting aside a few hours each week for “future planning”. What this means will differ for everyone. Maybe it entails sorting out your graduation requirements. Working on remedial coursework or online classes. Some folks are planning on working straight after high school, which may require less planning. Still, you can always polish up your resume or start the job hunt now.

Second: “Phase two stress”, as I’ll call it, is more like walking towards the edge of the cliff. It’s the time when you realize high school is ending soon. And life is about to change. You may be battling restlessness/“senioritis” (a lack of focus and extreme boredom at school) as well as a desire to cling to what you know. I guarantee that most of your peers are equally frazzled by this, so talk to them!

Oh yeah, and this is when you start receiving letters back from colleges if you’re going that route (maybe this is like picking out the specific ledge you’ll jump from… Maybe we can let this metaphor die). Be proud of every acceptance you get, you worked hard for that! Try to take rejections in stride, too, even though it may sting terribly. And remember, a rejection isn’t always about you, per se. Schools have to make quotas of certain demographic categories so try not to take a rejection too personally.

I think the best way of handling this stress is to spend time with people you care about. Take time to appreciate the good people in your life and take time for relaxing too. Try to put future-thoughts out of your mind for an hour each day. Your decision making abilities may improve after having a little time off.

So, yes, this is a bizarre and scary time, but all that being said, I really did enjoy much of my senior year. I had less homework, fewer classes, and more time to spend with my friends and family. After making the decision to take a gap year and deciding on my college, I was just so excited! Hopefully you can get excited, too.

As spring rolls around, breathe in that sweet scent of freedom…graduation is coming, and so is your senior summer, which might be one of the best times ever.

Finding A College That Fits

 It Doesn’t Need To Feel Like Searching For A Needle In A Haystack

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by Cara

When it was time to decide which colleges to add to my list, the first big decision I made was between attending a 2-year community college or a 4-year college. I knew from the start that I wanted to attend a 4-year college, but I also applied to one community college. Thankfully, because of scholarships, I was able to attend the type of school I desired, but community colleges can be a great way to save money before transferring to a four-year school.

I didn’t add any colleges to my list solely because they were public or private. I think it’s a good idea to include some of each when making your list. Public universities offer lower rates to in-state students, but many private colleges have more scholarship funding to offer.

Big schools can mean more major and minor offerings, a larger amount of resources and opportunities, and an abundance of school spirit at sporting events. Small schools can offer smaller class sizes and a more close-knit community of students.

I chose a medium sized school, University of St. Thomas, because I felt like it offered me the best of both worlds. The class sizes are small enough where the professors can get to know you, there’s a sense of community, and I’m still able to enjoy the type of school spirit I desired.

Having a general idea of what I wanted to major in helped me narrow down my list. My interests are in journalism and marketing, so I researched both programs at each college to which I applied. Keep in mind that the college you attend doesn’t have to be ranked number one in the subject you want to study in order for you to receive a quality education. Personalized attention that a small program may offer, compared to a larger well-known program, and the amount of hands on experience available are more important.

I choose a school with an urban location because I love living in a major metropolitan area. I’ve lived in Minneapolis my whole life, so moving to St. Paul for college has allowed to stay close to my family while still enjoying my independence and a new city.

The communications industry is something I’m interested in so I knew it would be easier to find internship opportunities in a big city rather than a rural location. There’s always something to do on the weekend whether it’s going to the mall, an art museum, or the movies. Getting there is never a problem because of the public transportation system in the Twin Cities. There can be plenty to do on campus, but I considered where I’d be able to spend my free time in the city before I made my decision.

After I decided which factors would determine the colleges I’d put on my list, I needed a way to find a list of colleges. The College Search feature on the College Board website is a great way to generate a list of schools that meet your criteria. You can even indicate how important each factor is in case the colleges you’ll consider must have an urban location, but even though you’d like a small school body you don’t want to eliminate all larger colleges.

I’d recommend having 5-7 schools on your list, so when May of senior year arrives you have enough options. With so many options available the college search can be overwhelming at times, but because I decided which factors were important to me in the beginning I was able to end up at the college that fits me best.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you have questions. Best of luck in your search!

Living in Rez: A Survival Guide

McGill rez

by Elliane

Living in a student residence has been fantastic. Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely some downsides, but overall I give living in a residence two thumbs up! It’s been amazing to have so many people my own age living literally down the hall.

Here at McGill we call student housing “Rez” because Canadians tend to shorten all of their words (university becomes “uni,” cafeteria becomes “caf,” etc.) The interesting thing about Rez at McGill is that it is not required for all freshmen. This is because of a unique pre-university program in Quebec called CEGEP that fits between high school (high school only runs through 11th grade) and university.

In my experience most universities in the U.S. require first years to live on campus for at least one year with the options for student housing being limited. If student housing sounds scary, and you aren’t sure that it’s the right fit for you do some research about what other options are available at the schools you are interested in!

Here’s a list of things to consider about student housing options and some of my experiences so far with living on my own:

Roommates

For the record, I am not always a “people person”… just sometimes. Being an introverted extrovert played a big part in my decision to have a single room. Single rooms are very common at McGill, my entire residence hall and the three nearby are only single rooms.

I needed to be able to get away from people and retreat into my own space, but I also wanted the ease of meeting people and being around friends. Having my own room, I can be as messy as I want and I also never have to worry about waking up a roommate!

If you think a roommate is right for you, definitely go for it. I think that it is an important experience to have; living with people is not easy so getting a head start your first year is a great idea. As I spent the last seven summers living in close quarters with girls at camp, I know that I prefer time to myself so I chose a single room.

Housing Style

Classic dorm, hotel, or apartment? Those were my three choices. I’m not certain what types of housing are available at other universities, but if any of these interest you, consider that in your search for the perfect university. Spend time looking at the different options – it’s where you’ll be living for nearly a year!

I live in a “classic” dorm here at McGill called Gardner Hall. There are 36 single rooms per floor and the building has seven floors. I share a bathroom, common spaces, and a “floor fellow,” (or Residence Advisor, “RA,” at other schools). It’s a less expensive option compared to the others. A meal plan is mandatory!

Next is the “hotel style” dorm, where the building is a converted hotel and it was modified by the university into a residence hall. We have three of these here at McGill and they are significantly more expensive than the other options. The rooms are standard hotel sized rooms with two queen beds and a shared bathroom. It is pretty much guaranteed that you have a roommate in these dorms because the rooms are so large. A meal plan is also mandatory.

Lastly there are the “apartment style” dorms. There are a few different options. One of these is living in a house with about 17 other people, cooking your own food and living somewhat close to campus. The next is an apartment complex that is right across from campus, where you have a roommate or two. And there is also an apartment complex off campus (about four metro stops away) where you have your own little apartment with a few other people, but there are still “Floor Fellows” to guide you through your first year of living on your own.

Take Care of Yourself

Although to some this may seem obvious, taking care of yourself proves to be more difficult than you think. I like to think of myself as a very rational person and someone who knows who she is. However not having my mom around is a big change.

I got the sniffles, and then a headache, a couple weeks before midterm exams began. Back at home my mom would have probably told me to take it easy, drink lots of fluids, and get more sleep. But living on your own comes with the responsibility of taking care of yourself and lots of other adult things. Make sure that you focus on you once in a while because if your body is not functioning properly than your studies and socializing are only going to make it worse.

Don’t freak out if you don’t get the Rez you wanted! No matter where you end up, you will find your place and your people. Make the best out of student housing because it is a phenomenal opportunity to meet a bunch of people who are all in similar places in their lives with similar interests and ambitions!

If you have any questions at all about Rez feel free to leave a comment!:)

Tours. Tours. Tours.

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This is a picture of me in California at the UCLA Bruin statue – the school mascot – my sophomore year of high school!

by Ariana

College tours; this is something I highly, highly recommend for all you college bound students!

If you have a college that spikes your interest but you aren’t sure, go on a tour! I made sure that I toured every college that was on my list of possibilities. I took advantage of Project Success, which is an organization in Minneapolis high schools that motivates and inspires young people to pursue higher education.

The organization offers free college tours, including transportation. It also provides free tickets to shows at local performing arts centers, such as the Guthrie and Ordway. I went on a lot of the tours they offered and wish I had been able to do more. They offer a big trip all around the Midwest, including Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa. I would advise you to take full advantage of every opportunity they provide to visit colleges.

When you tour colleges you really get a feel for what the campus is like. It can be a completely different environment than you’ve experienced before. It can be a positive or negative experience. I have experienced both.

Be sure to ask all the questions you have while on tour, whether it is about sports or dorm life or studying abroad. Ask away because it’s your tour guide’s job to answer questions! I was always the one who asked a dozen questions, but it is better to ask than to leave with uncertainty or regrets about not asking.

I also have a personal story about tours: a college tour is the reason I am at college right now.! During my freshman year of high school my AVID teacher invited us to go on a tour to the University of California at Irvine (I was living in California at the time). AVID is a college preparatory program that gives students the study skills tools they need to be successful in high school and college.

I was just about to drop out of the AVID class because I didn’t really want to go to college. But then I decided I would go on this tour just to experience college life. So I went on that tour and I loved it! The environment was beautiful. The people there were all making a difference in their students’ lives, and one day the world, because all the students were seeking higher education.

I honestly have never felt more excitement in my life than I did on that day, because that day I decided that I would make it my goal to go to college and join that force.

And that is exactly what I did. Today I’m a student at the University of Minnesota – Duluth!

Until next time!

How NOT to Tour a College

Avery

by Avery

My first college tour was at Cornell University in New York, on a blisteringly hot July day the summer before my junior year. A bunch of my family members had gone there, and I was in the area visiting family that summer so my dad proposed I check it out.

The guides gave me a thick folder of promotional flyers and info. Being my oft overly-critical self, I sighed at the atrocious waste of paper and ink wasted on pictures of thrilled-looking students who probably didn’t even go to the school.

I was in a group of maybe 25 other prospective students and fell to the back of the group. I tried to pay attention to the eager student leading my tour, but all I could think about was getting inside the next air-conditioned building we would walk through to peer at classrooms, dorms, labs, and all else. I also had four family members with me, all asking questions and (as I saw it as a bad-tempered and overheated sixteen year-old) being terribly annoying.

Cornell University was quickly ruled out.

Not because I didn’t like the school, but because I had developed pretty crappy associations with it…heat, annoying parents, long and grueling distances between buildings.

I let my sensory experiences of that hot summer day overrule the good things about the school — the strong academics, the size, cool town of Ithaca that it’s located in, etc. What’s more, I had a terrible attitude and a pretty closed mind.

I did reconsider Cornell later and decided, rationally, that it wasn’t right for me.

After that, I went on many more tours and learned plenty about how to look critically at a school while keeping an open mind.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Don’t focus on the statistics during your tour. The guide will have plenty of these. Figures, facts, history, data… number-related information and trivia that you can probably find on the college’s website. For me anyway, the whole point of a tour was to feel the place. You can always go back to the website later to check out averages, enrollment numbers, and all that stuff.
  2. Figure out if having your parents/others there will help or hurt you in deciding whether to pursue the school. I found that my parents had too much to say during my visits to campuses. Their input was important to me, but I could more authentically tell how I felt when I was alone on my tour. At the very least, I’d ask them to give me some space in the tour group so they could get the information but not sway my thoughts with their comments.
  3. Spend a couple hours exploring on your own. The tour is meant to show you highlights of campus, the showpieces. The school is, after all, marketing to you. These highlights are important, but aren’t really enough to get a sense of how well you’d fit in, socially especially. I suggest checking out the student union, info boards around campus, academic buildings of fields you’re interested in, and wherever else you find yourself. Pretend you go there. What does it feel like? Do you see places you’d like to hang out? People who you might be able to relate to? Are there interesting activities and events going on?
  4. If you can, sit in on a class. Actually being there for a class is a great way to tell what to expect academically. Pick one that sounds interesting, and is an average size for the college. I was in PSEO at the University of Minnesota and St. Kate’s, so I was lucky to get the full experience of a college class at both a large and small college. Obviously that’s not for everyone, so give it a shot for couple hours during your college visits.
  5. Take notes. You’ll probably have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the college, so write them down to come back to later! A notebook will also help you blend in while you check out campus alone ;).
  6. If you hate a college, pay attention to why. The bad tours can be just as valuable as the good ones. Maybe you learn that small campuses make you feel claustrophobic. Maybe the big ones seem too impersonal. Maybe you’re turned off by the dominance (or lack of) sports on campus. When you learn that something just doesn’t do it for you about a place, remember it and use it in the future when looking at other schools.
  7. If the college is in a city or town, spend some time there. When I toured McGill University (where I am enrolled starting next fall), a good chunk of what drew me to it was its location in Montreal. I love that city. It’s lively, historic, musical, and close to a bunch of cool hiking areas. For some people, location doesn’t matter as much but it was a big factor for me, as I love to explore new places. Wherever the locale of your potential college, think about whether it will matter to you; it might not and that’s totally fine!
  8. Keep an open, open mind. Your tour guide could have a super annoying voice, it could be pouring rain, maybe your mom won’t stop commenting on the cement block architecture or reminiscing about her own orientation week (TMI, mom!!)… Don’t let these things get in the way! Similarly, don’t let the inconsequential good things cloud your vision either. Just because the campus is chock full of crazily attractive people doesn’t mean it’s the right school for you! Keep your mind open, but stay conscious of the judgments you make, and how you make them.

This is your chance to be at a school and imagine yourself there for 8 months of the year. And remember– every school has cheesy pamphlets. Get over it ;).

Happy college hunting!