All Things College

 

Finding Schools, Types of Schools and Degrees

Local Community Colleges

The five accredited colleges within easy driving distance of the Central DeWitt Community Schools area are listed below.

If you intend to move out of the area after graduation, but would still like to attend a community college near your new location, you can use the Big Future college finder to search for accredited colleges.

Online Degrees

Getting a degree online is an increasingly popular alternative to attending a brick-and-mortar college. This is certainly an option you can consider, but it's important to stress doing your research here, as not all online programs are reputable or even recognized by employers. Look for colleges that also happen to offer online programs — that is, any established college/institute with a physical location and classes that can be attended in person, but which also offers online-only programs. Make sure to carefully checked any online school's accreditation status; paying to get a degree will be no good to you if employers and other schools won't accept it. One final thing to keep in mind is that, depending on what you study, in-person work may be required and a totally-online degree may not be possible.

Choosing Your College

There are a lot of schools out there: the following is meant to help prospective college students know just what to look for in their college search, and point them in the direction of resources they can use to narrow down the field.

The College Search Process

Step 1: Know Your Timeframe How much time do you have to undertake a college search? It's best to start looking at colleges by about the middle of your junior year of high school; most colleges' early admission deadlines would be around October or November of your senior year, and final admission deadlines are often in February or March. Try to leave yourself enough time to be thorough in your search.

Step 2: Know What You Want from Your College Do you know exactly what major you'd like? Are you excited to go to a sprawling school in a big city, or will something small and quiet suit you better? What's the overall cost to attend that you and your family can manage? Are study abroad and/or internship opportunities important to you? Take some time to picture your ideal college experience, and jot down the parts that define that picture.

Step 3: Narrow Your Options Two great sources for finding schools are the ACT College Search and the College Board College Search. After your search, you should be able to compile a list of several possible colleges based on the factors that are most important to you.

Step 4: Research Your Top Picks Once you have a handful of schools to look into, work on getting a feel for what they're like. Visit each school's website; you can dive into the academic and faculty information, view recent student work and activity, and get a glimpse at what organizations and social events are offered. If you'd like to compare schools or are looking for more of a summary of each, try the following review sites:

Step 5: Get Personal Once you've done your research and have a small list of schools you're very interested in, try to arrange a campus visit, meet with a representative, talk with past or current students of the school, or take similar steps. Make sure you can meet with someone and ask questions to a real person — even if just over the phone or Zoom! Don't be afraid to ask questions, get to know what the experience would be like for you and what your outlook would be like after graduation.

Vocational or Specialized Training Programs

If you are looking to get a specific job that requires specialized or vocational training, then the process of finding a school usually goes like this:

  1. Find which schools teach what you want to learn.
  2. Check that they're accredited.
  3. Check that you can physically get to the school, that you can afford the tuition, and that it meets whatever other needs you may have.
  4. Apply (programs differ in their requirements).
  5. Sign up and go.

Places to find vocational/specialized training typically include community colleges as well as 'career colleges' (aka technical, vocational, or trade schools). Career colleges are private institutions specifically meant to provide you with the practical training you'll need to enter a particular job/field; community colleges offer many programs that can do the same, but also offer more general/liberal arts courses that you could potentially apply to a four-year degree. Final note: If you already know a particular company/organization you want to work for, always start by looking at their website and/or talking to a representative. They are often able to point you towards specific programs or internships that would help you get the job you want, and in some cases may even offer to pay for your education if you sign a contract with them.

Local community colleges are often a great option for a specialized trade track. See above info on the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges network. If you do not find the program you'd like listed through any of the local community colleges, try using the Department of Education's College Navigator to look for programs a little farther away.

Choosing a Major

MyMajors.com offers An EXTENSIVE survey of your interests and important personality traits, ultimately giving you about 5 top options to consider, as well as some related fields. And, if you're unhappy with the results, just figure out the reason you're unhappy to steer yourself in a better direction.

If you already know which school you'll be going to, consider taking the suggestions generated by the quiz (or anything you already had in mind) and visiting your college's website for information about those departments. For example, if it suggested different science majors to you, try looking into what the chemistry or biology departments look like and who the professors are. Does one class environment peak your interest more than the other, just by picturing yourself there? And of course, once you're attending school, you'll have many more tools to help you decide.

If you end up struggling to decide between two subjects, you may be a good candidate for a double major. They require a lot of time and energy, but if you're equally devoted to two different areas and can meet the requirements, you can indeed complete two majors. If you decide to try this route, make sure to talk with your academic adviser at college to make sure you'll be staying on track with all your classes.

One final thing to consider here: always know your job options with any given major. Obviously finding a major that's a really good fit with your interests can be great, but you do have to make sure the degree you're going to get still matches up with your goals for the future.

Applying to College

Before You Apply: What to Expect and How to Prepare

1. Know your deadlines. Check the college website or call their admission office to make sure you know when the admission deadlines are.

2. Transcripts. Transcripts are a pretty universal requirement for college applications, so once you know which schools you'll be applying to, alert the high school office so they can prepare official copies for you. If a college requires that transcripts be mailed directly to them, make sure the high school office also has the college's address. Follow up to guarantee that transcripts were sent and received without trouble.

3. Put together a loose resume. Some schools request resumes outright, but even if they don't, it's a good idea to come up with a list of all the activities and achievements you've participated in during high school. Taking the time to remember all your accomplishments will help you flesh out your application with unique selling points.

4. Register to take the ACT and/or SAT. Most four-year schools will require your scores from at least one of these tests, so make sure to register for them early enough that your scores can be processed with the rest of your application in a timely manner.

5. Recommendations: ask early. Some colleges request or require 1-2 letters of recommendation, and most students end up getting these from their high school teachers. Once you know you'll need recommendations, ask your preferred letter-writers as early as possible to give them plenty of time — keeping in mind that yours probably won't be the only recommendation they'll be asked to write. If necessary, remind (nicely!) only if you really think they've forgotten or if an application deadline is approaching quickly.

How to Apply

Here you can find a very handy checklist that can be used to keep track of all the steps involved. A general set of tips for filling out applications can be found here.

  • Transcript. A list of classes you've taken and your grades in each, provided by the high school school. Make sure to talk to the high school office as soon as you know where you'll be applying in order to get these on time.
  • SAT/ACT scores. A full rundown of deciding which test(s) to go for and how to go about taking them can be found over in our SAT/ACT section, and it's recommended you take a look there to familiarize yourself with how your test will be used to consider you. For now, just know that most schools will require your scores from at least one of these standardized tests, so make sure you fit in the time to take them. If you know which schools you'd like to apply to, you can enter these colleges' names when you register for your test so that they will automatically receive your scores: scores can be sent to more schools later for an additional fee.

Submission Checklist

When you finish an application, EACH TIME you should look it over very carefully (more than once) to make sure everything's as complete and polished as possible. Some things to look for include:

  • Did you tailor this application to the school you're going to send it to?
  • Did you fill out everything that was asked for?
  • Is all the information correct?
  • Are there any attachments that need to be sent, and are they in fact attached or on their way?
  • Did you proofread everything?

Financial Aid

Below you will find plenty of information to help you understand financial aid, as well as links and advice on how to handle the money side of college. (Are you a student who is low-income, homeless, or has little to no financial support? That's covered too.)

The Basics: How Financial Aid Works

The majority of students who attend college receive financial aid of one form or another, and there are two basic types of aid.

1. Scholarships and Grants Types of aid that fall into this category include merit-based scholarships, state or federal grants, and certain scholarships awarded by various private organizations.

Merit-based scholarships. These are scholarships awarded based on a student's talents/abilities. These are typically given by the college itself, and can be awarded in large amounts, occasionally up to full tuition. If you receive a merit-based scholarship, you may be required to meet certain performance standards in order to keep receiving aid: for example, if you attend on an academic scholarship, your GPA will need to stay above a certain level.

How to Apply: Once you've narrowed your college list down to just a few schools, take a look at each to see what sorts of merit scholarships are available. You can use a site like MeritAid to get an overview (just use the 'Search by College Name' feature to find lists of scholarships), but it's a good idea to cross-reference this with scholarship information found on each school's website. If you find a scholarship mentioned in one place, but can't find information about it anywhere else, contact the school directly to ask about it.

Merit scholarships sometimes involve an application process or they can also be awarded based on nothing but your general application to the school. Make sure to check the requirements of each scholarship well in advance to make sure you hit them all.

Grants. Grants provide need-based financial aid that does not need to be repaid. A fuller overview of grants (and links to information on the types of grants available) can be found here. Applications for grants are lumped in when you fill out your FAFSA.

To see grants commonly made available at Iowa colleges, visit the Iowa College Student Aid Commission site.

Other scholarships. These are often similar to merit-based scholarships, and a student's character and academic/community service history are usually big factors, but need is often also factored in. General scholarships may be available through businesses, banks, non-profits, and other organizations.

The scholarships available in the DeWitt area can be found listed on the Central DeWitt Community website.

Some online databases can help you find additional scholarships you qualify for (such as CollegeBoardCappex, Scholarships.com, or FastWeb). Solid advice for making the scholarship search as safe as possible can be found here.

2. Loans.

Federal loans. To apply for these, just fill out the FAFSA (scroll down to the next section for more information). To learn more about the different types of common federal loans, check out this overview at StaffordLoan.com.

State loans. Again, apply by filling out the FAFSA (although state deadlines do apply).

Private loans. One overview of the private loan situation can be found at SimpleTuition, and you can also use the on-site tool to find a sample of the private loans that may be available to you. An alternative/expanded take is also available here (with several private loan search links built in), and FinAid also offers a good point-by-point walk-through of why and how to find a private lender. Just keep in mind that you should usually try to exhaust federal aid options first: see Federal vs Private Loans to learn why.

More About the FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an application you submit yearly to the government to see what need-based financial aid you are eligible to receive for college. As indicated by the name, it costs nothing to fill out, so in every student's case it is 100% something you should do.

For most students, filling out the FAFSA turns out to be the single biggest contributor to receiving significant financial aid. It can point you to state and federal money, and can get you connected to both loans and grants (see above for the difference). It can be filled out beginning January 1st of the year you would like to attend college.

For a complete overview about how the FAFSA works, see the Federal Student Aid website.

If you are ready to fill out the FAFSA, check that you have the 7 Things You Need to get started, and then jump right in. If you need more explanation, try a general online search for the FAFSA; there's plenty of information out there on how to fill out the forms, so you should be able to find a guide that makes sense to you.

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