6 Ways College Applicants Can Stand Out

College counselors have long urged high school students to find and focus on their passion. But developing it to create new opportunities for yourself and others can really grab the attention of admissions officers.

For many of them, there’s a certain sameness to the applications they read, so when prospective students carve out their own opportunities, colleges notice, says Maria Laskaris, former dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College and now a senior private counselor at Top Tier Admissions, a company focused on helping applicants navigate the admissions process. “We tell students to push beyond what the school offers,” Laskaris says.

U.S. News talked to experts to find out how to make your college application stand out

Build on your academic strengths. Schools are looking for students who have not only done well but who have also challenged themselves, as they are more likely to succeed in college-level courses. Reviewers also take into account the level of rigor available at a particular school.

The key is to plan ahead and start in eighth or ninth grade to build a foundation that will open doors to advanced coursework later on. For instance, being ready to get advanced algebra out of the way sophomore year puts you on track to take calculus before earning that high school diploma, which might set you up better should you apply to a program that requires it, such as engineering.

Get a handle on the tests. Of course, colleges have long relied on standardized tests to help them differentiate between students in a way that grades alone cannot. Increasingly, applicants are choosing to take both the SAT and the ACT.

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University in North Carolina, suggests doing just that to determine which test better suits your test-taking style. You might opt to sit for your preferred test again, but twice should be the limit, he says.

Think outside your school’s extracurriculars. No matter what your interests are, find ways to use them to make a contribution to your school or local community.

Consider recommendations carefully. The ideal scenario is when you can ask an instructor who taught you more than once – such as during freshman year and again later on – because then they can speak to your growth and how you might have overcome any particular challenges.

Do a social media check. It’s not unusual for schools to be alerted by alumni, community members or others to social media that paints a student in an unflattering light.

Show up, to the extent you’re able. Visiting the campus shows the admissions office that you’d be likely to attend if accepted. Showing up is still a great way to reveal what schools refer to as “demonstrated interest,” a factor that some 70 percent of colleges say plays at least some role in their admissions decisions, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Is your student still undecided on a major? Or needs help with their college journey?

Schedule your First Consultation Today!

Why Choosing The Right Major Is Key To Success

A college major is a subject area that students can specialize in and build job skills.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES are often faced with two significant decisions that will shape their futures: which college to attend and what to study.

Similar to the vast number of colleges, options for a major are numerous and wide-ranging. The decision on what to study can have a lasting effect, shaping future work experiences, earnings and other choices connected to a profession. Because of the importance of the decision, some advisers urge students to pursue their passions.

“You have to enjoy what you’re majoring in. That is key,” says Erin Moriarty, dean of undergraduate admission at Loyola University Chicago.

Typically a bachelor’s degree requires four years of full-time study, with a portion of that coursework dedicated to the student’s chosen major. The number of credit hours required for a major in college can vary depending on the program. Students may also choose to double major in college, studying two disciplines simultaneously, which requires coursework for both.

Work on the college major can be spread across the four years if a student chooses his or her field early on, or it can be concentrated in the junior and senior years, experts say. According to admissions officials, either way is fine for most programs.

Moriarty says some academic programs may require coursework in the first year, citing education, nursing and engineering as examples of majors requiring instruction from the start.

It’s important for students to decide on a major by the end of their sophomore year, notes Brian Troyer, dean of undergraduate admissions at Marquette University in Wisconsin, because “the upper division coursework within a particular major is going to be pretty heavy during junior and senior year.”

The most popular college majors, based on National Center for Education Statistics data on degrees conferred in 2014-15, were “in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000).

College majors can be conventional, such as business, or off the beaten path. California State University—Fresno, for example, offers majors in viticulture and enology through its agriculture program, where students learn about grape cultivation, wine production and the industry.

In a region ripe for wine production, graduates work in vineyards cultivating grapevines, working in pest control or making wine, says Sonet Van Zyl, associate professor of viticulture at Fresno State.

“There are more job opportunities than there are people available,” Van Zyl says.

That shortage of workers sounds familiar to Tom Cortina, assistant dean for undergraduate education and teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.

“We, meaning academia, are not actually graduating enough computer scientists to fill all of the positions out there that are computing related. That’s how in demand (computer scientists) are,” Cortina says.

He adds that interest in the computer science major has spiked in the last decade. But even with an increase in the number of graduates, he says it isn’t enough to keep up with a booming industry. Cortina believes the need for workers in computer science will continue to grow. As it does, schools will need to produce more graduates to keep up with the already high demand.

Another field experts expect to grow is unmanned aerial systems, often referred to as drones.

“We’re coming up with new ways to use unmanned aircraft systems in everyday life all the time,” says Paul Snyder, assistant professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota. Snyder says uses for drones include agriculture, real estate, medicine, security and more.

Another in-demand major at the University of North Dakota is petroleum engineering, which fetches the highest median earnings among college majors, coming in at $136,000 annually, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Our graduates make a good amount starting out and move up quickly to make more,” says Bailey Bubach, a petroleum engineering instructor at UND.

While petroleum engineering comes in as the highest-paying major, social work is an example of a career track on the lower end of the scale. Georgetown research shows that entry-level psychology and social work graduates earn a median annual income of $28,000.

However, social work advocates say the field isn’t about the money. “It’s really hard work, but it’s incredibly satisfying. You get to help individuals and communities turn their lives around,” says Anna Scheyett, professor and dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia, adding that the “rich and meaningful” career trumps money. Declare Major on College Applications Three current college students share insights on this necessary application decision.Caroline Duda July 3, 2017

Like her peers in other fields, she sees her industry as one that will continue to grow. “I wish I could say that we are going to become obsolete because social problems are going to go away, but I think we’re a growth profession,” Scheyett says.

To help students narrow down their college major options, some schools offer online quizzes. Loyola University Chicago has a 35 question online quiz to help students learn more about potential majors. Moriarty says it’s built around common questions admissions officers hear from applicants, and students can match with more than 50 different majors.

“The goal of (the quiz) isn’t to say that this should be your direct path, but to provide options based on someone’s interests, to get someone to think outside of the box and understand what majors are really out there,” Moriarty says.

Marquette offers a similar quiz, but instead of suggesting individual majors, it groups students into categories such as communicator, entrepreneur, helper, problem-solver and thinker. When a student completes the college major quiz, suggested disciplines are matched to their results.

Troyer says offering this range helps students think about what’s out there. “Framing it in this way helps them think a little more outside the label of a particular major that a university may have or not have and makes them think about who they want to become,” he says.

While admissions experts say it isn’t necessary for students to know their college majors until the end of their sophomore year, there are advantages to deciding early. Troyer says students can research programs in their majors to help them choose a college, which also allows them to take high school classes that will complement their future studies.

[Read: Find the Best College for Your Major.]

While selecting a college major is an important choice, admissions officials say students shouldn’t feel locked into a major they don’t enjoy or struggle with. Students who wish to change career tracks can do so in college, shifting into another major that better suits them.

Moriarty urges students to discuss the decision with their advisers as soon as they can.

“You need to have those conversations with your academic adviser,” Moriarty says. “A lot of times, if you change early enough it doesn’t affect your four-year plan. It depends on what you’re changing to and what you’ve taken, and that’s where academic advisers are so crucial.”

And for prospective students feeling the pressure to choose a major early, Moriarty says they shouldn’t worry about their choice being factored into admissions decisions.

“For us, it doesn’t hinder their application or chance for acceptance,” Moriarty says.

How We Can Help With Choosing The Right Career Path

For more than a decade, we have assisted hundreds of students find a career path that fits them. The tools we utilize have propelled 92% of our students to graduate their 4 years in 4 years! This in return saves parents money on college and for retirement. Also, the student is less stressed and more focused on their studies.

Is your student unsure about their career path?

Do you want a more efficient way to save for retirement while paying for your students college?

We can help! To make sure that your student succeeds in college and in career, schedule your First Consultation below.

Article

Josh Moody, Reporter

Josh Moody has covered college admissions and international education for U.S. News since …  READ MORE

Tags: educationcollegesstudentscollege majorscollege admissions

College Funding Mistakes

According to College Aid Pro, money worries can keep parents up at night. Paying for college can be scary stuff causing parental nightmares. We’ve collected some of the biggest mistakes families can make that can cause some scary financial struggles. Let’s try to turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.

Not having the parent money talk BEFORE starting the college search

We can’t all afford a Porsche, right? Why go out and test drive one if you are going to have your heart broken when you can’t afford the payments?! We feel strongly the same can be said about the college search.

Although we always mention that families rarely pay the full college sticker price, they still need to be aware of how much a college will cost them after all the available aid, savings, and strategies to pay for it.

Families need to sit down with their student before starting college visits to talk about what they can afford, what would need to be paid for with loans, their loan comfort level, and how they want to approach the search in a smart financial way.

Once everyone is on the same page financially, no one’s heart gets broken.

Being unaware of their Expected Family Contribution

Part of that parent money talk is knowing a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount the government expects a family to be responsible to pay towards college. This number may be a ridiculously high figure, but knowing it is the key to understanding whether a student is a need-based candidate or not. Their college search can hinge on this knowledge. Click here for a good estimated EFC calculator.

Not filing for financial aid (completing the FAFSA)

We’ve mentioned it before…billions of potential college grant dollars go unclaimed every year because people do not file the FAFSA. Even if a family does not think they’ll be eligible for need-based financial aid (because they know what their EFC is, right?!), fill out the FAFSA anyway.

Having a FAFSA on file is helpful in case something changes their financial situation in the future like illness or unemployment. Also, the FAFSA is required for federal student loans and some colleges require it for scholarship consideration.

Students earning too much money or having too much savings

What’s wrong with students earning too much money?! Shouldn’t they work to earn money towards college? Well, yes and no. Money earned by students or saved in the student’s name is assessed at a higher rate on the FAFSA.

Colleges expect dependent students to pay 20% of their earnings and savings towards their college costs. Parental assessment is only 5.6%…a big difference.

If a student is a borderline need-based financial aid candidate, earning too much money could push them out of eligibility for funds they might otherwise have qualified for.

Being unorganized

Closely following the act of filing the FAFSA is filing it on time. When financial aid money is gone, it is gone. If a family forgets to file on time, it could be too late to correct it later when they realize their mistake. We urge everyone to finish filing their FAFSA by November 1st and to file it every year their student is in school.

Student loans are part of the picture for most families. Once students become graduates, they need to stay organized and aware of their financial commitments. We’ve heard stories about students forgetting about the existence of some of their loans and missing payments along the way. This disorganization will put them into a big financial hole affecting their credit and condition.

Part of being organized includes staying on top of a graduate’s situation if making student loan payments becomes a struggle. Don’t wait to investigate consolidation, deferment, and other options until they are practically in default. Credit histories have been wrecked by waiting.

Being unfamiliar with a student’s scholarship terms and conditions

Academically talented students may be offered scholarships from their colleges. This news is great, but sometimes students forget the terms and conditions of their scholarships a year later.

Most colleges require scholarship students to maintain a certain GPA and minimum number of credit hours to keep their scholarship. If a student only takes 12 credit hours per semester, they may fail to meet their scholarship conditions. If their GPA drops below a 3.0 or 3.5 (depending on the school), suddenly their sophomore year costs more than they planned for.

Many scholarships are only offered for a 4-year period. When a student is thinking about changing majors (see the next point), remember a 5th or 6th year will be without a scholarship.

Changing the major (sometimes once…or worse MANY times!)

Changing the major…possibly the biggest nightmare a parent may have. We (and probably you too) hear stories all the time about a friend’s student who is changing their major. Did you know the national 6-year graduation rate is only 59%? Yes, we said “6-year.” Although not the only reason, changing a major is a big contributor to this problem.

Of course, more years equals more costs for parents. Choosing the right major can be trickier for students. Money is a cut and dried subject. Making a choice about a major and career…not so much.

Students need to be exploring their interests in high school. Thinking about what they like and are good at. Doing research about careers. (If you need direction in this area, our friends at At The Core are a great resource.)

Taking out parent loans or private loans when federal loans are the better option

We strongly discourage parents from taking out loans in their names to pay for college. Loans in the student’s name are the best option. (You can read more parent options in this blog.Borrowers over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of student loan debtors as parents choose to take on the loan burden for their kids. The result is a nightmare for retirement.

Being taken advantage of

Our final nightmare scenario we hear about are scams. We simple say “beware.” Scholarship scam services charge high fees for something families could do on their own. FAFSA filers want to charge to file the FAFSA which families can do for free.

Plenty of great FREE resources are out there to help. So, let’s avoid these nightmare situations with some pre-planning and awareness, and sweet dreams will be had by all.

Do Admissions Officers View All Activities The Same?

professional concentrated basketball player spinning ball on finger

As per collegevine.com, higher tiered activities show admissions officers whether you demonstrated leadership, good judgement, and initiative given the available resources.

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement.

Here’s what admissions officers consider:


The Activity’s Tier

We’ve developed a tier system for ranking extracurricular activities the way admissions officers do. The highest tier is reserved for major national and international accomplishments, such as competing at the Olympics or starring in a Hollywood blockbuster. In general, the greater your impact, the more impressive the accomplishment.

Demonstrated Leadership

Your activities help show admissions officers your leadership abilities, and each tier demonstrates a higher level of commitment and initiative. They also want to know if you made use of the resources available to you. If there were no national opportunities available in your hometown, how did you make it a better place with the tools you had?

Level of Recognition

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement. If you want to set yourself apart in your extracurricular endeavors, look for ways to expand the mark you make on your community.

Is Your Financial Planner Really Helping?

financial planner or personal financial planner is a professional who prepares financial plans for people. These financial plans often cover cash flow management, retirement planning, investment planning, financial risk management, insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning and business succession planning (for business owners).

However, when new or potential clients say to us, “We have a financial planner.” Our follow-up question is, “Did the financial planner sit down with you and take the time to educate you on a financial strategy that is tax-advantaged, pays for cars, houses, can fund for college, AND leave behind a legacy for your grandchildren?” The answer is ALWAYS, NO!

Why accept that if you don’t have too? Over the next week, I’ll be sharing some insight to the financial planner arena and what they SHOULD be doing, but probably are not doing. I’ll be sharing steps 4-6 on Wednesday, but find out the top 3 now.

Financial planning should cover all areas of your financial needs and should result in the achievement of each of your goals as required. The scope of planning would usually include the following:

1. Setting goals with the client This step (that is usually performed in conjunction with Step 2) is meant to identify where the client wants to go in terms of his finances and life.

2. Gathering relevant information on the client This would include the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the client’s financial and relevant non-financial situation.

3. Analyzing the information The information gathered is analyzed so that the client’s situation is properly understood. This includes determining whether there are sufficient resources to reach the client’s goals and what those resources are.

Is your financial planner creating a strategy for you, that you’re proud of?

If not, then come and get another opinion.

The OTHER College Companies

For over 15 years our firm has been studying how High School guidance departments, high priced College Prep Companies, Super high-priced consulting firms like IvyWise, College Planning Network, Top Tier Admissions, and small firms have been misleading and overcharging families with students headed to College for years.

They all (for the most part) tell you, “We will get your student/students into the College of your dreams,” or blatantly tell you if an Ivy league school is in your dreams, we will make that happen. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

A four year stint at Cornell, Penn, Stanford, or Yale, and my student is, to borrow an overused phrase, “Set for Life.” Unfortunately, this rah, rah B.S. it’s as effective as a cardboard cutout cheering at the new normal football stadium.

Over 70% of today’s graduates say that they are not using much of what they learned in College. Most are not pleased with their current job position and many have yet to find a job at all!

Professionals tell us the majority of recent graduates are back to that horrible habit that many of you are all too familiar with, hating Monday on Sunday. I am not referring to future professions like medicine, engineering, dentistry, law, and others where education and apprenticeship are integral to job satisfaction and performance.

We have graduates and even parents we work with who have stated to me, “All my College Degree represented to my employer was that I was trainable.” An excellent partner whom we have had the pleasure of working with for over 10 years, Emily Melious, the principle of Launch Consulting, has helped over a thousand students begin their life’s work on the right foot!

Using modern assessment tools like Kolbe assessment and OPgig, our team has avoided these frightening stats:

• 70% of people hate their job.

• 80% of workers feel stress on the job.

• 70% of low performing employees are working against their instincts.

• Just 8% of U.S. high school graduates complete a curriculum that prepares them for the workplace.

• College students change majors three times on average.

We have stated for years, that one of the most important services we provide our student clients is to help and teach them how to discover their economic passions and career path, which will give them a huge advantage in the marketplace.

Our firm takes pride in steering our students and their families out of the time-worn process of getting into a great College before we address Career evaluation, using today’s tools and of course, Emily’s award-winning services.

It is heartbreaking and a financial disaster when we see a very fine young student after two or three years of full-time College classes, not have a clue what type of work they prefer to begin as a career. After all, isn’t college supposed to be career training? Proper professional guidance and College Planning does work.

It is no longer necessary to ask your student “What do you want to study in college or what are you going to do for a living when you grow up?”

To learn more contact Jessica and learn first hand how we work with your student/students, how much time needs to be allocated to be successful, and how much our services will cost for your family.

We are now offering a complete no-cost College Entrance Report with your First Consultation (FC).

Do College Rankings Matter?

By Scott Jaschik

As they do every fall, high school students and their parents are deciding on college lists — figuring out where to apply and which colleges are on top of their wish lists. As is also the case every fall, U.S. News & World Report and others have released their rankings, suggesting which are the “best” colleges — among all and in certain categories.

Many students gravitate (regardless of what the rankings say) to public institutions close to home. But many others rely on rankings to identify potential colleges — or to convince parents that a particular institution is worth whatever it charges. And many colleges are banking on that, boasting about their scores in the latest rankings.

Educators have for years questioned the validity of the rankings, pointing out flaws with various parts of the methodologies of U.S. News and others.

A new study from researchers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education examines all of the evidence about rankings and comes to this conclusion: the best way to find a college that is a “good fit” is to ignore the rankings.

Notably, the finding isn’t based on abstract ideas about the value of education not being something that can be measured.

Rather, the analysis is based on research about factors many students (and parents) say they take into consideration when they evaluate potential colleges: student learning, well-being, job satisfaction and future income.

If you care about those factors, the rankings will not steer you well, the paper says.

In summarizing the paper’s findings, Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s education school, said, “Research tells us that the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be. This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.”

Key factors in U.S. News and other rankings reward graduation rates and reputation. U.S. News has, over the years, placed more emphasis not just on raw graduation rates but “expected” graduation rates to reward institutions with higher than expected rates for students from at-risk populations.

But the Stanford study finds that graduation rates still reflect the student body being served more than the quality of the institution. And the study says there is no evidence linking reputation to anything but … reputation.

So reputation is “a self-fulfilling metric.”

Even measures that might seem inherently good — such as the percentage of class sessions that are small — may not actually mean much, the study says.

“While small classes are often seen as desirable, this metric is problematic … When schools offer more small classes, there is less space for students in those classes, meaning fewer students actually get to take them. Consider, as an extreme example, a school with 200 students where each student takes only one class. If there are nine classes with two students each, and one huge class with the remaining 182 students, the average class size at the school would still be only 20 students, and a full 90 percent of those classes would be considered ‘small’ classes.”

The report doesn’t say that it’s impossible to measure qualities about colleges that are important to students and parents. But real analysis would require examining the actual learning experience at colleges in ways rankings do not, the study says. For instance, the report cites Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press), the 2011 book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa that found a lack of rigor and heft in most undergraduate syllabi, and a corresponding lack of learning. The findings were based on looking at what students were asked to read and write, among other things, in their courses. (Others have disputed Academically Adrift‘s findings)

“What does correlate with student learning?” the Stanford report asks. “Time spent studying. This is true regardless of institution and for all kinds of students. In other words, a student who studies hard at a nonselective school is very likely to learn, while a student who slacks off at a selective one is less likely to learn.”

Likewise the report points to research by Gallup on the factors in one’s college experience that predict whether one will appreciate that experience and find personally fulfilling work.

According to these Gallup surveys, the key predicting factor is not prestige of institution, but whether graduates look back on their college days and remember having had a professor who cared about them, made them excited to learn and encouraged them to follow their dreams — which Gallup called being “emotionally supported” while in college. (Note: Inside Higher Ed works with Gallup on some surveys but did not play a role in this research.)

Broadly, Gallup identifies a series of practices for students to seek out at any college as likely to increase their engagement with learning — and their satisfaction. These include “taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting,” and “working with professors who care about students personally” and working on projects across several semesters.

The Stanford report generally suggests that students looking at potential colleges focus on finding places where the right conditions exist for the students to make the most of their opportunities. And that kind of review needs to focus on concrete measures or conditions that typically aren’t what makes a college rise or fall in U.S. News.

A key point of the report is that there is no single right focus for a college search — and that the selectivity-driven measures used in most rankings may be appropriate for a minority of students, but misdirect most others.

“For some students, deciding where to go to college may depend on academic factors, such as access to cutting-edge researchers in a beloved field with opportunities to be involved in graduate-level work, or a well-established professional preparation program,” the report says. “For others, the decision might be influenced by location: a college close to home, or far away, in a small town or in a big city. Or it might have to do with extracurricular programming: a robust student activities program, intramural sports, or the arts.

“The decision might include cultural opportunities: a university with a strong international languages program, a culturally diverse student body, and a track record of successful study-abroad exchanges. The presence or absence of a Greek system or a large Division 1 athletics program might be important factors for some students. Perhaps religious denomination, institutional size, or comprehensive support for those with learning differences may sway the decision. And of course, financial aid and cost are key factors as well.”

The report adds that “rather than choosing a school based primarily on a flawed scoring system, students should ask whether they will be engaged at the college in ways that will allow them to form strong relationships with professors and mentors, apply their learning via internships and long-term projects, and find a sense of community.”

Robert Morse, who leads the college rankings effort at U.S. News, said via email that he and his colleagues were still reviewing the Stanford analysis.

He noted that the paper did not reflect the most recent changes made by U.S. News in its methodology, changes that the magazine says placed a greater emphasis than in the past on rewarding colleges that promote social mobility. (Critics have said that the change are largely cosmetic and that the rankings continue to reward colleges primarily for being wealthy and serving the best prepared and generally wealthiest students.)

Morse also noted that U.S. News does not just release annual rankings, but lists of top academic programs, colleges with good internship programs, innovative study abroad and more.

Just because U.S. News publishes rankings, Morse said, doesn’t mean it believes that’s the only way students should evaluate colleges. “We have always encouraged consumers to use the rankings as a start,” he said.

How To Find The Right College For You

outside university pic

What’s the perfect college? Well, some of our clients would say location, while others would say athletics. Unfortunately, there’s no magical answer for you. However, according to College Board, these are the things that you should consider.

What Do You Want In A College?

Ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be and who you want to become. Then you can figure out what types of colleges will allow you to reach your goals.

Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Distance from home
  • Available majors and classes
  • Housing options
  • Makeup of the student body
  • Available extracurricular activities
  • Campus atmosphere

Which of these aspects are things you feel you must have to be comfortable at a college? Which things are you flexible on?

Also, think about what you want to accomplish in college. Do you want to train for a specific job or get a wide-ranging education? If you have a major in mind, are the colleges you’re considering strong in that area?

Keep An Open Mind

While it’s good to have some ideas in mind about what sorts of colleges will be right for you, stay open to all the possibilities at the beginning of your search.

Challenge your assumptions about what will work for you. For example, “you may not think you’re able to thrive in a large institution because you come from a small high school, but … you may actually do better in that type of setting,” notes Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a history professor at the University of Central Florida.

Talk to people who know you. Tell parents, teachers, relatives, family friends and your school counselor about your goals, and ask if they can suggest colleges that may be a good fit for you.

Don’t limit your search. At the start of this process, you may rule out colleges because you think that they are too expensive or too hard to get into, but this may not be the reality. Remember that financial aid can make college more affordable and colleges look at more than just grades and test scores.

Do Your Homework

Once you have a list of schools, it’s time to do research. To learn more about the colleges you’re considering, check out college guidebooks and the colleges’ websites. Jot down your questions and get answers by:

  • Talking to your school counselor or teachers
  • Checking out colleges’ student blogs, if available
  • Contacting college admission officials
  • Asking admission officials to recommend current students or recent graduates to talk to
  • Visiting college campuses, if possible (for more information, see the Campus Visit Checklist)

Facts about the SAT & ACT

girl with curly hair taking test

What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?

 SATACT
Why Take ItColleges use SAT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.Colleges use ACT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.
Test StructureReading Writing & Language Math Essay (Optional)English Math Reading Science Reasoning Essay (Optional)
Length3 hours (without essay) 3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay) 3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)
Reading5 reading passages4 reading passages
ScienceNone1 science section testing your critical thinking skills (not your specific science knowledge)
MathCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry and Data AnalysisCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry, and Probability & Statistics
Calculator PolicySome math questions don’t allow you to use a calculator.You can use a calculator on all math questions.
EssaysOptional. The essay will test your comprehension of a source text.Optional. The essay will test how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues.
How It’s ScoredScored on a scale of 400–1600Scored on a scale of 1–36

10 Lowest Paying College Majors

One of the most stressful decisions when determining a college major is job security. However, due to the astronomical rise in tuition prices, financial security is more important than ever before. Luckily, Ensphere offers ways to pinpoint a major that fits your personality while also showing you the industry pay scale. We offer services such as Kolbe, Career Cruising, OpGig, and more. This will better determine which career path would be a good fit for you. 

In addition to our services, we always want to keep you up to date on external information such as “Best Pay Lists”. I am fond of the U.S. News lists that they produce each year. This one titled “10 College Majors With the Lowest Starting Salaries”, is a great source! They used the data from PayScale to determine this list.

Here are the 10 college majors with the lowest median salaries for alumni with three years of postgraduate work experience whose highest degree is a bachelor’s. Also included for each major is the college where alumni make the highest median salary in that field. During the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing more pay related lists.

10 College Majors With The Lowest Median Salaries

10. Design and applied arts

Median starting salary: $42,727

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Carnegie Mellon University (PA)

U.S. News rank and category: 25 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Carnegie Mellon University graduates in this field: $75,700


9. Liberal arts and general studies

Median starting salary: $42,617

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Biola University (CA)

U.S. News rank and category: 185 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Biola University graduates in this field: $65,100


8. Human development and related services

Median starting salary: $42,252

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Cornell University (NY)

U.S. News rank and category: 17 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Cornell University graduates in this field: $56,400


7. Criminal justice

Median starting salary: $42,025

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: George Washington University (DC)

U.S. News rank and category: 70, National Universities (tie)

Median salary for George Washington University graduates in this field: $58,400


6. Psychology

Median starting salary: $41,890

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of Scranton (PA)

U.S. News rank and category: 6, Regional Universities (North)

Median salary for University of Scranton graduates in this field: $66,100


5. Criminology

Median starting salary: $41,722

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of Maryland—College Park

U.S. News rank and category: 64 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for University of Maryland graduates in this field: $50,900


4. Health and physical education/fitness

Median starting salary: $41,608

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Rice University (TX)

U.S. News rank and category: 17 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Rice University graduates in this field: $56,700


3. Animal science

Median starting salary: $39,905

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Colorado State University

U.S. News rank and category: 166 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Colorado State graduates in this field: $55,400


2. Education

Median starting salary: $39,082

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: Boston University

U.S. News rank and category: 40 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for Boston University graduates in this field: $53,100


1. Social work

Median starting salary: $37,035

School with alumni earning the highest salary for this major: University of South Dakota

U.S. News rank and category: 263 (tie), National Universities

Median salary for University of South Dakota graduates in this field: $49,800