For many college-bound teens, selecting the campus where you'll spend the next few years is the first major life decision you'll make.
Kayla Dicky, 17, a senior at Cross Creek High School, said she's wants to be a registered nurse and is considering Georgia Southern University and the Medical College of Georgia. She's researched her school choices through talking with people who attend different schools, and looking at Web sites and brochures.
Between scholarships and help from her parents, cost hasn't been much of a determining factor.
"Mostly living situations," she said of her highest selection priorities.
Your best college fit has many determining factors including your choice of major, proximity to home, cost and financial aid, and size of the school. Priorities are different for every teen.
One way to investigate several colleges at once is by attending CSRA College Night, which will be held 5-8:30 p.m. Thursday at the James Brown Arena, 601 Seventh St. There are 150-160 schools scheduled to attend, said Judy Spencer, human resource specialist with SRS Nuclear Solutions, a sponsor of the event.
Seminars covering South Carolina, Georgia and federal financial aid, college essays, admissions, as well as guidelines for athletes will be held at 5:30 and 7 p.m. , she said.
There will also be a career exploration area, where teens can fill out an interest inventory.
Jennifer Knight, graduation coordinator at Greenbrier High School, said taking interest surveys can help point teens in the right direction.
Start off by talking to your parents, she said: "it's going to be a family fit, not just a fit for one person."
Sean Petro, head guidance counselor at Harlem High School, said students often ask him if a particular school is "good."
"A good school is what you make of it," he said.
One thing to look at is what opportunities for real-life experience you can get outside of the classroom for your major. Your social personality will also factor into whether you want to go to a smaller school, with more opportunities to be involved, or larger school, where there are more activities going on. he said.
The biggest mistake you can make is not visiting the college you think you want to attend, Mr. Petro said.
"They get this idea of what a college is by formulating what it is in their mind," he said.
He recommends visiting three to five colleges.
Abbie Thielke, 16, a junior at Augusta Preparatory Day School, recently went on college tours with her class.
"I found it nice to have tour guides that gave a real representation of the college. However, I didn't like not having enough time at the different schools," she said. "Overall, the tours widened my outlook about different sizes of schools, majors, and options for international studies."
To find which schools are compatible with your grades and scores, check their Web sites, said Donnie Burch, guidance counselor at Lakeside High School.
Another helpful site is the gacollege411.org site, a "one-stop shop" for students looking to attend college in Georgia, which also has information on financial aid, applying and comparisons between schools.
For students attending College Night, you can get the most out of it by having an idea of what you have: obtain your class rank and GPA from the guidance office (it may be different than what you think it is), and bring your test scores, volunteer and involvement information.
"Here's my total package; if they put it on paper, that's great," he said.
The college recruiters at the fair can tell them if they'd be a good fit.
Ms. Spencer said it's not necessary to bring anything to the college fair except personal information if you would like to apply for the scholarships that will be awarded as door prizes.
Mr. Petro recommends bringing lots of questions.
There are a few things that shouldn't factor into your college choice. Look into your options, not your friends', when selecting a college, Mr. Burch said,
"Don't go because your friends are going," he said.
Lack of financial resources is the most common reason why students don't continue their education past high school, Ms. Knight said.
"Students don't realize that if they just make the commitment to attend, the money will come," she said.
Many students lose their HOPE scholarship the first year, she said, but there are other options for financing your college education, such as work-study programs through the schools, attending school part-time or at night, or supplementing with loans.
It's better to take out loans than not attend, she said.
Though there is lots of anxiety associated with applying for college, Mr. Petro said it can be managed by breaking up the work into chunks and asking for help.
"The more they prepare, the better off they'll be," he said.
Mr. Burch said seniors should be seriously looking at this point, but juniors should be browsing.
Underclassmen can use the time they have to meet requirements for their future, Ms. Knight said.
"This is their golden opportunity to pursue information and knowledge."
Xtreme Teen Board Members Amber Forbes and Maggie burch contributed to this report
Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.