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Going from High School to College in the United States

Each year hundreds of thousands of American high school students prepare to enter colleges and universities in the United States. The process of going from high school senior to college freshman is one filled with challenges and opportunities. For most young people it is a time of change and personal growth. The reasons for going to college are many, but for several there is a desire to seek intellectual development in the hopes of gaining successful employment in meaningful work coupled with higher wage earning potential. However, for all applicants there are many decisions to consider and challenges to overcome in making the transition from high school to college.

Preparing for College and Getting in
Americans are very future-oriented and applicants to college have many things to consider long before their senior or final year in high school. Even in some junior high schools, guidance counselors help parents and students plan future classes. However most high school students planning to go to college will take basic courses in math, science, English and others to meet the college or university's requirements. Other important requirements may include the student's cumulative grade point average (GPA) based on grades earned in high school. Other colleges and universities consider membership in teams or organizations outside of class. In addition, most schools require applicants to take a national college admission and placement examination which assesses the student‘s ability to complete college-level work. The two most popular exams are the ACT and SAT, which test the applicant's abilities in English, mathematics, reading and science. A written test may be administered, too. If the applicant is not a permanent resident or citizen of the United States, he or she may also be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Finally, the applicant may have an interview at the college or university as part of the application process.

Financing College
Most families in the United States pay for their children's college costs through a combination of savings, current income, and loans. Gift aid from the government, colleges and universities, and private scholarships also help pay for the cost of going to school. Families often participate in college savings plans to help prepare them for the costs of tuition which have risen sharply in the United States. In addition, students and families often apply for federal assistance through federal loan programs (Stafford, Perkins) or grants of free money (Pell) as well as from private banks. Students also apply for local scholarships from businesses and foundations.  A smaller number of students consider careers in the military in exchange for financial support from the U.S. Armed Services. While in college, many students work part-time jobs on or off campus to help supplement their finances.

Choosing a College or University
In deciding where to attend college, high school students make some basic choices. Does the school offer a degree program and/or coursework in their chosen major or minor field of study? What kinds of out-of-class activities and campus organizations are available? What kinds of facilities are available? What is the school's reputation or ranking? What are the requirements for entrance? What is the cost of attending? Where is the school located? Is the college coed or diverse in population? These are questions that often involve school guidance counselors, family, teachers, coaches, friends and the institution itself, which usually offers walking tours of the campus, promotional materials, and meetings with faculty, staff, and alumni to aid the process. In the end, it is the student who must decide the institution is a good match or he or she may seek to enroll elsewhere.

Being a College Student
Once in college, students become acutely aware of how and when they are evaluated. Colleges on the semester system (12-16 weeks period) evaluate students on exams, labs, projects, essays, and research throughout the period but midterm exams (given half-way through the term) and final exams (given at the end of the term) are always expected. Students generally experience a greater amount of homework and "cramming"or all- night sessions to prepare for tests. The increase in workload exceeds that experienced in high school. In addition, for many students, going to college is the first time living away from home. While this new-found freedom provides the opportunity to be more independent, there is also more demand on the student's time including more opportunities for involvement in campus organizations and social events. Students may also work part time to earn money. All of these mean students feel more pressure to manage their time while maintaining their grades. The transition to college can also mean living in a large city for the first time, living with a roommate, cooking on your own, facing personal choices with regard to alcohol or relationships, and finding one's personal identity. The experience of going to college is often a transforming experience for young adults.

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