College: A Real Opportunity for Lifelong Success

College can be worth the time and the cost. Over a person’s lifetime, a college degree usually leads to an additional $1 million or more. However, you should be smart about what college should be and how to get the most out of it.

The first thing that students need to realize is this: college is not like middle school or high school.

In college, they don’t tell you every course you have to take. You have choices. Over the four years of college, you will take between 30 and 40 classes. For each of these classes, you may have 25 choices from which to choose. You can select classes that you enjoy. Imagine that every class you take is fun! People study and work much better when what they’re doing is fun.

In college, you have much more free time. Colleges treat you like an adult, not like a prisoner. The education is more than what you learn in a classroom: it also comes from your activities, from the city surrounding the college, and especially from the other students.

In college, students grow and evolve. It’s the first time away from home. It’s the first time experiencing a larger place. It’s the first time encountering classes and majors that middle schools and high schools don’t have the time or resources to show you. College students make lifelong friends and business connections, learn about themselves and about the world, and experience things you’ve never imagined. College isn’t to prepare for a job; it’s to be educated and prepare for life.

Most families with limited money think that college is too expensive, or that a local or public university is the only reasonable economic choice. This is wrong. There are college options that you probably don’t know about.

Private universities, from the Ivy League to those you have never heard about, are usually LESS expensive than public universities.

When you consider not just tuition, but dorm room or apartment, food, insurance and other expenses, studying at a Florida public university like the University of Florida or Florida State University will cost about $15,000 to $20,000 each year, even with the Bright Futures scholarship. However, at Harvard University, even if your family earns $200,000 each year, the overall cost is usually lower than the cost of a Florida university. In fact, at Harvard, if a family earns less than $65,000 each year, the entire cost is free. That’s not a loan; you don’t repay anything.

If you can’t afford a private college, financial aid will often pay for everything. That’s because private colleges make money by selling the research they do and from receiving donations from their alumni graduates.

So, please don’t reject the idea of going to college because it seems too expensive.

Of course, a student has to be selected by the college. Public or state universities select students in a different way than private colleges do.

Public schools pick students by relying mostly on tests scores (SAT or ACT) and grades. Private colleges look at every aspect of a student – including academics, activities, and even human qualities – to select the strongest, most well-rounded students.

Parents need to realize that they should do more than just push students to get the best grades. Parents also need to support students in their activities outside of the classroom. The best colleges will care everything students do.

So what types of things should students do? They should do what they enjoy, what they love. Follow your passion! Students do better in things that they enjoy, and the colleges are looking for success and performance, not just participation. In addition, enjoying an activity means that a student is more likely to be happy and do better in class.

Do not worry if your family does not have money, or if your parents did not go to college. For the best colleges, doing well when you have less can be a very positive thing! Students who are born into rich families don’t have that many challenges to overcome. The personal “stories” of first-generation and lower-income students are usually more interesting to colleges.

We want students to go to college, but not because other people do, and not just to find a good job. When placed into the right environment, people do amazing things. I want our young people to do amazing things.

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