The Next Big Step: College

Are you trying to decide where to go to college or still need to apply? Read these tips that I lived by during the college admissions process to help make your decision more clear.

It’s getting to be that time of year for the seniors in high school to ask themselves one of the biggest decisions in life: Where do I want to go to college?

Some of you might opt for the military or go straight to work in a trade. Those are viable options and jobs that need to be done. Unfortunately, I really can’t help those of you who decide on one of those options.

But for those of you who do want to go to college (and most Pine-Richland kids do), I have a bit of advice that will come in handy while making your final decision.

Let me start by saying that I really hated when kids who had just spent their first semester at college would come back to the high school and brag about how they were set and the only advice they had to offer was “get good grades and work hard”. 

Gee, thanks, I never thought of that. I assumed I was supposed to put in the bare minimum and hope that they could just feel how awesome I am from that application that only lists my grades and SAT scores. 

My philosophy on when I see an issue is that complaining won’t fix it, but actions will. So here I am, one of those kids that just finished his first semester at college. I did go back to a Pine-Richland High School for Past Graduates Day to see if I could help any of you with questions. But there was a large panel and I wasn’t able to say everything that I felt was useful due to time restraints.

Hopefully in this blog I can help steer a few of you who are unsure on how to make your final decision. I'll share a few things that you may not have thought of yet.

I know I just said that I hated the kids who said this, but for the sake of this blog being all-encompassing, it is important that you get good grades. There is a difference, however, from getting a good grade in a regular class compared to an AP class.

As some of you already know, a college will ask how many AP/honors classes you took. With this in mind, it really is important to push yourself in the subjects that you’re interested in. I took several honors and AP courses in history and English back in high school since I knew I would be getting into the liberal arts field.

I’m awful at math so I just took the basic level because that was all I could honestly comprehend. So if you’re an underclassman at the high school scheduling for next semester, please think long and hard about challenging yourself in courses. If you can handle the challenge, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

Speaking of scheduling, I’m going to say something that may sound bizarre but can honestly work for those of you who are liberal arts minded like me: Don’t take math or physics as a senior if you don’t plan to use it toward your major.

Now if you plan on being a doctor, scientist, engineer, or any other profession that would use those classes, by all means please schedule them. But as a liberal arts student I can honestly say I don’t regret scheduling more history classes instead of math and physics.

The upper level math class that you would most likely have to take as a senior is really geared toward a math profession and is useless for a historian or writer. The same goes for physics.

The guidance counselors will try to get you to schedule them and will say that they’re needed, but they aren’t. Take an AP history or English and learn something that will actually help you. 

I was still accepted to Penn State’s main campus (University Park) because I took classes that I wanted to take so I had much higher grades in them. If you aren’t sure, just contact the college or university to which you are interested in applying and see what they have to say.

As for college applications, I took what many would consider a risky path. I only applied to one school. I knew that if I didn’t make it into Penn State's University Park, I would definitely be accepted to a branch. I knew where I wanted to go and figured that applying elsewhere was not necessary after visiting several schools.

That was the key though; I visited several schools before I made my decision. No matter how nice the education is, you have to realize that you will be living there for the next four years.

If you have a few places you are interested in, you had better go visit the campuses. I thought that I would like the Behrend branch of Penn State until I visited. To me, it was a desolate wasteland of cold. Plus that branch was more geared toward science majors.

I then visited the Harrisburg branch, which has a great U.S. history program and was an overall nicer campus. I looked outside of Penn State as well, but fell in love with the place when I visited University Park and knew that was where I wanted to go.

If you aren’t sure on where you want to go yet that’s fine, just go on visits and talk to the students there about the campus. A great education will be difficult to appreciate if you are miserable with your living conditions.

My last bit of advice is that you really need to do a great job on that essay that many schools will ask for. I understand how difficult that can be for some of you. My record low on a math test was in trig during my junior year. I got an 8.5 out of 42 (I had a concussion at the time, but if I didn’t I may have gotten a 13).

Point being, we all have things we’re good at and things we aren’t good at. You might be an incredibly gifted math student but have never had much luck in English class.

There’s no shame in that, but it’s important to know how to write effectively so you have to communicate with other people in your future place of employment. This is also the admissions office’s first impression of you. If you don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re, then you will not make a good first impression.

There is hope, however. Mr. John Dolphin is an excellent English teacher at Pine-Richland High School who will work with you regardless of whether you’re in his class or not.

He did a writing workshop over the summer specifically aimed toward helping students learn how to write a powerful essay for college. Those of you who have him for class know that he’s a tough teacher who won’t just hand you an A. He doesn’t do that out of some sick enjoyment of seeing you struggle; he does it so that you really work hard and learn how to be a good writer.

Because of his AP class, I was already a proficient writer for college. I passed my honors freshman composition class at Penn State with an A- largely because of him. So if you need help writing, don’t be afraid to talk to him. He’ll actually tell you how to get better.

You may like a teacher who just hands out an A for completing an assignment, but are you really learning anything? Talk to Mr. Dolphin, listen to what he has to say, and I can guarantee that you’ll have a great paper for your applications. 

Picking the right college is not an easy decision, but if you follow the tips I put in this blog you’ll be on the right track to finding the right college for you. Please leave any questions in the comments or email me at djm5818@psu.edu if you’d rather not ask on a public message board. I’d be more than happy to answer your questions.


Full Disclosure: Daniel Micco is the son of Pine-Richland Patch Editor Cindy Cusic Micco, who is forever grateful to Mr. John Dolphin.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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