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Meet 2-What is College?

College Basics

This Meet covers the basics of what college is and how to make a tentative list of schools you would want to attend

Why Should I Go To College?

Good question. Let me count the ways.

First, having a college education allows you to make more money. In the past there were a wealth of jobs that required mainly on the job training and had lots of advancement.Sadly, today those jobs are drying up. Increasingly the jobs with benefits, advancement, and good pay require you to hold a diverse set of skills and the ability to think critically. A college education gives you those things and the degree acts as a sort of certificate that the holder knows how to work and knows how to learn.

Second, college is a time where you can grow, experience new things, make new friends, establish connections that will last you a life time, and, if you haven’t already, discover what it is that you’re truly passionate about. College is a place where you will be exposed to a dizzying array of new and diverse people and ideas. You’ll be meeting people from all parts of the country and world, and adding what you learn to the new mature entity that is molded over the years.

Third, college prepares you to be a competent member or our democratic society. A democracy needs intelligent, worldly critical thinkers to thrive. Your education will make you a knowledgable, well-rounded adult who is able to understand the complex issues facing our society and critically analyze them.

How College Works

You’ve been going to school since you were five-years-old so you’re pretty in tune with how it works, but college is very different in some important ways. For one you’re granted a great deal more autonomy. It’s up to you to pick what classes you want, what direction you want your academic career to go, and (don’t abuse this) whether or not to go to class at all. It is assumed that you are mature enough to make it to college so you are thus treated as an adult.

General Ed

For the first two years at college you will be fulfilling what are known as “General Ed” requirements. Exactly what these are vary depending on the school but basically boil down to History, Social Science, Art, Mathematics, Science both Physical and Biological, and possibly a foreign language. These may seem familiar to you since you’ve been taking classes like these since forever. In college though, you choose exactly how you want to fulfill them. For instance there may be ten or so classes you could choose from to satisfy your “History” requirement. If you are interested in feminist studies, you could take “Women in America 1867-Present” or if you think knights are awesome take “Medieval European History”.

If you didn’t come to college with a good idea of what you want to major in, we sugest taking a broad range of classes. Many people discover their life’s passion while taking a GE they chose at random.


If you didn’t come into college with an idea of what you want to major in, you should have a good idea by the time your third year rolls around. A major is a concentration of study that you pursue to become an expert in. A bachelor’s degree is a declaration that holder possesses all the knowledge that a graduate is expected to have plus a level of proficiency in a particular area. After you declare your major most, if not all, classes you take will be in you major. The course requirements are usually a few “lower-division” classes and then 7 to 10 “upper-division”. Lower division just means that anyone can take that class, and upper division means that (mostly) only people in that major may take the class.


This is like a major, but with a smaller class requirement. People get these to complement or augment their major. For instance, a Sociology major may minor in Latin American and Latino studies, so that they may work more effectively in the Latin community. Minors don’t take as much work as a major but they are still quite an undertaking. If you choose to take up a minor, make sure to carefully plan what classes you’ll be taking and when.

The Application Process

Most colleges have their own unique applications so look forward to writing your name and address a lot. The UC system has one master application to fill out but generally you’ll have to do them individually. To find an application go to the schools website and find the “Admissions” section.

Test Scores

Schools will ask for your results on the ACTs and SATs on the application. They will also request verified proof of these results. To get these, you have to go to your school’s counseling office and request they be sent off.


Not all schools will ask for an essay. The CSUs won’t but the UCs and many private colleges will. Usually you’ll be asked to enclose one or two short essays describing some life event or turning point in your life or possibly an explanation of your core values and beliefs. It shouldn’t be understated how important an admissions essay is. A stellar essay can negate mediocre grades, just as poor essay can torpedo good grades.

Schools receive thousands of applications each year and the dry statistics so GPAs and test scores look the same. An essay lets them know who you are. They use them to get a sense of the person behind the numbers so this is your chance to show them . We’ll be helping you write an essay later in the course but don’t just rely on us. When you have a draft show it to your parents, show it to your friends, your teachers, random strangers on the street. Remember that this isn’t an opportunity to show how good you are at following MLA format. It’s your opportunity to present yourself as you really are.

Application Fees

You have to pay for the cost of processing your application. Usually it’s between $35-$60. If you filled out the FAFSA (we’ll be doing that later) then you may qualify for fee waivers.

High School Transcripts

Each school applied to will request this in different ways. Some will request them from your high school directly, while others will notify applicants when to send them in. To obtain transcripts, you must go to the appropriate office at your high school.

School Types

So now we delve into the college applications jargon. Don’t worry, it’s pretty painless. You’ll determine your “Safety”, “Match”, and “Reach” schools by going to the “Admissions” section of their websites and looking at their admissions profiles. Each college lists these things differently and it can get kind of tedious but, hey. What are you gonna do? Generally you want to look at the average GPAs and test scores for the people they admit and compare them with your own to determine if they are a safety/match/reach. Tools like CollegeBoard.org can do a lot of the leg work for you, so naturally we’ll set you up with them. But first an overview.

Check out our handy Types of Colleges


You’ve probably heard this term before. These are the schools that you are pretty sure you’ll get into based solely on GPA and test scores. If you’re on the high end of who they admit, then you can consider it a safety school.


This is a school in which you fall within the high range of average acceptance. Your scores put you in the main cohort of applicants so you’ll need decent extracurriculars and/or a good essay to put yourself ahead of the other common competition.


This is a school in which the your grades and scores fall in the low end of their average acceptance. You’ll need good extracurriculars and a stellar essay to outshine your grades. Even if you have awesome grades and everything, some schools are always reaches. Universities like Berkeley, Stanford, or Harvard are super selective so you should never consider them safe bets.

College Board

CollegeBoard.org is an indispensable resource for the college bound. Basically you feed it your information, tell it your interests and what you want in a college and it gives you a comprehensive list of colleges that fit you. We can’t stress enough how much work this site will save you.