Things You Need to Know

By Monika Marescaux

So, you have just received or will receive that all-important form. What form you ask? You know, the one that requires a list of the post-secondary schools you want to attend. Oh, the horror! Decisions, decisions. A bit overwhelming, isn't it? You may be wondering how it can be a good thing to feel as if you have a mirror ball, representing a myriad of emotions, swiftly spinning around in your head.

Let's try to think about it in a slightly different way. Each emotion is reacting to several different feelings of anticipation. For example, you may be excited at the thought of moving out and finally gaining independence, but feel a simultaneous surge of fear gripping your heart every time you think about leaving your friends, family and all the other things you love.

All of these feelings mean you are exploring possibilities. Each emotion centres on an image you have and continue to create in your mind about all the potential 'what ifs.' Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. Possibilities mean choices and choices translate into opportunities. Your future is in front of you now. Embrace your emotions and inform yourself.

Before you finalize your decision, read below to find secret bits of knowledge that will not only make your decisions easier, but also help you through what many veteran students describe as 'first-year hell.'

1. Get the Lowdown from Family and Friends
Inquire about personal experiences, ask questions, and begin formulating a general idea of what you want.

2. University, College or Career College?
Where do you see yourself in five, 15 or 25 years? If you have always wanted to be an aircraft mechanic, college is your best choice. On the other hand, if your dream is to become a cardiologist, you might want to find universities with medical schools. Generally, colleges and career colleges offer career vocational training in a shorter period of time (usually one or two years), whereas universities and university colleges offer liberal arts programs, advanced degrees, and professional programs. These can take anywhere from three to ten years, depending on the program of study. Whatever you decide, remember the decision is yours to make. Input from family and friends should help guide your decision, not determine it.

3. The Master List
Take a moment and write down all the reasons why you want to further your education. For example, do you want to go away to school? If so, why? How often do you want to visit home? Do you want to live in the city or in a rural area? Is residence guaranteed? Will you be able to afford it? Also, does size matter? The school population will often have an impact on class size, the number of athletic programs available, the type of programs offered, and the number and diversity of clubs and activities available on campus. Asking yourself these types of questions will keep you focussed and guide you towards a clearer understanding of your wants and needs.

4. Research Can Be Fun
At this point, you should have an idea of what you're looking for. If you're unsure, don't worry; finding out which schools are best suited towards your needs will not be too daunting. After all, you have a wealth of information right before you. Check out the listings in this book and evaluate program offerings, resources etc. Hey, maybe you'll even discover a great school you previously would never have considered.

Alternatively, visit Web sites, glance at national rankings, and talk to people who are currently working in your field(s) of interest. You can find national rankings in Maclean's Magazine. Once every year, Maclean's publishes a comphrehensive report, ranking Canadian Universities according to categories such as graduation rates, entering grades, and faculty ratings.

5. Tours, e-Tours and Orientations
You've read about the schools and got a glimpse of what they look like, but have you seen the inside of the lecture halls and student centres? Believe it or not, tours, multimedia e-Tours and orientations are not only a great way to get a feel for a school, but also a fantastic way of matching your list and expectations before attending. A huge listing of e-Tours can be found at http://www.SchoolFinder.com. Further, most schools have on-going campus tours available throughout the year. Don't forget to ask as many questions (including the silly and what seem like embarrassing questions) as possible. When the tour ends, wander the campus, scour the bulletin boards, and grab student-produced materials like newspapers or magazines.

6. Housing Dilemmas
If you're feeling the urge to 'get out there' and live on your own, you might want to consider a few things first. For instance, do you find the thought of sharing your space unsettling? If so, a roommate may not be a good idea. Consider factors such as application deadlines, availability guarantees, meal plans, shared accommodations, atmosphere, roommates, safety, and co-ed housing. If you're going to live there, you must find out if you will be entering the halls of heaven or hell. If you're not terribly impressed with campus living, off-campus housing is always available. Why not pick-up a listing at student services and visit a number of different places. It's definitely an excellent way to explore the surrounding town or city and its 'scene.'

7. Financial Woes and Possibilities
Finding available funding sources can be a hassle. If you know where to look, you might be able to reduce what seems like a never-ending pinch in your wallet. First, try to determine what the total cost of your education will be. An approximate idea of the costs needed to cover tuition, books, living expenses, and all the 'hidden' expenditures should be considered. Secondly, try to locate potential scholarship opportunities. A good place to start is http://www.ScholarshipsCanada.com, Canada's premier scholarship Web site for post-secondary students, where you can match your own personalized profile settings with available awards. It's quick and easy, and a great way to get your hunt underway. Other avenues to consider are provincial loans and loans granted by financial institutions. Finally, if your school has a career centre, inquire into work/study programs. A large number of schools offer a variety of cool opportunities for students to work on-campus in a wide array of departments.

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