“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”

-Nelson Mandela

After attending school for a number of years, students are sent to a different education system where attendance is no longer mandatory in order to create future leader for different fields of studies.  Online articles, videos from all over the internet to books found in your local, public library may assist you, but sometimes the relatable-ness can be quite far due to the writer and the reader belonging to different locations, it’s not always the case, but it can happen.  Therefore, prolonged research took place in order to create a college guide for students living in the Rio Grande Valley who want to attend college with the right foot which will lead to a successful, future career.

From learning about gap years, some fees, finding your dream school, and how to decide your major, “A College Guide for Students Living in the Rio Grande Valley: Part One: What You Need to Know Before the Enrollment” may be able to assist students with this information before enrollment.

So now the impatient waiting to enroll in college and be accepted has been completed, now what? There are a variety of other information students need to keep in mind before creating their schedule and understanding the financial side of college among other tips which can come in handy for a student’s first year while going to class.

This is a variety of information put together for a more fun, less debt-free and less stressful first year for college students where students will be able to learn a few more tips to help them get through.

 

While Living It

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” -Vincent Van Gogh

Full-Time Vs. Part-Time

Another piece of advice is to be a full-time student. A full-time student is a student who takes 12 college hours per semester (or more). This translates into three (if the classes are four credit hours each) or four classes (if the classes are three credit hours each.) Being a part-time student are those who take less.

Some of the benefits of being a student start financially. Being part-time usually means an overall lower balance with higher price per credit hour, but being full-time means a higher balance with a lower price per credit hour. For example, at South Texas College the credit hour for a part-time (enrolled in three credit hours) student will cost around $88, but for a full-time student (enrolled in twelve credit hours) the credit hour is at $67.

Image Credit: South Texas College

To find the prices for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, you can find an estimate price here, and for South Texas College you can find it here. For any other schools, try to locate it by going into tuition and fees on their websites.

Other factors you want to keep in mind for being a part or full-time student are:

  • Commitment toward a student’s studies; the more classes they take, the greater the commitment grows.
  • Time to graduate; the less classes a student takes, the longer they take to graduate.
  • Access to more activities for full-time students. According to Our Every Life, full-time students have easier access to intramural sports, seminars and other campus activities.
  • Part-timers may have a difficult time finding full funding since some lenders require a number of credit hours per semester for full eligibility.
  • The level of focus for a full-time and a part-time differ. A part-time has the time to hang out with friends, work more hours and take care of other responsibilities while a full-time student’s focus goes mainly toward their studies, limiting their social or working time. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time students spend 3.3 hours per day on their educational activities.

Types of classes
Once you have decided on a major, school and are ready to build your class schedule, it’s important to learn about the different options in courses that may be offered at each institution.

  • Lecture: The traditional, face-to-face class where a professor speaks the entire class and students take notes, which can be held in a theater-like room or in a small classroom.
  • Seminar: Professors meet with a small group of students which can include advanced courses and focus on special topics within the student’s major. They are more personal and students participate in the presentations and discussions more.
  • Laboratory: These are labs which are usually part of any science lecture courses where students put into practice what they have learned in lectures by completing assignments, such as a physics experiments or creating a computer program.
  • Studio: These are for students who take hands-on classes for art, theater, music, design or photography. Students will be required to do what they are studying.
  • Independent Study: Classes where a student and a professor design a study program for the student which is separate from regular courses. This often requires research projects, a lot of reading on a central theme, series or papers, or maybe a simple major paper.

Another course which is increasingly popular around the RGV and the entire country are online courses. These online courses are classes which can all be done from home, and oftentimes, most of the degree can be done online.

It’s important to keep in mind some factors when taking online courses since these classes progress more quickly and there is not a person facing you to remind you of anything unless you check regularly. After all, online courses are for learning. They, as one UTRGV professor once said, “Are not a video games.”

  • Price
    • Some online courses can be more expensive than regular courses.
    • Also keep in mind that it’s important to have internet access and a computer, if you don’t want to be driving to the library every single day and wasting gas. It’s important to invest in these resources since they are becoming a necessity for students rather than a luxury.
    • Most schools give students word processing software, but if they don’t, there’s another important thing to keep in mind. Students may also work on Google Docs and other similar word processors or free software programs. The one problem with these is that they only work online, so it wouldn’t work for students who try to finish their work at home without any internet access.
  • Time Management
  • Self-Motivation
  • Technical Difficulties

For more information about online courses, check out “Peterson’s Guide to Online Learning” at the McAllen Public Library.

Where to Live

Going off to college does not always mean you must leave your house and live on campus or find an apartment. But if you are thinking about one or the other, this is some pros and cons you want to keep in mind while making any choice when starting college.

Living at home (according to an article by The Simple Dollar)

  • Saving money on room and board, and meal plans.
  • Whether unemployed or dealing with student debt, living with parents benefits you.
  • Avoid health issues (for example, living on dorm meals, living closer to the risk of catching athlete’s foot)
  • Eating healthier and not gaining weight, compared to students who leave to go to college usually do.
  • Less distractions, more focus.
  • Depending on the relationship with parents, the emotional support may be enjoyable.
  • And there’s privacy, from using a private bathroom, having your own space, or using a washer and dryer.
  • There won’t be a unique experience.
  • Needing a car to get to school which is estimated to be $8,876 annually to maintain it.
  • There is a limit to independence.

Living on campus (per College Tourist )

  • Built in community
  • Convenience
  • More social opportunities
  • More aware of what’s happening on campus
  • Easier to furnish
  • Simple, one upfront fee and that’s it. No monthly utilizing or hidden fees.
  • Less space which means less privacy
  • Independence may be limited
  • Rules
  • More expensive
  • Missing out outside the on-campus community

Moving out of your parents’ home and finding your own apartment

  • More flexible roommate choices
  • Less moving since you don’t have to go anywhere when summer comes
  • Part of the greater community
  • More complex
  • More responsibility
  • More independence

How to Pay

Paying for school is something to greatly consider. It’s important to find means on how to pay for school either from out of pocket or financial aid. Do the research by going to the school and asking what options they have to help you pay for school. There are a variety of ways to make it happen, even if you cannot get any assistance to pay for school, schools have plans to pay for school.

Financial Aid

Financial aid consists of grants, scholarships, loans, or paid employment offered to a student to pay his/her college expense which can come from a variety of sources such as federal or state agencies, their jobs, or even foundations, among others.

If you’re thinking of getting financial aid, it’s important to know deadlines to apply, especially for FAFSA since the dates open and close and the money offered may be lowered after certain dates or be completely gone. In Texas, students are usually suggested to apply for FAFSA before March, therefore, ask your school for dates and the school code used to fill in the application. Or ask any location you might be applying to for help in paying school. It’s also important to apply whether or not you think you’re eligible to get some aid since you may be able to get federal loans or other types of assistance to pay for school. For outside aid, some scholarships can be flexible and bend the rules a little to help students since they might see something in the student.

Always get hold of speaking to a financial administrator or anyone you’re applying for as means for their aid and do not be afraid to ask any questions. It’s important to fill out all of your applications as accurately as possible, but if you don’t understand, ask someone who works there and do not guess. Try to keep record of everything you submit. This can be for future reference, accidents happen in offices since you’re not the only student applying, or in case you fill in the information next year, you already know what to turn in and how to do it. It’s important to learn to fill this application on your own.

If, for whatever reason, you cannot apply for FAFSA or any other applications due to legal status, ask the financial aid office at your institution how to apply to other alternatives. There are usually other means to get help, but at any given time, the funds may run out, so make sure to ask as soon as possible.

If you’re applying to scholarships and the quantities are small, apply to all of them. The money will add up. It’s going to be difficult finding a scholarship to pay your entire academic year. That’s one of the myths students believe which causes students to not apply to small or local scholarships when the opportunities to obtain them are greater than obtaining one which is national or a large sum of money.

Quick Tip: If you have extra money from various grants and scholarships, DO NOT spend the extra money, SAVE it to something you might need such as an investment on internet, a vehicle, phone service, summer courses (as sometimes these classes will not be paid by financial aid), or when you run out of financial aid, you have a backup, rent or even toward a future house.

Employment

One of the greatest debates is whether students should work while they attend school. In the Debate.org article, the debate is 51% who say yes and 49% who say no and their reasons as to why students should have to worry about two major responsibilities.

If there are no other ways to pay for school but out of pocket money, then working is the only option. There’s employment opportunities both outside and inside campus, it’s about connecting with the campus and asking them about employment opportunities. It does not always have to be a work-study position, although this is a great start to begin employment since being-work study means the job responsibilities are not that heavy as an outside job, but that also means the hours are low and so is the pay. If you do not qualify for work-study, there are also other opportunities. South Texas College, for example, offers direct-wage for part-time employees such as working at the library, answering phones, or other small role jobs which can get you money and experience for a better job later on. There are also students working as full-time employees in institutions since some positions are not asking for great qualifications, so this might be a possible way to pay for school. Always ask your institution for job opportunities to guide you with this.

For job opportunities, either to apply or to use as an example at South Texas College, you may go here.

Quick tip: Since we do have South Texas College and UTRGV in the Valley, studying at one does not limit you to not being able to apply to work at the other.

If you have several hours, a certification, or an associate’s degree, always mention that when you apply or keep it in mind. School districts around the RGV sometimes ask for a number of hours (usually less than 60) to work as teacher’s assistant, for example. This means you should try to find a job where you can put your certification or degree to use because this means greater opportunities and greater pay with less college loan debt.

If you’re thinking of applying outside of campus, that’s fine, most students do this, but always make sure to get a number of hours which you know will help you balance your education and job. Some students may forget why they’re working and instead of prioritizing their education, they prioritize their job, which leads them to fail or drop out. Also, always mention to the job you’re applying about your school schedule and educational duties and not lie about having a “free schedule” since this can count against you in case you’re hired and cannot follow their schedule. It’s important to find a job flexible with your hours that can help you get to school and have time to study for an exam or do your homework when you need to without getting in trouble.

And do not forget, a job closer to your field of study, the better. This will help you get your dream career easier since you will have similar experience.

Other quick tips while attending college:

  • Create your own website for employment opportunities and update it. This article teaches you how: Personal website
  • Be responsible and wake up early, you do not want to be late for college or your job. If you have afternoon or evening classes, wake up early to get your studying done. This article teaches you some hacks to wake up early.
  • Learn about note taking (this article may help you) or even how to engage in reading since college consists of a lot of reading (this article may help.)
  • Always go to class, you never know if the professor may count it against you, or may add extra points for doing it, or he might give some help for a future test.
  • Always backup your files, whether it’s an online program like Google Drive or in a USB, you don’t want to rewrite a paper.
  • Learn to do your taxes, FAFSA, and any other applications yourself.
  • Know your professors and your classmates; they may help you out when you need it the most.
  • Buy your parking permit if you’re driving and park on campus. You don’t want to be paying tickets for not having one.
  • Don’t study in your room or where there are distractions.
  • Don’t procrastinate and be responsible.
  • Be part of clubs or honor organizations.
  • Get a calendar suitable for you, small or large, and use it.
  • Use the internet and school resources to be successful at college.
  • Explore your campus and learn about the opportunities they provide.
  • Create a resume and update it often; plus always get it revised by someone professional. Institutions such as UTRGV and STC have employees to help students with this.
  • Don’t be spending if you have extra money and have paid your bills. You never know if you might run into financial problems in the future and can use that money.
  • Unless you’re done with the entire semester, it’s suggested to not be wasting your free time every chance you have when you can be using it to catch up on your homework or start with a future project, especially when having several classes which can add up.
  • Be healthy.
  • Find means to overcome stress or addictions; they can bring you down.
  • Don’t cheat and study (imagine a medical student cheating on their exams to become a doctor)

Although college may be an exciting opportunity or a stressful journey, it’s important to learn every single aspect of the institution a student will be attending since this is where they will get their experience, skills and learning. Working together with peers could help make a student’s future career more attainable and allow them to grow. One major reason college differs from high school is the fact high school is obligatory and college is not. College is the place where a student is attending to learn to be able to bring something into their community. Whatever career a student is after, it’s important for them to do it with passion and not be doing it for the wrong reasons. As Aristotle once said, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”