“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” -Malcom X

While attending 14 grade levels (from Pre-K to 12th grade), students are taught to become responsible individuals where the ultimate goal is to become professional scholars when they first step into college. Although few students are given guidance as far as what or what not to do, or how something should be done, because some tips might be seen as “too obvious.” No one ever mentions them to students, but for a student to obtain a successful first and final semester at the university, they need to be guided as much as possible in every aspect.

Throughout the years, books such as The Latino Student’s Guide to College Success by Leonard A. Valverde, Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions by Sidonia Dalby, The all-in-one College Guide by Marty Nemko, Broke!: A College Student’s Guide to Getting by on Less by Trent Anderson and Teens’ Guide to  College & Career Planning: Your High School Roadmap for College and Career Success written by Justin Ross Muchnick, are some of the many guides on shelves for both students and parents to read and learn how to have a successful journey at college. Although, there is no better guidance than firsthand experience with someone with similar backgrounds due to the variety of cultures, nationalities and colleges, among other factors in the country.

Therefore prolonged research took place in order to help a variety of students living in the Rio Grande Valley by providing some information from before enrollment which you can

After a prolonged research, the creation of this article has come to be as a guide for students living in the Rio Grande Valley who want to attend college, start a successful first semester and continue a victorious journey throughout their college career.

This is the first part of  “A College Guide for Students Living in the Rio Grande Valley” where the main points discussed will revolve around some valuable information students can grasp before enrolling in college and know more or less what the college life is all about.

In the Beginning

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

Gap Year

Whether a student graduated with a high school diploma or with an accompanying associate’s degree or a GED, (as these are the most received forms of graduation around the Rio Grande Valley), if a student wants to further their career the most recommended advice students are given is to go right into continuing their education after their graduation. If they want to take a gap year, the recommended amount is a year. The American Gap Association says, “… 90% of students who take a gap year return within a year.”

In an article by Jennifer Miller, titled, “The Academic and Career Advantages of Taking a Gap Year” she states the following,

“Data tell us that many graduating seniors are not prepared for the university environment and don’t have clear direction concerning their career path. According to a report published earlier this year by YouthTruth, only 44.8 percent of students surveyed feel positively about their college and career readiness. And almost 40 percent did not agree that their high schools have helped them develop the skills and knowledge they need for college-level classes.”

Therefore, according to these articles, the alternative is a gap year for students who have no sense of direction as to what they want to pursue in college, especially to those students who already have their basics done and end up accumulating extra credits which might just lengthen their college years, use up and run out of any financial aid or waste money.

Some of the positive results of taking a gap year are the following, according to Miller’s article:

  • Students who return from a gap year tend to have higher GPAs than those who did not.
  • It helps students maintain consistency and not jump around with switching majors.
  • Helps them find employment and are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
  • Students who spend their time volunteering while on a gap year tend to be more appealing to potential employers.

Other benefits according to Global Citizen Year are:

  • Developing life skills
  • Discovering hidden passions
  • Preparing for college
  • Making lasting friendships
  • Breaking down classroom walls

Therefore, if a gap year is needed, then a student should take advantage of it as long as they check with the policies of the institutions of their choice and do not overdo it with the length they go, since the longer the gap grows, the longer it takes for a student to graduate, or the less likely is the student to return to school.

The excessive credit accumulation can cause a problem for students to graduate. In an article by Complete College America, “Time is the Enemy” their extensive research led to this discovery:

Image Credits: Complete College

The state of Texas is trying to work on this issue by colleges and universities charging more for repeated or exceeded courses. For example, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, they have the message below on their Tuition and Mandatory Fee Plans.

Image Credits: Tuition and Mandatory Fee Plans

Not to mention that students who obtain any type of federal or state aid, cannot be taking classes outside their field of study, as federal or state aid is only eligible for the courses which fall under their major. To those who take courses irrelevant to their major, their aid will be affected, or even removed completely. For more information about this topic, ask the student’s school as soon as possible. Taking random classes is NOT a thing.

How to Find the Perfect School

Everyone in the Valley goes to UTRGV, South Texas College or an institution like Kaplan College, but a student should not be limited to only these options. There’s an entire country to be explored, but if students decide to stay either for financial purposes, not wanting to leave home yet or other reasons, a student must learn about the schools before anything.

According to an article by I’m First, their list for the types of colleges offered in the United States are as follows:

  • Basic four-year colleges which offer bachelor’s degrees in some fields of study to undergraduates or a four-year timetable. Some of these colleges are only specialized in one area of study, for example, technology. The academic quality is higher than a two-year college.
  • Basic universities offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates degrees, which are often larger than colleges with better reputations.
  • Community colleges are a two-year “gateway” to earning a bachelor’s degree from a college or university or offer an associate’s degree like South Texas College.
  • Nonprofits are institutions who don’t seek to make a profit which have lower dropout rates than for-profit colleges. These schools are usually more expensive, but they still offer financial options.
  • For-Profit institutions cater to older students with established careers and seek specialized training. The business model is different from a traditional college or university, as for-profit institutions are in business to make money and can be publicity traded on domestic stock exchanges.
  • For example, the University of Phoenix and Strayer Education.
  • Online Colleges and Universities are more affordable and can be taken from home and do not offer traditional campus-life experienced. They require discipline for self-motivation which may not be suitable for everyone.
  • Trade schools, also known as, vocational schools, offer specific training such as nursing or carpentry and carry a high employment rate after graduation. These schools offer graduates an associate degree, certificate or training.

After decided what type of institution the student wants to attend, it’s important to collect other information from each school. Some information may include:

  • Accreditation:
    • This can apply to students who want to attend a graduate school, especially those who need degrees in medicine, law or education.
    • Students who must attend an accredited college to receive financial assistance.
    • Students who are thinking of transferring later to another college.
  • Majors and degrees the institution offers
  • Location
  • Cost
  • Financial Assistance
  • Admission Rate
  • Admission Criteria
  • Graduation Rate
  • Flexible scheduling options: weekend classes? Online classes? Evening classes?
  • Class size: what’s the ratio of students to teacher?
  • Campus facilities: Do you need a campus computing center? Do they have it?
  • Academic Support Resources: for example, some schools offer tutors.
  • Career Services: Some schools can get students opportunities they had no idea existed. Although work-study is an option for students who receive Financial Aid, some colleges can also help students work at the college in other manners, for example, South Texas College has direct-wage employees which are not work-study, but something similar which means similar pay, similar hours, similar duties.
  • Job Placement Rates.

For more information on these questions, you can find the article by College Quest here.

Quick Tip:

Arrange a campus visit if possible, or if it’s not possible, schools can mail or email you information about the school, you can also learn about the schools via their websites.

Always get your hands on a college catalog (either digital or paper) from the institution of your choice, or if you have already decided on the college, you must get it and READ IT. This is where all information will be found about the courses from charges, credits to degrees they offer which no one will tell you unless you ask. Therefore, if something were to happen and the catalog mentioned it, you, the student, is at fault because students are expected to have read it from the catalog. If your choice is South Texas College or want an example of a catalog, you can find STC’s here.

What to Major in?

It’s important to choose a major. This way, you know what degree plan to follow to get your schedule done. Some things to consider before choosing your major according to Scholarships.Com are:

  • Learn about your passion to start with a possible major.
  • The earning potential of your interest.
  • Schools that offer the major and their locations.
  • How much it will cost and how will you pay for it?
  • Determine what areas of your life you are the most successful at.
  • Learn about the work load.
  • Speak to people who have the major you are considering.
  • Career options with the major.
  • Financial incentives.

This student had no other source but to ask the community in Yahoo! Answers to understand the simple process of how stepping out of class works. For the sake of students who do not know the answer, the response to this is “no, there is no need for a student to ask the professor to step out of the classroom.” Students are mature adults able to take care of business on their own without having to ask professors. It is professional of a student to take care of any business, which might require stepping out of class, before class even starts. If the student has no other option but to step out, they need to quietly step out and try their best not to distract the professor or the rest of the students. Some professors may deny students to leave the lecture at all due to the distraction which it might cause for everyone. Image Credits: Yahoo! Answers

Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse at some quick information about college which may be of help, you can continue on, or perhaps still need more information which “A College Guide for Students Living in the Rio Grande Valley: Part Two: What You Need to know  After the  Enrollment” may able to help with or perhaps other sources. In this second article, topics such as the financial aid, employment, tips while attending class among other topics will be discussed which could come in handy.

College can be an entire new journey, and it shouldn’t be confusing and stressful. Your only worry, in fact,should only be passing your classes and not where obtain financial aid o where to get a job or how.  After all, this is your future you’re working towards which could change your life entirely which could turn into another important day of your life. As Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”