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X Marks The Spot: Selecting your Target Schools

A “target school” is a term used in college preparatory services to identify academic programs that a student either qualifies for, or nearly qualifies for, and will apply to, either for college, graduate school or a post-graduate program.

Target schools may either be a “safety”, “reach” or “super-reach” school for the applicant, once all program requirements and program characteristics are taken into consideration, and compared with the test scores, grades, coursework, degrees earned, and other qualifications of the applying student.

Consider your future unknown school as Pirate Treasure (“X Marks the Spot!”), and the most-important map to discover that valuable treasure is the planning process you will undergo when selecting the best possible schools for you.

Build your treasure map to your golden school by considering all of the factors in the list below. Selecting your target schools is the first and most important step in achieving your educational goals and achieving your life treasure: your education.

Evaluating each school or academic program for the following factors will allow you to:

1) fine-tune your goals;

2) minimize application costs; and

3) help you devise the most realistic and informed plan when applying for an academic program.

The Golden Education Checklist

Admissions Requirements
Fully understand all minimum requirements for the school, including grade point average (GPA), standard and advanced test scores, coursework, degree requirements, and more.

Consider the geographic location of the school, including distance from your family, weather, housing options, and distance from job opportunities. Many educational programs have established relationships with local firms and other employment opportunities.

For example, Harvard may be a far-reach school for you, but unless you can receive a scholarship for attendance, consider the loans you will need to take out to attend the university. Follow your dreams and understand that you education will very likely allow you to increase your salary once you are employed, but take cost into consideration for the sake of your financial security. Consider loan options, scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and more.

Length of Program
Is the program a 4-year program, 2-year program or less? How many months out of the year will you be required to attend the program? How many hours a week? Taking all of these time factors into consideration will allow you to consider your own goals. Do you seek a full-time school or part-time program that will allow you to work full-time or part-time? Take time into consideration so that you can make a well-informed plan as to how your education will play into your “life calendar.”

What classes make up the degree curriculum? Does the program focus on theory or practice? Does the program tend to lean more towards engineering and less towards science? Understand all of the complexities of the degree you might receive and consider how that knowledge will affect your future profession. What skills and knowledge do you hope to master? Considering program coursework will help you leave the program as the master you initially hoped to become.

Faculty & Advisors
Professors are perhaps you greatest resource in an academic program. Who are the professors that will be teaching you? Who are the men and women that will pass along to you the knowledge you will receive in your field of study? Are you informed on their work? Students often find that they will attend a particular academic program for the reason of working with a resident professor.

Depending on your topic of study, research can play a great part in your future potential as a professional in the field. What research programs does the program provide alongside or after the curriculum? What centers are affiliated with the program?

Program Prestige
Your alma mater could land you that future job: A school’s name may be worth your attendance, as some schools maintain a tight-knit “honor code” for graduates. Research a school’s reputation not only to discover how it can help you, but also how it can hurt you. Some schools are known nationwide to be “party schools”. You may think a school is cool, but do your research to ensure that’s a generally accepted opinion. Some school’s tainted reputations could affect your ability to land a job.

While you may have already evaluated the cost, also make sure to research scholarship opportunities. Scholarships and fellowships not only can possibly save a student money, but they can strengthen your post-school résumé. Fellowships from university departments can add prestige to your CV and increase your opportunities for networking outside of a program’s department.

Are you an athlete? Is sports an activity that you require to stay happy and healthy while you are attending an educational program? Consider a school’s athletic departments in your sport of choice. Your team might just be the “make-it-or-break-it” factor for you when selecting your future school.

Clubs & Program Community
Extra-curricular activities, clubs and your school community are valid considerations when looking at academic programs. Some clubs or activities, such as the school paper, could be vital for your success after school. Consider what activities and clubs are important to you, and then research what a school offers in that realm. Some university community-run organizations have worldwide prestige that could really muscle up your chances for professional success.

Student Population
Do you prefer a school with smaller class sizes, or would you rather be a member of a 6,000-person freshman class? Take into consideration the size of a university and how it may affect your education, including the ability to work directly with professors.

Degree Qualifications & Accreditation
Does the program meet your country’s requirements for teaching? Does the program allow you to enter graduate or post-graduate school? Is it a Bachelors Degree program or only a certification program? Make sure you know what degree you will receive from a particular academic program, and ensure that it will meet your requirements for your future professional plans.

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