It’s that time of year - the holidays are right around the corner and you’ll be on holiday break very soon. You want to think, “Finally! A break! I can’t wait to stuff my face with food and veg out on the couch.” But, alas, you begrudgingly know the truth - you’ll be spending time finishing your college applications. All six...or 10...or 20...or 30 of them.

If you haven’t even started thinking about college - don’t fret! This quick College 101 guide will help you get a move on.  

Only 6, or Double-digits?

It’s a fact: students are applying to more and more colleges in hopes of ensuring that they get in somewhere. The Common Application makes it easy to bump up your application counts - though your (or your parent’s) wallet may feel the burn. If you’re a student that’s applying to 10+ schools -- more power to you. Though, it’s kind of crazy to think that any one of those schools is as good of a fit for you as any other. That’s why people suggest applying to six schools. In fact, a lot of people suggest six. Hopefully, one or two of those schools is your Dream School.

Okay, but which 6.

There are over 4500 degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States -- this includes over 1700 2-year colleges (i.e. community colleges). Wow. How do you even start narrowing it down? Being organized is key - as is figuring out what’s important to you. Where you’re going to spend your next two or four years is a big decision. Don’t freak out.

Here are eight criteria to help narrow down your list:

  1. Major/interest

  2. School type (public, private)

  3. School size (big, medium, small)

  4. Location

  5. Stuff outside the classroom (sports, student clubs, theaters, greek life)

  6. Special programs/opportunities (study abroad, internships, summer research, etc.)

  7. Alumni network (yes, something to consider now because networking is important)

  8. Cost / financial aid

Shoot for the moon and you’ll land on… stars made of money?

So, you’ve applied to six schools: 2 safety, 2 matches, 2 reach. Avoided these common college application mistakes. You even bought the sweatshirt for your two dream schools. You’re currently in phase 8 (out of 10)...waiting for those letters.   

In 2011, the average acceptance rate across 4-year colleges and universities was 63% for private colleges and 66% percent for public colleges. Not too shabby - definitely better odds than Katniss had. However, if you had your heart set on one of those Ivy League schools, perhaps you better get your bow and arrow ready.

If you’re one of the supremely lucky ones, you’ll get into your Dream School, not have to take out any loans, and have some of the best years of your life at college. For the rest of you, hopefully you get into your Dream School and now just need to figure out how to pay for it all. For those of you that don’t get into your Dream School… keep reading. There’s still hope!

Another way to the moon → 2+2

You got in - but there’s just no way you can afford $8,600 - $29,000 in tuition per year (depending on the type of college) because your financial aid package just isn’t quite enough. That price tag doesn’t even include costs for room and board, books, personal expenses, or transportation -- eek. Or, you didn’t get in, and now have to figure it out.

Here’s a potential solution: a 2+2 program at your local 2-year college (aka community college).

If you’re like a lot of people, your initial reaction is either: “Ugh. No.” or “Hmm. Maybe?” But stay with us.

A national honors program at 2-year colleges

Not all 2-year colleges are alike - just like not all 4-year colleges are alike. Some 2-year colleges have honors programs and one-on-one transfer advising to help you get to your Dream School. Oh, and by starting at a 2-year college -- you’re saving 60% - 80% on the cost of college tuition for the first two years.

This is the exact reason American Honors exists.  We don’t think it should cost an arm and a leg to get a good education.  And we don't think students should have to choose between affordability and quality. American Honors let’s students graduate with honors, save money, get a personal transfer advisor, access a national transfer network of awesome 4-year schools, and meet some awesome people while doing it.

Win. win. win.

Authored by Ruthana Seng

Ruthana helps high-potential students achieve their dreams. She writes about the college application process, from how to pay for college to how many schools to apply to in the first place.