College vs. High School: What Students Should Expect

The move from high school to a college campus is exciting but can also feel a bit intimidating. To help students prepare for the change, here is a short list of some of the main differences they may encounter when entering college:


  1. Class size: The big difference that most students already know about is the difference in class sizes. Class sizes in high school are generally around 30 to 35 students, whereas a class or lecture in college can have more than 100 students.


  1. Homework: Another great shock in college is the large amount of homework that has to be done outside of the classroom. Many classes assign chapters of reading weekly and the majority of it is not discussed in class but is included on the tests. Many students will not realize that all of the reading is required at first, which can make succeeding in the first few terms of college a challenge.


  1. Grading: Depending on the class in college, grading can vary greatly. Usually, grading is a standardized process in high school and all graded papers are returned, however this is not always the case in college. Sometimes a student can go a whole term without seeing any of their grades on their assignments. In general, professors expect students to be proactive in keeping track of their own grades.


  1. Testing: In college, tests are far apart and cover a large amount of material, as opposed to high school where tests are more frequent. Additionally, many professors do not specify what points or topics to study for a test; they expect students to study all of the material.


  1. Technology in the classroom: One of the biggest and most exciting changes for students making the transition is the sense of freedom. Most professors allow laptops in class and cannot monitor the whole classroom for the use of other devices. It is up to the student to pay attention and take notes, especially when professors do not post lecture notes.


  1. Attending class: Another aspect of freedom that many students find themselves battling throughout college is attending class on a regular basis. Lives get busy and students believe that class is not always necessary. It is good for students to keep in mind that college is expensive and also voluntary. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure they are getting as much out of it as possible.


  1. Graduating on time: One of the most challenging aspects of graduating college as opposed to high school is graduating on time. Students have full control of the classes they want to take and what to major in. This is a great time to explore, but most students do not realize early on that they are responsible for keeping track of which classes they need to take to graduate. Campus advisors are a great tool and are available to help with a graduation plan, but the student needs to take the initiative to make the appointment.


  1. Time management: Students manage their own time. It is important for them to be smart and remember why they are attending college.



Helping Students Make the Big Decisions: Selecting a Career, Major, and School.

Over the course of their lives, students today are expected to change jobs and/or careers several times. To have many options available to them in the job market, they will need some type of education or training after high school.


How do you help create a roadmap to their future?

ASPIRE volunteer mentors walk students through the process of identifying interests and selecting a career, major, and school. It all begins with these steps:


  1. Identify Interest Areas. Many students may not be sure what they want to do after high school. For these students, ASPIRE mentors will help them identify interests and skills they want to develop.

    Use these tools to help find occupations that match skills and interests of students.

  2. Research Career Profiles. There are endless job titles and career paths out there. Along with encouraging students to take advantage of job shadowing opportunities, helping them research and read career profiles is a great way to determine if a specific field piques their interest.

    Use these resources for helping students research career profiles.

  3. Select a Major. While many students will select a major before they enter college, it is not uncommon for students to finalize a major after their freshman year of postsecondary education. Sometimes majors change even after they’ve plotted their path. Either way, choosing a major can be an important factor in determining what type of schools students apply to and select.

    Use the previous research of identifying interests and career profiles to help a student with major selection.

  4. Choose a School. There are many options for education after high school, and although students may have preconceptions that this means only attending a four-year university, it may not be the best option to achieve their goals. Below are different types of schools to choose from:
  • Four-Year Public Universities
  • Four-Year Private Universities
  • Community College
  • Technical/Vocational Programs
  • Career Schools
  • Apprenticeships

To learn more about the noteworthy features of each type of school, review this list with students to help narrow their focus.

Housing, fees and, saving on books

ASPIRE Tips: What is The Real Cost of College?

What to Consider When Budgeting for College and How to Save


There are many costs associated with attending any college or university. Of course, the easiest is to identify the biggest – cost of tuition, but there are other expenses to consider when thinking about your financial future.


These costs can include:

  • Education Expenses – Tuition, fees, books and materials, and supplies.
  • Transportation Expenses – Car expenses and insurance, parking, public transportation, trips to home, or commuting.
  • Living Expenses – Dorm or apartment rent, utilities, telephone, furnishings, food, and laundry expenses.
  • Personal Expenses – Entertainment, restaurants, sports, medical expenses, gifts, and emergencies.


Saving on books is an important skill to learn before college. The cost of books can easily add up to hundreds of dollars each term. Sure you need to have the right books for your classes, but here are a few tips to help save you from breaking the bank:

  • Is the book a required text? Many professors are required to list all books they use as reference throughout the term. Many may just assign just a small section, or sometimes the book will be available at the library.
  • Buy used. Generally, textbooks are updated every year with the latest edition. Sometimes, the newest edition only has slight changes from the previous. Compare editions and see if you can buy an older one for less.
  • Buy online. Many times you can find the same books available at your campus bookstore online for less. Sites such as com and are good places to search for your books.
  • Rent your books. For most, the freshman year consists of taking general academic classes. For these classes, you might consider renting your books. Renting a book is cheaper than purchasing to own and is fairly easy. Check out com for more information on renting textbooks.
  • Sell Back. Each term, decide what books you’d like to keep as future reference and sell back those you will no longer use. Generally, your campus bookstore will hold special “buy-back” days for you to turn in your books at the end of the term.


For more information, ask your ASPIRE mentor to help you determine your costs and identify money-saving tips.


One-on-one financial aid award letter review

ASPIRE Tips: Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters

Ask Your ASPIRE Mentor For a One-On-One Review


After submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will receive a financial award letter from each college or university to which you applied. These letters are aimed to detail each financial aid package from the individual schools.


What is a financial aid award letter? Financial award letters outline each financial aid package available from individual schools. It is a collection of financial aid from multiple resources and is meant to help fill and estimate the gap between your expected family contribution (EFC) and the cost of attendance.


What do you do with your award letters? The best answer is to bring your award letters to your ASPIRE mentor for a one-on-one review. Award letters are intended to help you narrow down your school search by assessing the best financial options, but, since there is no standard format for financial aid award letters, they can be confusing.


When reviewing your financial aid award letters, here are a few things to keep in mind:


  • Cost of attendance. Some schools may define the cost of attendance differently than others. They many include just tuition and fees, but fail to include room and board, or they may include room and board but fail to include tuition and fees. Others may include room and board, tuition and fees, but do not include other costs such as personal expenses and books and supplies.
  • Deciphering acronyms. Financial aid award letters may use their own acronyms to help identify items in your financial aid award package, without explaining which are grants, loans, or work-study. It is important to identify which components are included in your financial aid award letter to determine the terms of each.
  • Final Decision. You can pick and choose which awards you would like to receive. If you are able to cover your cost of attendance with scholarships and grants, then you might decide not to take out a student loan, even if you have been awarded one.


For more information about evaluating your financial aid award letters, talk to your ASPIRE mentor and review these tips on understanding each letter:

How to Craft a Memorable Essay

A major factor in a student’s scholarship application process is to craft compelling essays that demonstrate their unique skills, interests, and achievements. Knowing how to craft an effective essay is one of the keys to giving students the best chance at earning scholarships.


Before a student’s essay review, here are a few questions they should ask themselves:


  1. Is it original? No two applications are alike and scholarship boards will recognize immediately if it does not fit their requirements. Make sure each essay follows the guidelines for each individual application.
  2. Did you answer the question? Many applications will ask you to answer a question in your essay. Make sure your writing answers the question. If the question has more than one part, be sure to address all components.
  3. Are you passionate about the topic? Choosing a topic that is meaningful to you helps give passion to your writing. Your objective is to convince someone else that they should invest their scholarship in you – be passionate.
  4. Is your essay memorable? Scholarship boards receive hundreds of applications – what stands out about yours? Does it emphasize what’s unique about you?
  5. Check and double-check your grammar and spelling. There is nothing worse than spending the time to write a well-crafted essay and have a few spelling errors ruin its merit. Don’t just use spell-check to review your essay. Print it out, read it backwards for spelling errors and have a respected critic review your writing.

For more tips on creating effective essays, download this Checklist for Submitting Applications and Essays.

Scholarships, Academic Plans, and College Selections.

Thinking About Going to College? It’s Time To Get Serious!

ASPIRE Gives Tips for Planning, Selecting the Right School, and Paying


Planning on attending college in the fall? Now is the perfect time to make sure you are on the road to success.



Here are a few things to keep you on-track this month:


Seek out scholarships. Your ASPIRE mentor will help you determine which scholarships will best benefit your situation including identifying those specific to your interests, career and education goals, background, and school of choice. Scholarship deadlines vary, so make sure to keep on top of deadlines for each.


Create an academic plan. This month, your ASPIRE mentor will help you create an academic plan. When colleges or universities consider your admission, they look at your experience as a whole picture – including your interpersonal and leadership skills, GPA, awards, volunteering, and other accomplishments. One of the best ways to increase your chances is to work toward these goals, whether that means increasing your grades or joining extracurricular activities, your ASPIRE mentor will help you identify key goals to pursue.


Make a decision. Selecting a college or university is a big decision. Your ASPIRE mentor can help you with each of the steps below to help narrow down your choices:

  1. Schedule a campus visit
  2. Use ASPIRE tools to compare and contrast schools
  3. Compare financial aid packages and award letters


Your ASPIRE mentor will provide you with the tools and resources to make the best decision for your future.


Downloadable college comparison charts are available, here:

Senior Year at a Glance: Putting Students on the Road to Success

For high school students heading into their senior year, September is the perfect time to start setting goals and plans for after graduation. Working with an ASPIRE mentor, students can start the planning process early-on, making the road to college or university a bit easier and less stressful.


To make sure students are on the right track, here are the basic deadlines and goals to follow during the final year of high school. These are the general tasks for students to follow each month (Refer to the Coordinator Handbook materials for more in-depth details):

ASPIRE Student Tracker


  1. Meet with an ASPIRE mentor
  2. Research options (colleges, universities, vocational schools, etc.) and begin to narrow down options
  3. Check priority application deadlines for schools
  4. Register for SAT and ACT tests



  1. Begin work on college application essays
  2. Fill out request forms for letters of recommendation to give to teachers, counselors and/or employers
  3. Research college fair dates and locations



  1. Get the FAFSA worksheet and begin work now on gathering necessary information
  2. Start researching state, school, and local scholarships
  3. Begin working on scholarship essays



  1. Start working on the OSAC scholarship application
  2. Continue working on the FAFSA



  1. Complete and submit the FAFSA online
  2. Keep grades up! Colleges pay close attention to grades in the second half of senior year



  1. Check with colleges applied to for verification that they have received all necessary documents
  2. Finish any scholarship essays
  3. Stay on track to submit the OSAC scholarship application



  1. Submit tax forms to colleges’ financial aid offices
  2. Keep on top of scholarship deadlines
  3. Attend open houses or preview days for schools


  1. Narrow down school options based on major, career interest, and personal preferences
  2. Review financial aid award letters from each school
  3. Attend any scheduled open houses or preview days



  1. Check the status of OSAC scholarship application online
  2. Be mindful of deadlines for accepting financial aid awards
  3. Finalize plans for summer school or summer jobs
  4. Write a thank you note to your ASPIRE mentor and school counselor



  1. Request final transcript to be sent to the school they’ll be attending in the fall
  2. Send thank you notes to any scholarships they’ve been awarded