More than College Credit

As seniors take on applications and college visits, some can’t help but thinking about the reputation of the school.

They’ve noticed your SAT scores, and they think you’d be a good fit for their school. Colleges are reaching out to get people to attend their school, but just getting a promotional ad in the mail isn’t enough. When looking at schools, there are more decisions to make than just the top five reasons listed on a copy-paste letter.

Deciding on your plans for after high school is a giant and terrifying decision for high school upperclassmen, but one that everyone must make. Not all students plan to attend school after graduation, instead choosing to dive right into the workforce, or have another year to think about their future. Those who choose to continue their education have differing requirements and requests for a college or university, so no one is looking for the same things.

One thing that is consistent through the decision process is that everyone has an opinion, and some are pretty common. There is a stigma attached to attending a community college, or a school that’s been deemed a party school, making students avoid those schools. Similar things happen to anyone who plans to attend in state schools or out of state. But some, like senior Natalie Susa, have a reason for wanting to leave the state.

“I really wanted to go to New York, and I think it’s the perfect place for my art career,” Susa said. “I really like the schools in New York, a lot [more] than the ones in Pennsylvania.”

In many big cities, there is a large art culture, but New York is one of the most well-known. With multiple large art museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and the Broadway theatre district, culture can be seen all across New York City. One thing that Susa was looking at specifically is where the school was located.

“That they were in New York,” she said. “That they had my major, such as art education and the studio arts. That they had big dance studios so I could dance and I could join the dance team and stuff like that.”

NYU campus Photo courtesy: Natalie Susa

“For me, one of the main advantages is being able to stay around my family,” Schwartz said. “I wasn’t one of the people who wanted to just go real far away, and get away. Especially having little siblings, just being around my family is important.”

Not everyone has dreams of the big city, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t dream big. Schwartz wanted a school with a good reputation in the programs she was looking at.

“I’m interested in being an optometrist, so having a good science program and a good acceptance rate into graduate school is important,” Schwartz said.

While both Susa and Schwartz have plans to attend a bigger school, senior Rena Caruso doesn’t have the same plans.

“I’m not 100% set on a major, so it’d be better to start at community college,” Caruso said. “[It’s better to] get my basic classes [done], and transfer to a bigger college [later]. I’ve also been offered the starting position as pitcher as a freshman for the softball team, so that’s kind of influencing it.”

Some students are motivated to attend community college because of the lower costs compared to other universities and colleges. Mrs. Laura Klipa, school guidance counselor, has some other reasons for students choosing community college.

“For me, one of the advantages is being able to stay around my family”


“Some motivating things I see are cost,” Mrs. Klipa said. “Some students are very aware of how much that they’re gonna take on and what other options are. Some other factors are majors offered. Where is the major offered, what school, does it lead to post-graduate programs? The other thing I see is some students have location preferences. Some want to stay behind, be close to family, others want to get out of here, go as far as possible to [try to] have more independence. I think there’s also factors like athletics, and sometimes that ties in with the financial situation because they know that they’ll get a bigger award at certain locations.”

Students seem to pass up the opportunity to attend community college, despite the lower cost. Some see it as a lesser option to a big university, thinking that the programs won’t be as good. Others think they could do better than community college.

“I didn’t [think about community college],” Schwartz said. “I figured I kept my grades up and I thought that I could get some sort of scholarship money.”

While attending community college can save money, some think it won’t grant you the same college experience others would get by attending a bigger school outside their hometown.

“I think a lot of people just want a new experience, and community college doesn’t always [have that],” Susa said. “[With] colleges out of state, and sometimes colleges in state, you’re going very far away and you’re living on campus. That’s a better experience for me. In my opinion, community college is more just a continuation of high school.”

Attending community college seems to be the minority opinion for first-choice schooling. Students would rather attend a four year school from the start than start at community college and move up from there.

“[We have the] class of 2017 information, we didn’t look at last year’s yet,” Klipa said. “Now this is self-reported information. So when the seniors graduate, at graduation practice, we have you report to us what your post secondary plans are. Whether they actually go and do this or not, I’m not 100%, but at one point in time, about 20% of that class, the class of 2017, reported that they were going to go to a two year school.”

Many might avoid community colleges just because they’re local, and there’s not as big of a sense of adventure and independence that going out of state, or across state, can give. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a good option for schooling, though.

“A lot of people think community college is bad because it’s less expensive and it’s not well known,” Caruso said. “It’s just within your community. Nobody’s going to travel across the country and go to WCCC. For me, it feels like a good option.”

Even if community college isn’t the final plan, there are still ways to use the school to help save money in the long run.

“You see a lot of students take some general credits over the summer, even if they’re attending a major university,” Klipa said.

By taking general education courses over the summer, the time spent at a bigger school wouldn’t be used up taking them. This way, the classes that you take in college can be what you’re majoring in.

When deciding on a school, cost is an important factor. Saving money where you can, whether with scholarships or by attending summer classes, is ideal. There are many different factors that go into picking a school, however. Decisions should be made based on what you want out of a school, not what other people want for you.

“I think you need to visit the school multiple times, different times of the year,” Klipa said. “Talk to people that are in session, alumni, check out the programs of study, check out the housing multiple times. That’s really how to make the best decision. I don’t think a reputation is something you want to make that big decision on.”

Every school can’t have a clean reputation, which can discourage a student from applying. Even if a school has a good reputation, others can influence your decision based on their own experiences, whether good or bad.

“I heard a lot about NYU, and the fact that it wasn’t the greatest school from my cousin,” Susa said. “She said ‘they’re so bad there, they kick students out’ and all this stuff. ‘They’re really mean there, and you’ll like Sarah Lawrence a lot better.’ I looked at NYU anyways, and I did enjoy it, but I didn’t like it as much as I liked Sarah Lawrence, surprisingly. I was originally thinking of NYU.”

“I hear they’re not very strict on alcohol and stuff like that, or at least it’s not as strict as it could be”

— Natalie Susa, ’19

One type of school that tends to have a bad reputation is one that gets the title of a party school. Some students decide to avoid universities that are known as party schools to avoid that stigma, while others don’t care.

“I think just being around that would probably get you more involved in that kind of lifestyle, and take away from your studies,” Schwartz said.

A party school is a college or university that has a reputation for alcohol and drug use, or a culture of reckless and promiscuous behavior. There are reasons that colleges gain this reputation from students, however. They aren’t just given to any school that has a party.

“I mean, for IUP, I hear a lot, especially from friends that are going there, that their classes aren’t hard at all,” Susa said “They’re not being challenged and that’s even more reason for them to go party. I hear they’re not very strict on alcohol and stuff like that, or at least it’s not as strict as it could be. I feel like [it’s] just reputations and things you’ve heard, stuff like that.”

IUP is one school in Pennsylvania that many know solely as a party school. The reputation discourages some people from attending, with the fear that they’ll get involved in the party scene, and it will take away from their studies.

“I’ve heard some [students] say that with, say, IUP,” Klipa said. “[However], I’ve seen a lot of students go there and have great experiences that [weren’t] influenced by any of that.”

Whether or not attending a party school draws you away from college courses is up to the decisions that are made. If the goal is to focus on studying and maintaining a certain grade level, then students should take the steps to keep it that way.

“I know personally, I would go to school to go to school and not party,” Caruso said. “That’s not the type of person I am.”

While attending a party school doesn’t seem like the best idea, that may be the school that works best for you.

“It’s like shopping for shoes,” Klipa said. “You’re looking for the best fit. What’s comfortable, what kind do you like, what’s your style. It’s really just individualized. Each person has a different set of preferences [and] expectations. It’s just what fits the person’s personality. That’s why I think getting out and going to college, everyone wants that after high school. That’s why it’s more desirable at times than going to a two year program, or going straight to work. You’re kind of getting to try on that pair of shoes, try on that independent lifestyle, see how it feels to live in this life, or this setting that you think is going to meet your personality preferences.”

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