Before You Enroll – A Checklist

Setting foot on campus for the first time is one of the most intimidating moments of your college career, or at least it was for me! I parked my car, got out, looked around, and wondered: what now? If you don’t know what you’re doing, enrolling for the first time at a California Community College (CC) can be a long, arduous, confusing, and frustrating process. If you do know, it is much more bearable.

Here is a checklist.

1.     Learn About & Choose Your CC

2.     Submit Your Financial Aid Paperwork

3.     Apply

4.     Take the Assessment test

5.     Go to Orientation

6.     See a Counselor

7.     Register for Classes

 If you would like more information, scroll down for details on each step.

1. Choose & Learn About Your CC

Different Community Colleges offer different programs and have different strengths and weaknesses. Choose one that meets your needs. I chose my CC based on proximity, because I was still living at home and enrolled in high school when I began taking classes. However, if you can choose from multiple schools, consider these factors:

 Programs – Pick a school that offers the program you want. This will depend on your goal. Do you want to transfer? Earn a certificate? Go into a specialized program? For example, my college (Lassen Community College) has one of the top gunsmithing programs in the nation.

California’s CC’s offer 135 different degrees, certificates, and programs for you to choose from. Explore the college’s web page to learn what it offers and what it specializes in (performing arts, agriculture, nursing, etc).

Location – Cost of living varies across the 112 CC’s, as do other lifestyle factors. Some colleges are urban, some are rural. Some are big, some are small. Some are on the coast, some are inland.

My college was one of the few CC’s to have dorms. Personally, I have never wanted to live in the dorms, but if you do, Lassen Community College has them!

You – Every CC is different. It’s one of the beauties (and frustrations) of the system. Find the college that fits you. Look at extra curriculars, campus climate, and other factors that are important to you.

2. Submit Your Financial Aid Paperwork

FAFSA.

No, I didn’t just sneeze. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. CC’s are cheaper by far than any other institution, but at $46/unit they are still expensive (and getting more so), not to mention other costs like housing, travel, books, etc. You may qualify for help from the government in paying your tuition. Fill out the FAFSA to find out.

The FAFSA can be filled out online [http://www.fafsa.ed.gov]. You can also submit it in hard copy, but come on, save a tree! In California, the deadline is the spring of the year you enroll. E.g. if you are enrolling fall of 2014, submit your FAFSA in the spring of 2014. The deadline for the 2013-14 academic year was March 2nd. The application becomes available on January 1st.

To fill out the FAFSA, you will need:

·      your Social Security Number (or your Alien Registration Number, if you are not a U.S. citizen)

·      your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned.

·      bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)

·      records of untaxed income (if applicable)

Additionally, you can apply for scholarships. Local scholarships are generally less competitive. Your CC’s Financial Aid office can help you with all of this. Call or visit them!

3. Apply

Once, Community Colleges were open to everyone. Unfortunately, this is changing. Now you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent to be eligible.

Because the requirements are still broad, the application is more of a formality than anything.

You can apply in person at the college, or online at cccapply.org. The time it takes to process your application varies by college.

4. Take the Assessment Test

Before you enroll in classes your college will give you an assessment test so that you can be accurately placed in English and math. You will need to call to set up a testing appointment. Bring with you a photo ID, such as a drivers license.

It is important to do well on this test and be placed accurately. If you test below college level in math or English you will need basic skill courses, and you will need to complete these courses before you enroll in most classes. This can set you back several semesters.

Students who enter CC’s 3 or more levels below college level have practically no chance of graduating.

I’m not telling you this to scare or discourage you. I’m telling you this because its true, and you need to be prepared. I don’t want you to become part of that statistic.

Most CC’s use the Compass test. You can find sample questions and more information at there website: http://www.act.org/compass/sample/index.html

If you do test below college level, don’t give up. 75% of students need basic skills courses in math or English (I did).

Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to get these classes. Here at The Olympus Project we’re working to create more resources for you. Stay tuned!

5. Go to Orientation

At orientation your college will give you a general overview of everything: how different processes (like signing up for classes) work, what clubs you can join, tips for success, campus tour, etc. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this step, but students who attend orientation are statistically more successful than those that don’t. Go!

Also, the point in the registration process at which you go through orientation varies. I made it number five in this list, but it could have been six or seven just as easily.

6. See a Counselor

Counselors are awesome. They are there to help place you in appropriate classes, choose and reach a goal, and help you through any other challenges you face. Make an appointment or find out when drop-in hours are at your CC (look at the website or contact the college for this information).

Counselors are awesome, but they are also human. When you see a counselor, keep these things in mind:

Workload: thanks to budget cuts counselors are responsible for far too many students [stat]. Especially at the start of the semester, counselors are swamped with placing hundreds of students in classes in just a few days.

Despite their best intentions, your counselor may not have the time to fully understand your needs and situation. They may make a mistake (who doesn’t?). You need to be your own advocate. Know what you need and make sure you get it.

Knowledge: Your counselor might not be familiar with your goal. As I mentioned, one of the things my CC is most known for is gunsmithing. I’m an English major. When I walked into the counseling office and said I wanted to transfer to a UC, my counselor said, “Hmm, I’ve never had a student do that before. I’ll have to brush up on it.”

Counselors are there to help, but you are the one who is going to have to take an extra semester – or more – if you don’t get the right classes, so you need to be informed. Do your homework!

Your counselor will help place you in and approve your classes. Then you will be ready to enroll. Yay!

7. Register for Classes

The moment you’ve been waiting for! I’ll keep this one short: at most CC’s you can register in person or online. The process varies from college to college, but you should be shown how to go about it at orientation.

This article was created for you by Kate.

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Posted in All, Year 1

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