How to Choose a College Major

By Erin Harrigan-Schober

How to Choose a College Major - Lighthouse College Planning

Someone once told me that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.  The other day I read a quote that said “In order to figure out what to do with your life, pick something you’re interested in and combine that with something you’re good at.” The advice is endless. 

According to’s 10 point checklist, you must first pick a major based on:

  • Your abilities
  • Your interests
  • Your values
  • Your passions
  • You must then ask yourself the following questions:
  • Will I still enjoy this for years to come?
  • Is it employable?” (Or Hobby worthy)
  • Will this job be around for a long time?” What is the projected growth in this industry?
  • Does this job pay well? Is there opportunity for advancement in this industry? 

If you still don’t arrive at an answer after asking all of these questions, you may wish to consult a personality profile quiz or interest inventory to match up your strengths and aptitudes with careers.  I have found these quizzes to be very helpful and fun when you might not know where to begin. Many schools now allow students to choose a “meta-major,” which groups traditional majors under an umbrella that spans whole fields, such as business or STEM.

If you’re still struggling with what to pursue as a major, it always helps to consult with someone who is paid to help you make decisions on a college campus: your advisor.  If he/she isn’t helpful, then you may wish to meet with a career advisor, who can determine what sort of intervention you may need to get you closer to a clear cut path. If that doesn’t bring you some clarity, the tried and true practice of discussing with friends, is probably the most natural conversation to gain some insight and connection from.  When all else fails, and if this wasn’t your first option, talk to your family member; mom, dad, brothers, sisters… the people who know you best; who know what you’re good at and may have some experience of their own to impart for you to determine your path. Again, the choice is yours but it can be as arbitrary or focused as you choose.  Dig deep and ask yourself “What is going to make me happy and make me some money”? And if you can answer those questions, then you’re already on your way.

How Work-Study Works.


Lighthouse College Planning Student Work Program

Do you want to get paid to sit at a desk and do your homework?  How about giving tours on a campus that you love? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then work-study is for you!

In order to understand how work-study works, let’s first identify what work-study is.  According to here is a quick overview of federal work-study:

  • provides part-time employment while you are enrolled in school to help pay your educational expenses
  • it’s available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students with financial need
  • the program emphasizes employment related to your course of study whenever possible; however, students are typically responsible for getting their own work-study jobs
  • it’s administered by schools participating in the Federal Work-Study Program, check with your schools financial aid office to see if your school participates

Sounds like a no brainer right, here’s how to apply:

When you fill out the FAFSA form select the box on the application that you are interested in being considered for the program; however, this does not guarantee that a work-study option will be included in your financial aid award nor do you have to accept work-study aid.  Colleges award work-study funds based on the following so apply early:

  • availability of funds
  • other financial aid a student is eligible for
  • student financial need

How Work Study Works -Lighthouse College Planning

Money, money, money…

At this point, you might be wondering how you get paid or how much?

With a work-study job, you are typically at least guaranteed minimum wage that you can use towards your tuition, fees, room, and board or day-to-day living. If you’re still not sure, gaining work experience of any kind while in college is very important so take advantage of the work-study opportunities available at your college.

*information obtained from and

Is Community College Right for Me?


Well…. That depends.  There are many variables that go into making the all-important college decision.  But most of all, the question at the heart of the answer lies in your academic, social and financial reality, along with your aspirations.  Are you a student that might not have it all figured out right now but know that you want to do something grand with your life?  Are you being realistic with what you may be striving for or are you shooting for someone else’s dream?  Because 9 times out of 10, you may be wasting your time if your heart isn’t 100% committed to it.  Do you just know in your heart that you are going to be a doctor or lawyer or some other profession that is going to require 6 or more years of schooling? Do you have financial hardship that may make it impossible for you to pursue that reality? If so, then community college could be a good fit for you to get some of your general education requirements out of the way for less money and then you could move on to a College or University once you get into your more specialized classes.  The great thing is nowadays, attending community college doesn’t have to mean staying at home and missing out on the “college experience”. For every college student out there, there are just as many maturation, financial, geographical reasons for pursuing your degree at a community college or far from home.  And if you do decide to go far from home, you may also find yourself taking classes at both the community college and university.  One student of mine is doing just that at the University of Hawaii at Hilo until she gains residency status, in order to offset the out of state tuition price tag. Another student was just shy of getting into the program she wished to enter at the University of Illinois at Champaign.  So the university had a program that allowed her to take classes at Parkland, the community college in the neighboring town for her first year, and then segue with all of her credits intact, into the program of her choice… again with a lower price tag than if she attended U of I for her Freshman term.

And finally, another student of mine whom I found a bit challenging because it was as if trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  The schools and majors of her mother’s wishes were not her own and every meeting with both of them, brought about frustration and dead-end planning. It was finally when I got to meet with the student alone that the truth came out and what was revealed was enlightening.  She didn’t want to pursue any of the paths that her mother was pointing her towards… and her grades and interests didn’t fit with those paths either. It was only when we spoke separately that she revealed creative, varied interests of her own that could be pursued at the community college or at design or fashion institutes rather than a traditional 4-year college.

Whatever the case is for you? Listen to your gut.  Yes. Sometimes you need to be pushed and No at 18 you are not expected to have all the answers … but know yourself.  Be confident in your voice that can guide your way and don’t feel as if you must compete on a stage that isn’t truly yours.  Why make it harder on yourself doing something or going somewhere when it doesn’t feel 100% right? Because even when it is the right path for you, it is going to be a long, sometimes difficult road, until you feel completely confident and successful in your chosen field. Know thyself! And good luck!

Common Student Loan Mistakes

College Financial Planning

Taking out student loans tends to be a “given” for many students, and a given you feel you don’t need to think about until after college.  While that is partially true, do not make these mistakes:

  1.  Using a student loan to go to a college that expensive.  A good way to think about it is this:  the amount of money you are going to making in your desired profession is going to be quite similar.  What is not always similar?  The cost of college.  Once you know the average salary you are going to be making once you graduate, you should calculate your average monthly loan payments.  Choosing a less expensive college can mean the difference of paying off your loans years before a more expensive school.  Hello nicer house, nicer car, nicer vacations!
  2. Using a student loan to pay for unnecessary things.  Student loans should be used for tuition, room & board, fees, and books.  Anything else you’re thinking about spending it on?  Really reconsider.  The late-night pizza trips to the mall and alcohol has a heavy interest rate you are going to have to pay back.  Also, once your loan money runs out, what are you going to do to earn your degree?  Any money you have leftover is a major bonus to paying your loans off, in a shorter amount of time.
  3. Not knowing how much money you are taking out and if your career will be able to pay back those loans.  Is any of this worth it? You have to research. Here is a great resource to help determine what your monthly loan payment will be, after graduation:  Remember, when you calculate your monthly payment, you also should be looking at the low average salary you will be making (after all you will just be starting your career), and also calculate how much it will cost you to live (rent, bills, insurance, groceries, etc.).  I know what you’re thinking, ‘my whole salary will be going to bills!’ Not if you take out and use only what you need, and please remember to see item #1.
What Should Students Do In Summer?

What Should Students Do In Summer?

By Brooke Carleton


Most of us do it every year. countdown to summer. What’s not to like: warm weather,
vacations, adventures and having fun with family and friends. Why not take advantage of your
vacations and time off to visit and explore new cities and colleges. Whether it is a school you’ve
always dreamed of visiting or one you have never heard of, it is a way to start to build your
college list and narrowing down a school that is perfect for you!
Don’t have a ton of time to get away with your family? That’s okay, there is still a ton of stuff
high schoolers can do over the summer that are fun and can also be proactive, see some ideas
Research specialized high school programs to participate in
Get a job
Apply for internships
Volunteer in your community
Find a job-shadowing opportunity
Start test prep
Look into college visits
Obviously, each summer you’re going to have different college planning tasks to work on, so lets
break it down. Are you a senior, below are some things you should be doing:
-come up with your college list
-contact the schools on your list: visit them and show interest
-be/get organized!! Know your deadlines.
-test prep for ACT/SAT
-begin to brainstorm for your college essay
Even as a sophomore or junior, you should be using your summer wisely and work on the
following during your break:
-start or continue to build your college resume; get involved and take advantage of opportunities
that come your way
-visit schools
-research college majors
-test prep
-focus on core and AP courses in your class schedule
You should definitely take some time to relax on your summer break after months of hard work,
but don’t forget to participate in some activities that will show colleges who you are as a person.

College Roommate 101

Two Girl College Roommates Eating Pizza - Lighthouse College Planning

Living with someone else can be very challenging especially if you have never met the person and did not have much say on who you would be living with. Colleges and Universities will take measures to try and match you up with your ideal roommate but living with someone else while you are figuring out how to be a college student can still be challenging. Here are 3 tips to help you and your new roommate have a successful first year of school.

  1. When you fill out your housing form, and roommate form be brutally honest. The form will ask you questions about your study habits, sleeping habits, and social habits. Make sure that you explain exactly how you are and exactly how you hope your roommate will be. For example, if you are a morning person then explain that you will get up early which means that you will want the lights off by 9:00pm. If you can’t fall asleep until your roommate is also trying to fall asleep then specifically say that. Many roommate arguments happen over the use of space and how you both schedule your time in your room. So, do your best to specify your needs and wants.
  2. Create a roommate contract. Some schools automatically require these within the first week of school, but if your school does not require it do it anyway. These roommate contracts will help you guys discuss how you will use your room, and what your schedule will look like. If you do not want your roommate to borrow something without asking, make sure that is in the contract. If you want the room quiet by 9:00pm on school days then say that.
  3. Compromise. Living with someone and sharing space is all about compromise. You might not like the same tv shows as your roommate, that’s ok, discuss times when you can use the tv and when your roommate can use the tv. If there is something that is a non-negotiable for you or for your roommate then make sure that is something that you write down in your roommate form and roommate contract.

Living with someone is all about communication. Learning how to communicate with someone can be difficult but if you follow the above steps that should help. If for some reason you are having problems with your roommate, like they are going against the agreed upon contract, or putting yourself or themselves in physical, emotional, or mental harm then tell someone. You have a Resident Advisor/Community Advisor (RA/CA) for a reason. Set up a meeting with them to discuss your concerns, and they should be able to advise you on how to handle the situation or explain the process for switching roommates if it comes to that. It is okay if your roommate does not become your best friend, but if you learn how to communicate and share a space with someone you should have a successful year.

Decoding College Lingo

Lighthouse College Planning - Decoding College Lingo

Higher education comes with its own rules, culture, and even its own language. If you have not been to college in the past ten years it has changed a lot. There are so many acronyms, and politically correct ways to say things that can cause a lot of confusion when you are trying to figure out if this is the right school for you or not. Here is a breakdown of some of the terms organized by the campus department, which will hopefully help you navigate your college visits but also your first year of school.


Academic Advisor: He/She will help you pick out classes, determine your major, and make sure you are on track to graduate.

Career Counselor/Coach: He/She will help you determine what your career should be if you are undecided, they will also help you with finding internships and jobs, as well as, help you with your resume and cover letters.

TA: Teaching Assistant, is a graduate or doctoral student that will assist the professor with grading, teaching, and tutoring.

Academic Warning: If your GPA dips below a 2.0 for a semester you will be given a warning for a semester allowing you to increase your GPA so you aren’t on probation.

Academic Probation: If you have not increased your GPA from above a 2.0 in a semester you will be given one more semester to increase your GPA before you will be academically dismissed from the school. If you are academically dismissed, you are no longer allowed to return to school due to your GPA being below 2.0 for a full year.

SAP: Satisfactory Academic Progress is when a student is able to stay at or above a C average without failing out of to many courses, which shows that they are making progress towards graduation. If the student is not showing progress, then their financial aid can be taken away from them. If this happens they can write a SAP appeal letter stating why they are not progressing in school, in hopes to receive their financial aid back. Each school has a different SAP policy, so make sure you understand the policy before you start your education.

Student Success: An office on campus with professionals that will help you with studying techniques, time management skills, and other skills required of college students to be successful. This is a free service.

Tutoring: This service can be offered through the Success Office, Library, or Disability office. There will be students available to help you understand your college material and provide you with either one-on-one help our group assistance. This is a free service.

Writing Center: Like tutoring this support center will have either students or staff assist you with your papers, including content, grammar, and formatting (i.e. APA, MLA, etc.). This is a free service.

DRC: Disability Resource Center, or sometimes called the Disability Office. This office supports students with diagnosed disabilities including physical, learning, and mental health. They uphold ADA laws and regulations at the college to make sure that students receive the education and services they need to be successful. This is a free service.

General Education Requirements (Gen Eds): The basic classes you need in order to graduate. These courses will include some form of composition, communications, philosophy, foreign language, a math course, and a science course.

Add/Drop: Within the first two weeks of school, you can change your class schedule as much as you need to without being penalized. If you decided to change your schedule after the determined date then that course will go on your transcript, even if you stop attending.

Withdrawal: You can withdrawal from a course at any time but the grade, withdrawal notice, or incomplete will be noted on your transcript.

Registrar: This office registers students for classes, they will also put holds on your account if you missing something which would not allow you to register. They also will provide you with your transcripts.

Supplemental Instruction (SI): Some course will be deemed very difficult with a low success rate from the institution, which will then allow the college to provide that course with extra support for the students. SI instructors are students who have taken the course successfully, will be trained in a variety of study techniques, will attend the course, and then will provide additional instruction in and out of class to help students grasp the material and pass the course. This is a free service.

FERPA: This law allows the student to have full control of what they want their parents or people within the institution to know about. This means that if a parent calls the school asking to talk about a grade and the student hasn’t signed a waiver allowing this, then the school cannot even confirm that the student attends that institution.

HIPPA: The law allows the student to have complete control over their medical information. Meaning that faculty, staff, and parents can not gain any medical or mental health information on the student unless the student signs a waiver.

Student Affairs

GA: Graduate Assistant are Masters or Doctoral students who are working in various departments on campus.

OSA: Office of Student Activities is where students can find clubs and organizations to join. Some schools might have this office under a different name.

CAB: Campus Activities Board, is a group of students under the direction of a staff member that will provide campus-wide events for the student population. Some events include comedians, musicians, beginning of the year campus approved parties, ect.

Bursar: This office is where you go to pay your bill. It is different from financial aid, although they do work together on resolving students financial accounts.

First Year Experience, First and Second Year Experience (FYE, or FSYE): This office is in charge of making sure that first year students (or freshmen) are getting involved and being retained at the school. They will have mentoring programs, events, and will sometimes offer a course called first year seminar that a student can take for college credit that is all about transitioning and being successful.

Housing and Dining

RA/CA: Resident Advisor or Community Advisor is a second-year student or upperclassmen who enforce housing rules, plans events, and assists with any student problems.

Hall Director or Coordinator: This is a professional full-time staff member or a graduate student who is the supervisor of the RA/CA. They will deal with any problems that the RA/CA can’t handle, and students can always go to them for help.

Student Conduct: This office is to follow up on any rules that the student broke in housing or academically. They hold students accountable to the handbook, and will enforce the necessary punishment for breaking rules. Many of these punishments will include fines and meetings with a variety of campus staff depending on which rule was broken. Students can also volunteer to be on hearing boards, which will listen to student cases and determine if the student is responsible for breaking that rule or not.

Housing Form/ Roommate Contract: This is the form that you turn in when you put down your deposit which declares that is the school you have chosen to go to. This form will also serve the housing staff in finding you a roommate. Make sure you are honest about how you live in a space and how you want someone else to live in the space.

Emotional Support Animals or Service Animals: By ADA law, a school cannot turn away a service animal if you have documentation proving why you need the animal and that the animal as finished service training. Some animals can be labeled as emotional support which means that they do not need special training, but the student needs to provide proper documentation stating why this animal helps with their emotional or mental health disability. These animals can live on-campus even if the school has a no animal policy.

ID Card: This is your lifeline. Your card will be your proof of identification at the school. It will contain your ID number which you will need for classwork and filling out forms. It will also contain your money for meal plans, and sometimes money for the laundry machine, and printer. Some schools will also require that you have your ID to enter buildings as well.

Meal Plans: Some schools allow you to choose from a variety of meal plan options including how many meals you get a week, or throughout the semester, and if you can have extra spending cash attached to your ID that you can spend at different dining areas on campus.

Flex Dollars or Bucks: Also known under other names, but it is the extra cash attached to your ID that you buy food with on campus and at some off-campus locations depending on the school.

By: Paige McConkey