Learning curve

Bridges Project for Education: Helping young lives unfold


There are many paths for a life to travel and just as many ways to learn. Upon completing high school or a high school equivalency/GED program, you may enter into the workforce, engage in community service, adventure to parts unknown, pursue higher education or choose some other path. Perhaps you are already working or had a gap in your education. You might hope to make a career transition, improve your earning power or your knowledge. Bridges Project for Education works to help future college students like you - whatever your circumstances, finances or goals.

While Bridges recognizes that a college education is not a requirement for happiness or success in life, statistics show that higher education typically benefits individuals (nytimes.com/2014/05/27/upshot/is-college-worth-it-clearly-new-data-say.html). But applying to college can be complex, daunting and unfamiliar, especially for those who are the first in their family to pursue higher education - first-generation college students like Duke University senior Thomas Tafoya.

A Taos High School graduate, Tafoya came to Bridges for help in staying on track through applying to colleges, scholarships and financial aid. He said, "Working with Bridges really helped me to bring forth the best application that I could." Read more about Tafoya in Bridges' "October Spotlight" (bridgesproject.org). Bridges' individualized, comprehensive college counseling provides students and their families with the support that most benefits them. Even better, our services are free.

In September's "Learning Curve," we explored factors to consider and ways to research colleges. Today, we look at the kinds of colleges where you might apply.

Vocational and two-year community colleges are an economical and streamlined way to acquire a new profession or begin a bachelor's degree. They are usually open admission, accepting all who apply. They can offer a supported transition into college, skills sharpening and flexible scheduling. These schools offer studies in fields like business, computers, health, technology and skilled trades. Their graduates earn certificates or associate degrees. Students then enter the workforce or transition into a bachelor's degree program.

Four-year schools encompass public and private universities and colleges, all of which offer bachelor's degrees in arts and science. Some offer graduate and postgraduate studies. Studies are geared toward training for a specific career path.

Public universities prioritize in-state residents, charging less tuition and reserving most of their scholarship opportunities for them. Their admissions criteria range from open to more selective - factoring high school courses taken, GPA and standardized test scores, including the ACT (act.org) or SAT (collegeboard.org).

Private universities and colleges focus on career and graduate school preparation. They tend to be the most selective and admit students who have taken rigorous coursework - such as Advanced Placement, honors and dual credit - in high school. They include a broad range of institutions, including "liberal arts," schools that focus on breadth of knowledge and reasoning.

Colleges vary in class sizes, learning style and course or degree offerings. Students should weigh what a college has to offer with their needs and objectives. Visit the New Mexico Higher Education Department (hed.state.nm.us/students/new-mexico-postsecondary-institutions.aspx) to learn more about New Mexico public colleges and universities. You can learn about private schools in New Mexico and across the U.S. through College Navigator (nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator).

Bridges can help you with all aspects of the application and financial aid process. Call (575) 758-5074 or email info@bridgesproject.org to schedule an appointment.

Visit our newly revamped website (bridgesproject.org) or like us on Facebook (facebook.com/bridgesprojecttaos).

Frederick is a college counselor and the development coordinator at Bridges Project for Education, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Bridges has offered free, individualized college counseling services since 1997.