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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

How getting into college can feel a lot like going to college

When you know exactly what you want to study, whittling down the list of colleges can be a little easier. It was for me; by my junior year in high school, I knew I wanted a career in the sciences, so I ended up applying to schools that had strong biology and chemistry programs. 

And now, I'm a journalist (who likes writing about science, of course.) Go figure. 

Steve Stecconi felt the same way - he knew he wanted to study engineering, and geared his search, and the mounds of paperwork, in that direction. 

This is the second of an occasional series about the process and experience of getting into college. 

Steve Stecconi – Dearborn Heights

Steve, 17, is a graduate of Detroit Cristo Rey High School. You've probably heard of it: The students are required to work as part of the curriculum. So, while going to school and working at American Axle Manufacturing, Steve had another part-time job: getting into college. 

There was paperwork, he says. So much paperwork. And deadlines. Every week, something else was due. He was really surprised, but says the process was kind of like going to college itself. 

"There were lots of deadlines – lots of 'right now.' If something's due in college, it's due," he says. "I really needed to stay on top of things." 

He was lucky. At his high school, he could take a "college prep" class – a class that he says was literally devoted to all the paperwork and talking and thinking that goes into college applications. And during their extracurricular hour, he says, college reps came to visit the school. 

He sat through 20 or so presentations before narrowing his list down. He knew from an early age that he wanted to mess with electronics and robots, so when schools like Lawrence Technological University and Kettering University sent reps to Cristo Rey, he really paid attention. 

When the dust cleared, his choices were Lawrence Tech, Kettering and the University of Michigan - Dearborn. He came back to financial aid; at Kettering, he's looking at about $6,000 per year in debt after financial aid and the university's co-op program. Just like he did at Cristo Rey, Steve will work while he goes to college, and some of his tuition will be paid off by his employer. 

"I felt really comfortable there," he says. 

Being about an hour away from home doesn't hurt, either – it's just far enough away. 

"My mom wants me to come home every two weeks," he says. "After she sees the gas bill from the car, she might say, "come home every month. Or, two months."