To High School Students Looking to Go onto College:
Congratulations! You are about to take a big step towards becoming an adult, one that will enable you to expand your mind, add to your list of useable skills, and prove that you are able to put yourself to work in this world of ours. It’ll be tough at times; in spite of what you might have gathered from movies like Animal House, college is not one big party that ends with everyone leading a great life off-screen that is referenced in brief comments at the end of the film. No, amazingly enough, most colleges actually expect you to work if you hope to graduate, let alone get good enough grades to impress future employers or graduate schools.
But your work isn’t simply going to start in college; if you hope to get into a decent school, you’ll need to begin well before you graduate high school, doing all kinds of tasks to ensure that you are able to get into college (as well as getting the financial aid you need to making going to college work for you). So, in the hopes that it can help you get through your college application process, here are some steps you need to take in order to successfully make it into college:
1. Apply, and Apply Early: How early do you need to apply, you ask? Well, if you are reading this shortly after I publish it in February 2012, you’re probably too late to apply for the 2012-2013 school year. Most colleges have their deadlines for regular admission application in January, with early decision applications due in November. If you’re a senior, you’re a bit late for either one. (Although, you still should look into your schools of interest; some have later application dates, or rolling applications that could allow you to get in for next spring.) On the subject of deadlines…
2. Apply for Financial Aid as Soon as Possible: You have a bit more time on this goal, for the most part; the federal deadline for having your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completed isn’t until midnight, June 30th. That said, there are different deadlines for each state, including some that are quite close (Connecticut’s deadline is February 15th, for example). You want to make sure that you have your forms submitted by that time; unless your parents saved quite a bit for your college admission, you’re probably going to need student loans or other financial aid to make it through eight semesters of study. While you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the rules related to your student loans, including the conditions when you can take advantage of student loan deferment and the student loan interest deduction.
3. Decide Where You Want to Go to School: This might be more for the juniors or younger high school students than the seniors, per se; by this point in the year, most of you seniors have probably formed some strong opinions about where you want to go, and as mentioned above, have hopefully applied already, probably to multiple schools. Still, it’s worth considering which school you’d most want to attend. It might seem like the most prestigious private school should be at the top of the list, but prestige often comes with a high price tag. It can be much easier on your (or your parents’) wallet if you start at a public university (particularly within your own state) or even a community college for the first few years of your college career, before possibly moving on to a private school. Particularly if you haven’t settled on a major yet, and are just taking general courses, it can save you tens of thousands of dollars to start in a lower priced school. (Just be sure that the school you want to end at will accept transfer credits from the school you start at; the cost advantages are lost if you have to spend several semesters retaking classes you’ve already finished.) You could even consider taking some courses online, as this will expand your schooling options while limiting the amount of money that it will cost you. For example, if you have your heart set on going to a school on the other side of the country, but simply can’t afford the costs associated with relocating, you could try to earn your degree through that university’s online offerings. Some of the highest ranked universities in the country now feature online courses and you will receive the same level of schooling that you would on-campus, except you will not have to take on the prohibitive costs of relocating.
4. Finish Your High School Career Strong: Once the applications are sent out and the wait for replies begins, it’s tempting to stop focusing on your high school studies; after all, you’re basically a college student now, so why bother with high school courses? But this ‘senioritis‘ can have negative effects on your ability to get into a good college; universities consider your senior year course load while evaluating your admissions, and can rescind admission offers if they notice a drop in grades your last year. Make sure that the courses you take remain challenging, and be sure to do well in them; until you’re actually attending college classes, don’t give your future school reason to doubt your commitment to academics. One way to do that is:
5. Consider Taking AP Exams: You might, if you are a diligent student (and your school offers them) already be taking one or more Advanced Placement classes. If so, good; make sure that you study hard, that you register for the tests by the deadline (possibly through your school; check with your AP teachers to find out the details on how they handle things), and that you cover the test fee in time. If you’re not already taking an AP course or two, you should be sure look into AP courses and tests; for a relatively small fee, taking an AP test (and doing well enough, of course) can potentially allow you to skip that course in college, cutting down the amount you need to pay in college to get all the coursework you need finished and the time you need to expel during your college career. It’s definitely an approach worth taking. (Just double-check with your future college to be sure that they will accept AP exams as replacements for coursework; otherwise, the course, and test, will just be a means of preparing for the course in college.)