Preparing for college is a lengthy process you can begin as soon as you start high school. Mark your calendar early with important stepping stones along the path so that you’re equipped to craft winning applications, land valuable scholarships, and best enjoy everything that the college experience has to offer.
1. Work Closely with Your High School Counselor
Your high school counselor is a valuable resource for all things college. Get to know your counselor in 9th grade and maintain regular contact throughout your high school career. The better your counselor knows you, the better he or she can guide you toward your goals.
Work together with your counselor to choose a challenging course schedule that’s relevant to your interests and future career field. Fill out your classwork with extracurricular activities that will round out your college applications, build critical skill sets, and demonstrate your strengths and talents.
2. Hone Your Scholarship Search
Don’t wait until your senior year of high school to begin applying for scholarships. Some accept applications as early as 10th grade. There are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there. Start your search early to give yourself ample time to sift through them all.
Even if you’re not yet eligible to apply for a particular scholarship, finding it ahead of time can help you increase your chances of winning. You can review the application process and requirements to make sure you have what you need to become a strong candidate. Bookmark scholarships that you’re interested in and put them on your calendar for future applications if you find them before you’re old enough to apply.
3. Form Relationships with Mentors
Mentors are knowledgeable, trustworthy adults who can give you advice and insights to help guide your path toward your future career. A good mentor will help you stay organized through the college application process and assist you in learning about potential career paths. Having a few good mentors will also help you with college and scholarship applications. Many will ask for letters of recommendation, and your mentors are perfectly placed to offer these.
4. Plan Campus Visits
Start scheduling campus visits during your junior year, particularly if you’re looking at out-of-state schools. If you’re visiting distant colleges, you may need to wait for a long weekend or spring break to fit the trip into your schedule.
If you’re visiting several campuses, keep in mind that you may need a second visit later to act as a tiebreaker between your top choices. It’s best to start exploring colleges well in advance so you don’t have to rush the decision.
5. Take the Big Tests
You must take the PSAT in the fall semester of 11th grade to qualify for National Merit scholarships as well as many other financial aid programs. The SAT and/or ACT are optional during your junior year and mandatory your senior year. You may want to register for practice tests as a junior to help you prepare for these critical exams. You can also opt to test early so have plenty of time to re-test later if you’re not happy with your first score.
6. Complete the FAFSA®
You can submit your FAFSA® as early as October 1 for the next year’s fall semester. Begin gathering your financial documents in September so you’re ready to complete the paperwork as early as possible. Many types of financial aid are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. If you apply late, though you may demonstrate financial need, you’ll find the available funds are more limited.
7. Try on Potential Careers
Though you don’t have to declare a major your freshman year of college, it’s helpful to have an idea of your potential career field. You want to choose a college with a strong educational program in your area. Get to know your potential jobs hands-on to best determine which path is right for you. If you’re considering veterinary school, make arrangements to shadow a veterinarian for a day or simply observe a surgery. You may love the experience or find, after witnessing an operation, the job isn’t for you.
Look into internships, summer or after-school jobs, volunteer opportunities, and shadowing programs in your areas of interest. If you don’t find any formal programs, reach out to professionals who have your dream job and see what you can set up on your own. Many people respond enthusiastically to the request for an interview, lunch date, or “day in the life” to learn more about a particular career.
Get ready for college early and you’ll enhance your opportunities and ease the transition. This is a big step, but smart preparation can help you take it smoothly.