College Preparation 101

What do I need to prepare for college?

Getting ready for college is exciting, but first, you need a checklist to help prepare. Make your freshman year the best yet with this guide to college preparation 101:

  • Challenge yourself
  • Take entrance exams
  • Visit colleges
  • Research scholarships
  • Apply for financial aid
  • Choose a college
  • Tackle first-semester basics
  • Attend orientation

Take Challenging Courses and Get Involved at School

As you’re getting ready for your senior year in high school, you might be tempted to give yourself a break by taking easy classes and cutting back on extracurricular activities. While you don’t want to overwork yourself, cutting back during your senior year doesn’t always reflect positively on you.

Most college applications require you to list the classes you’re currently taking. If an admissions officer sees you’ve taken a hefty course load for three years but you’ve opted to slack off during your senior year, that could raise a red flag.

In addition, giving yourself a break during your senior year can actually be a step backward. The college will almost definitely be more challenging than high school was, so you could risk feeling underprepared during your freshman year in college.

Ace Your College Entrance Exams

Most college admissions officers recommend studying for and taking the standard college entrance exams as early as possible. Plan to ace your exams during the summer after your junior year or the fall of your senior year at the latest. That way you’ll have time to retake the exams if necessary.

While most colleges accept the SAT, some require or prefer the ACT. If you aren’t sure what schools you’ll apply to, consider taking both exams to cover all of your bases.

Visit as Many College Campuses as Possible

While it’s never too early to start visiting college campuses, most aspiring college students plan their visits late in their junior year or early in their senior year of high school. Visiting campuses gives you a chance to experience the college firsthand, ask questions about academics and extracurricular activities, and find out how students interact.

If you know what you want to study, visiting campuses may give you the chance to talk with professors in person. You may learn what kinds of research or internship opportunities you’d have in your academic department of choice, which could affect your choice of school.

Research Scholarship Opportunities

It’s also never too early to start researching scholarship opportunities. Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes, and you can find them in some of the most unexpected places.

Start your search by talking with your high school counselor and your school’s college prep staff. If you’ve narrowed down your college choices, talk with your college admissions officer, too. Ask about scholarship opportunities in your community, and don’t forget to check with your religious leader. Scholarship opportunities can also be based on ethnic background, projected major, or projected career. Even sports teams and extracurricular organizations may offer scholarships, so your after-school hobbies could pay off in ways that you may not have expected.

Apply for Financial Aid

In addition to searching for scholarship opportunities, consider applying for federal financial aid. To do this, you’ll need to set aside time to fill out the FAFSA® form, which requires information about your family, your assets, and your sources of income. You’ll need to send the completed FAFSA® form to the school you plan to attend. If you haven’t made your final decision, you can select more than one school to receive your FAFSA® information.

Keep in mind that many colleges require you to complete the FAFSA® even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply for federal student loans. If you’re hoping to get any need-based aid, your best bet is to complete the FAFSA®. Monitor deadlines for submitting your form, as this is one you won’t want to miss.

Choose a College

After weighing your options, it’s time to choose the right college for you. When making this tough decision, you’ll want to consider a wide range of factors. Cost is critical, especially if you have a limited budget for college. Location may also be important, whether you want to stay close to home or you’ve identified great opportunities in a certain part of the country.

You’ll also want to consider academics and career opportunities carefully. Don’t hesitate to read up on a college’s statistics, including the percentage of students who graduate in four years and the percentage of students who find jobs soon after graduation. You might not be thinking about stats now, but they’ll be important when you start searching for jobs.

Tackle First-Semester Basics

Once you’ve decided on a college, it’s time to gear up for your first semester. First, you’ll want to secure housing, whether it’s getting an off-campus apartment or applying for an on-campus dorm. Start working on this as soon as you commit to a college. Options dwindle quickly. 

You should also explore Greek life options. While it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to live in a Greek house as a Freshman, most Greek house rushes start right before classes begin. 

Next, start thinking about how to get around. Do you need to get a public transit pass, buy a bike, or secure a parking spot for your car? Think about major school supplies like a laptop, a tablet, or a planner. If you’re in the market for new devices, check with your school to find out what admissions officers recommend for first-year students.

Set aside time to talk with your parents about a college budget, too. You need a plan for paying tuition and living expenses for your first year and beyond.

Attend College Orientation

Find out when orientation is and make plans to attend. Doing this ensures that you’ll settle into your freshman year comfortably, that you’ll enroll in the necessary courses, and that you’ll get to know your academic department. You’ll also learn your way around campus and forge connections with classmates, setting yourself up for a great year ahead.

Whether you’re gearing up for entrance exams or you’re starting to research scholarship opportunities, you’re on the right track toward preparing for college. Follow this guide to college preparation 101 to get your college career off to a great start.