As school resumes across the nation, most students are busy acclimating to their new fall routines. For those in high school planning to go to college, however, it’s important to start being aware of what needs to be done to prepare yourself for the challenges of the college selection and application process. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. Being prepared will keep you centered, focused — and able to handle the big decisions, deadlines and tests ahead. Here are a few suggestions on what to prioritize when preparing for college:
Studies have shown that daily reading improves vocabulary, comprehension, analytical thinking, improved concentration, and thus raises scores on standardized tests like the PSAT, SAT, and ACT required for college entrance. This is an important habit that can be started before high school with parental encouragement and will broaden any student’s mind in tangible, measurable ways.
Envision the future
What do you want to do with your adult life? Although this is an immense and overwhelming question, most high schoolers already have an inkling of the subjects and areas of study which excite them the most. Looking ahead a little closer, what would you like to study in college? If for example you’re interested in a career in medicine or engineering, you’ll need to make sure you’ve had the proper college preparatory classes in high school in order to qualify for their college equivalents. You can always change your mind, of course, and certain careers require more advanced planning than others. But you’ll need to think about what kinds of classes you’ll need to take in high school in order to study what you want later on. What kind of college would you like to attend? An enormous university or a small liberal-arts college? Maybe you are more interested in a technical school or an arts conservatory? It’s good to ask yourself these kinds of questions, and if you are a parent gently encourage your child to begin to contemplate these things. Obviously it depends on where you are in the process; the closer you are to applying to college, the more clarity you’ll need to have about your vision.
It may sound harsh, but the best colleges aren’t as interested in students who do nothing but study. Even MIT has a ski club, a curling club, a concert band, and a glass blowing club (among the hundreds of other student-run activities)! Vibrant and exciting extracurricular student life is an important part of any campus. Your extracurriculars will be an important part of the total package that will be your college application. Whether you play sports, play an instrument, volunteer for the homeless, or intern in your possible field of study (science lab, TV station, etc), make sure that you are involved in some sort of non-academic extracurricular activity. This is one area where you can stretch yourself and try new things. Don’t worry if your extracurriculars seem “all over the map”; it may be more important to your future college and post-college to career find out what you don’t like. Above all, maintain an open mind.
Talk to people and ask questions
Many of the adults around you went to college and have (or have had) jobs. Talk to them and ask them why they went where they did, why they do what they do, and what they might do differently. Know who your college counselors are and utilize them as a consistent resource. Most likely you know alumni from your high school at different colleges; ask them what they’re studying and how they like their school. Most people are happy to talk about their lives as long as they are approached in a polite and respectful way. They will probably be excited for you, beginning your journey into higher academia. You’ll also have the opportunity to speak with representatives of various schools at college fairs; go to these armed with real questions. All of this talking and questioning will help you clarify your own vision and plans.
The Alliance For Affordable Services has a strong commitment to education, members currently attending college, and the college-bound children of its members. The Alliance College Guide is a free online resource detailing all the steps of the selection, application, and financial aid process. There are even handy printable checklists to help guide parents and students through the basic high school timeline and maintain clarity through the sometimes confusing myriad of details and deadlines involved. The Alliance also offers a 3 year scholarship of up to $4000 to members attending full-time 4 year colleges and a 2 year grant program for members attending trade or technical school. For more information, and to become an Alliance member, visit the Alliance Direct Benefits website today or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (M-F, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).