College Planning: When Should I Start?

It’s never too early – or too late – to begin college planning. Follow these steps to begin your search for the right college.

Whether you’re just out of junior high or a senior citizen, the answer to the question, “When should I prepare for college?” is always the same: Now. The time is always right to begin college planning. Follow the steps below to begin your search for the perfect college, what you want to study and how that will lead you to a satisfying career.

Step One: Set Academic Goals

If you’re a junior high or high school student, meet with your academic counselor about taking college prep classes that will not only prepare you for freshman year, they should also enhance your transcript and improve your chances of getting into the college of your choice.

Whenever you start your college planning, remember…research is key. The more you know, the smarter decisions you’ll make.

For example, if you’re focused on selective colleges, you’ll want to take as many AP courses as you can handle. Colleges will look at your transcript to see if you’ve challenged yourself academically. Keep in mind that the ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, math, science, biology, chemistry, physics, three years of history (including American and European history), and four years of one foreign language.

Tip: How To Raise Your GPA: Although passing an AP exam will grant you college credits and a free pass on some college prerequisite classes AP courses can also help strengthen your GPA. Remember, an A in an AP course is worth five points, compared to the four points an A in a non-AP course will score you.

Step Two: Find Your Core Extracurricular Activities

Volunteering in your community and participating in athletics are great. But college admission panels also want to see well-rounded students who demonstrate versatility and commitment to extracurricular activities. In general, college admissions officers prefer to see a student be deeply involved in one or two activities, as opposed to showing a shallow level of commitment to multiple activities.

Step Three: Take College Admissions Tests

Be sure to take the SAT I/IIs and ACT in an appropriate time frame (usually junior year for high school students). Figure out which college tests will most benefit you based on the schools and academic subjects that most interest you. Study, study, study! And don’t be afraid to take the tests over again until you’re satisfied with your score.

Step Four: Prepare Your Secret Weapon — Your Writing Skills

One piece of advice that is frequently given and often overlooked by students: Develop your writing skills. Not only will improving your writing skills help with your college applications – primarily the all-important essay portion – but it will also help you in college with essays, tests and later, job applications and cover letters.

If possible, consider taking AP English or a creative writing course. By the time college application season hits, you’ll be ready to write a stellar essay that will set you apart from the rest.

Step Five: Know That There are Alternative Routes

If it feels like it’s too late for you to get your college profile in order, or you feel like you’re not ready to apply yet, don’t despair. There are a variety of options for students of all ages to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Some of these include: a gap year, a community college with a transfer program, online classes, or extension courses at your local colleges. In general, you will find that most colleges are very welcoming to transfer students and older applicants. Some colleges even have discounted courses for high school students!

Whenever you start your college planning, remember…research is key. The more you know, the smarter decisions you’ll make.

And, if you think you’re running late on college planning, just remember Nola Ochs – who earned her degree from Fort Hays State University at 95 years old. Along with a bachelor’s degree, she received a standing ovation!

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