Sunday, April 3, 2011

Junior Year Preparation for College

By Russell Black

Just when you're hitting your stride in high school, it's time to start thinking about college. More specifically, how are you going to go about making the decisions to get you there in just a couple years? There's no time like the present to chip away at the college entry "to do" list. Just start by doing the following:

1. Start with a visit to your guidance counselor. You've probably not had much reason to make this valuable person a part of your school life up until this point, but you do now. Simply tell her that you want to go to college and ask her to help you stay on track. You'll reaffirm what classes you still need to take in high school, and likely start a conversation about what area of interest you might have in mind to study in college. She'll clear up any confusion you may have about the ACT and SAT standardized tests, too.

2. Set your strategy for testing. Once you have a general understanding of the two college-entry tests, you'll need to decide when you are going to take them. There's not one way to go about it, but allow yourself enough time between now and graduation to re-test if you aren't happy with your scores. You'll want to become very familiar with the format of both the SAT and the ACT well before test day. The best way to do that is to get your hands on exam prep books. Check your local book store, online or ask your counselor if the school has some to share.

3. Get in as many campus visits as possible. It's never too early to visit colleges in your area to get a feel for what life is like on different campuses. Some are very laid-back and rural, while schools within big cities have a very different vibe. Check out where freshman live and get an idea what types of majors are offered. If you want to check out colleges that aren't within driving distance, start by familiarizing yourself with their web sites.

4. How will you pay for it? That's the million dollar question for most families, although hopefully your tab won't run quite that high. As you've likely heard by now, it's not cheap to earn that college degree and you'll probably need help from as many sources as possible. Start looking into local scholarships early so you can make sure that you spend your junior year meeting the various criteria. Research loans and grants, too. Next year after you gain acceptance, you can also check out what your university has to offer in terms of financial aid and grants on their end.

So you see, there's a lot to be done. If you don't leave it all for your senior year, you'll breathe a lot easier.

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