College Prep: Tools for Success
By Tomisha Price-Brock, PhD
September 16, 2021
It’s senior year, and you are looking forward to high school graduation and moving forward with your college education or career. There’s a lot of excitement and suspense associated with applying to college, waiting for acceptance letters, and receiving scholarship offers. Getting accepted to college, and being able to work towards your dream career, is a goal of many youth in our society; however, some may face challenges with navigating the steps between high school graduation and college enrollment. This article presents helpful information for students and families as it relates to successful preparation for college.
Plan It Out
What is your dream job? What are your interests and hobbies? What can you see yourself doing for the next 20 or 30 years? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you adequately prepare for college. As a high school freshman, you should begin thinking about your future after high school, and what career path you wish to pursue. Do you want to go to college? Trade School? The military? This is a conversation that you should have not only with yourself, but with your family and your guidance counselor. Here are some tips to help you navigate life after high school:
Keep a Journal or List
Make a list of all of the careers that interest you. Once you complete your list, highlight or place a star or asterisk next to those that are really appealing to you. After narrowing down your list to the most interesting careers, do your research! Conduct a Google search to learn more about those careers, the level of education and types of degrees required, and the salary range. Once you have completed your research, narrow down your list to your top 3 choices: Your main plan, your backup plan, and your backup to the backup plan.
Conduct a College Search
Now that you have figured out your career goal, it’s time to have some fun and identify which college or university will provide you with the best opportunity to reach your goal. Think of your college search as a “scavenger hunt,” with the opportunity to uncover an amazing treasure at the end of your hunt. Before you begin your “scavenger hunt,” you will need to answer three important questions: 1) Do I want to attend college in-state or out-of-state? 2) Do I want to attend a 2-year or 4-year institution? 3) Do I want to attend a public or private institution?
Once you have answered those three questions, it is now time to launch the “scavenger hunt.” Once again, conduct a google search to identify colleges and universities that meet the criteria you established with your answers, and offer the majors you are interested in. Once you have identified these institutions, do your research! Visit their websites to learn about their campuses, academic departments and your desired degree program, and about student life. Additionally, their websites provide valuable information related to admissions requirements, tuition costs, retention and graduation rates, and notable historical information about each institution.
After visiting the websites, contact their office of admissions, and the departments that house your desired major, and request additional information. Request information regarding scholarship and grant opportunities. If you are interested in music, request information pertaining to audition requirements and placement examinations. If you are an athlete interested in playing sports in college, speak with the Athletics Department to request information related to the sports programs offered at their institution, and requirements for tryouts and scholarships.
Now that you have done your research, it’s time to narrow down your list and apply. I encourage you to take advantage of the Free College Application Week, and submit your application to the top colleges on your list during that week. If you don’t want to apply to all of the schools on your list, I would encourage you to at least apply to 3-5 separate schools (don’t put all of your eggs in one basket). Prior to submitting your application, read each application carefully, and be sure to put some time into developing your personal statement, or any other narratives that are required. Before clicking submit, double check your application for errors or omissions. Once you submit your application, document it in your journal.
Complete the FAFSA. After submitting your application, be sure to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid; www.studentaid.gov). This application is important for eligibility to receive federal financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, or fellowships. The FAFSA application will require your parents to submit information about their taxes and income, so they will need to assist you with the application. For assistance with the FAFSA, reach out to your school’s guidance counselor or graduation coach. Keep in mind, your FAFSA must be completed or updated every year, to maintain eligibility.
In addition to submitting your FAFSA, take the SAT or ACT if you haven’t done so prior to submitting your college application. I encourage each student to take one of these college entrance tests at least twice. Allow yourself 4-6 weeks to prepare for these tests.
Apply for scholarships. Research local, regional, state, national, and institution specific scholarships, and apply. A little tip: For many of the scholarship applications, you can copy and paste the same personal statement to save you some time. Keep a log in your journal of the scholarships you apply for. Include the name of the scholarship, the potential award amount, the deadline, and any important contact information. If you are offered a scholarship, check it off in your journal, and be sure to save your award letter.
I got accepted; what next? Congratulations! Once you’ve been accepted, it is now time to shift your attention to completing the necessary paperwork and tasks to prepare for freshman year. Confirm your attendance and intent to enroll; complete your medical and financial aid forms; register for orientation; secure housing; pay any necessary fees; and contact your assigned advisor to discuss any requirements your department may have for incoming students. Be sure to give a copy of your acceptance letter to your guidance counselor, and feel free to share the good news with your support group and community (your church, the local newspaper, youth organizations, etc.). Then, sit back and relax; you did it!
Say Thank You! Whether you receive an acceptance letter or a rejection letter, be sure to follow up with each institution or scholarship committee, thanking them for considering you as a candidate. Kindness goes a long way.
Your success with college preparation is based on how informed you are, and how organized you are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for assistance. Selecting your college and major is one of the most important decisions you will make as you transition from an adolescent to adulthood. Set your goals, and aim high!