Preparation for college does not start your senior year of high school. In fact, it should have started in junior high or high school. I am going to separate this post into several different categories of things to consider for college preparation.
1. Taking the SAT/ACT
Do not wait until your senior year to take the SAT or the ACT. I started taking the tests my junior year of high school, but you can start even earlier. The great thing about the SAT and the ACT is you can take the tests as many times as you want and they will only send your highest score to the colleges of your choice. Therefore you want to start taking the tests early to give yourself the best chance of gaining a high score. However, taking the tests cost money so that must be taken into consideration. If money is an issue for your family do not give up because there are options available for getting a waiver to pay for the test. Just talk to your college counselor and he/she can fill you in on how to do so.
The SAT and the ACT is important because most colleges have a score requirement as part of their admissions policy. For example, a college or university may require that you have at least scored a 20 on the ACT in order for you to apply. Another reason to take the SAT and ACT is for scholarship opportunities. Most colleges offer specific scholarships based on SAT and ACT scores and the higher your score the more money you will receive. You can refer to how the University of South Alabama offers scholarships as an example: http://www.southalabama.edu/admissions/ugscholarfreshman.html
There are classes and tutors that can help prepare you for the ACT and SAT along with self-help books that you can find at any major bookstore. They can be useful because they provide examples to test questions and tips on how to prepare for the tests.
2. AP/Honors Classes
My high school did not have an honors program for classes so I can’t say much on that subject, but we did have advanced classes and AP classes. There are other programs that allow you to take actual college classes early in place of high school classes, but since I did not do so I will focus on the program that I know.
AP stands for Advanced Placement and it is a program that allows for college level classes in high school. Basically, a high school teacher takes a course and becomes certified to teach an AP class such as AP U.S. History or AP Composition. They are then allowed to teach the AP course which is more rigorous than a typical high school class and is specifically designed to prepare the student for college level classes. Toward the end of the school year the student can then opt to take the AP test for the course in order to try to get college credit out of it (at my high school the test was required).
The test is expensive (I think it was around $80 per test when I took it) so if you are going to be taking multiple tests a semester you have to take that into consideration. Again, like the SAT and ACT there are opportunities to waive the fee if a student is from a low income family. However, if the student scores high enough on the test (generally a 3 or above most colleges/universities count for college credit) then taking the test winds up being cheaper than taking the same class at a college or university where a single class can be hundreds of dollars, you have to buy expensive textbooks, and there are usually added lab fees to consider.
Even if you don’t take the test or score high enough to gain college credit, AP classes are still very useful. My AP classes in high school prepared me for college by teaching me how to write college level papers and prepared me for college level classroom discussion. I took five AP classes in high school: AP U.S. History and AP Composition my junior year and AP Government, AP Literature, and AP Art my senior year. My English and history classes improved my paper writing, critical thinking, and discussion ability so by the time I got to college I was ready and didn’t have trouble adjusting. My AP Art class went a long way in helping me learn how to properly manage my time since the art projects were so time consuming; I could not allow myself to try to do things at the last minute and had to learn to juggle my schedule. Therefore, I highly suggest taking an AP class even if you don’t plan on taking the test.
When applying for college and for scholarships extracurriculars can give you an edge. Joining a club, honor society, sport, or doing service projects can distinguish a student and give them a boost over their competition. Working while in high school can prove you can juggle a schedule and can be responsible. Gaining a leadership position is also recommended whether it be through student government or a club.
The reasons why extracurriculars are important is it can help some students who may not have a high GPA or score well on the ACT/SAT get a scholarship or into a college. Many scholarships are based on service work or extraccuriculars so building up your experience is a good idea. If a student has a high GPA, did well on the ACT, and is trying to get into a school with a lot of competition such as an Ivy League school, than extracurriculars could give them the extra boost he/she needs. Such a student will be chosen over another student that has equally high scores but didn’t have any involvement in after school activities.
For example, in high school I was on the swim team, president of the history club, and joined the National Honor Society. I also had service requirements for the National Honor Society and participated in service activities such as Coastal Clean-Up and kickball for kids. Through history club I used to volunteer to run the concession stand at basketball games and we competed in competitions such as National History Day and We The People. All the activities I participated in I included on my college application.
It is always good to try your best in school, keep up your GPA, and join a lot of organizations/competitions because it can lead to recognition. Awards also look good on a college application so keep track of all of your accomplishments. Some awards I had in high school included graduating with highest honors, getting awards for specific classes such as the US History award, getting the coach’s award from the swim team, and getting first place at National History Day for the individual documentary at the Mississippi state competition.
5. Scholarships and other options
When you are applying for college you need to look into scholarships. This is the one area that I lacked in when I applied for college and it wound up hurting me later on. You need to search for any scholarships you can apply for (which considering the time it will take to apply and how much the scholarship will give you) and go ahead and try. As long as you’re involved in extracurriculars or have gained recognition you stand a chance on getting something. You can get scholarships that are needs based, scholarships based on service, scholarships based on ethnicity, scholarships based on GPA/SAT/ACT, etc. The reason why I stress applying for scholarships is I had a friend that applied for scholarships and received enough that it completely paid for his college education (needless to say I’m a little jealous).
You should also apply for grants or consider going to a community college to cover your basic classes before transferring to a four year university. It is easier to get a full ride at a community college and you can work from home/live with your parents which can cut down on living expenses. My brother choose this route and he’s going to wind up with far less college loans than me as a result.
Also, when applying for student loans be careful. Try to get government/subsidized loans because they’ll have lower interest rates and will give you a little leeway when it comes to paying them off. Private loans have higher interest rates and may force you to start making payments right away which could be difficult when you’re a full time student.
Also, when applying for colleges you need to start the application process early. Most colleges require applications be turned in January/February of the year you will be entering college (basically your spring semester of your senior year of high school) so you need to be thinking about which schools to apply to your junior year and start looking at the application process early. Furthermore, college applications also cost money so you must take that into consideration when deciding how many schools to apply to. Never apply to just one either – you don’t know if you’re going to get in or if you may get a better scholarship to another school.