At long last, you will be a senior in high school. The top of the social ladder! Senior year is a busy time—and that’s all the more reason that this summer is not too early to activate your college plans. There are various places to start: the computer, your school counselor’s office or books on the topic.
Ann Landis, director of guidance for public schools in Columbia, Mo., notes that counselors there visit each junior class in January with a list of items to help them start their college balls rolling. Here’s how to get your own search started now (and prepare for campus tours!).
Match your courses to careers
It’s good to be in tune with what interests you and to take courses that will develop your interests into skills. If those courses include math and science, your high school level is already college-prep. If you tend to shy away from those kinds of courses, reconsider. They are often the foundations upon which you can build careers in a wide variety of fields. In researching what careers your interests and skills fit, consider how much the careers pay, how your salary will shape your lifestyle and what kinds of further skills or certifications you’ll need. Look for part-time jobs, internships or volunteering opportunities to try out various careers before graduating next spring.
Look for a college that fits
When you have an idea for a career direction, you can start exploring what colleges and universities offer the courses to support your goals.
To narrow your possibilities, consider these factors:
Do you want to go to a large school, or do you prefer to know most people on campus?
Do you want to stay close to home or go away to college?
Do you want to be exposed to a diversity of cultures, ethnicity and/or geographies?
What kind of reputation does the college or program have?
Your school will most likely host or at least advertise a college fair in the fall, during which admission representatives from a variety of colleges gather in one place. Plan to attend. But you don’t have to wait for a fair to get more information. You can visit any college any time through its Web site to chat live with college admission representatives, faculty and students. Or, you can schedule a campus tour.
Sign up for standardized tests
If you want to attend college or university, start thinking about your entrance exams if you haven’t already taken the ACT and/or SAT in the fall. If you’re not happy with how you score, that gives you time to take the exams again. Consider taking a preparation course this summer to help you boost your scores.
Visit college campuses
If any of the colleges you are contemplating are away from home, suggest that your family bases its summer vacations around campus visits. Call the campus to arrange a tour, ask to see a dorm room, eat in a cafeteria and visit the building that houses your intended major. There may be few students on campus during the summer, but you’ll be able to at least get a feel for what the college, campus and town can offer. Avoid procrastinating.
Here is a general look at what you should do now to help you plan for college:
Attend college fairs.
Get admission materials.
Take the SAT and/or the ACT. Take both if offered—you might do better on one than the other. Have test scores sent to the colleges to which you will apply.
Arrange for college interviews.
Be aware of scams. With all the filling out of forms and taking of tests in the college application process, somehow, somewhere, your name will get on some kind of a scholarship list. Landis reminds her students that: “It’s OK to be on a list, but be aware. Find out if it is for real or a moneymaking venture for a company. It’s not bad to get on the list. Just don’t get taken for a ride. If you question any scholarship offers, tell your counselors. They’ve probably heard it before.”
Let your counselor help. The good thing is that you don’t have to go through the college-search process alone. One of the roles of the counselor in your high school’s guidance office is to help you evaluate your choices and guide your college-search process and senior year.