College preparation can be overwhelming—so many aspects to think about, papers to submit, options to consider…where should you even begin? Here’s a handy list of tasks you can start in your junior or senior year of high school—so grab one and jump in!
1. Spend time here on StateUniversity.com and follow our links to college websites to learn more about what different schools are like. Once you’ve done that, visit as many schools as you can. Attend any college fairs at your high school or in your area. Part of learning about schools should be looking at their admissions requirements. Is there anything most schools look for that you lack? How about your top choice? Have you met (or preferably exceeded) those requirements?
2. Prepare well for standardized tests, especially the SAT or ACT. While you can retake the tests if you don’t perform as well as you wanted to or think you are capable, you’re best off taking practice tests and preparing before your first attempt. The PSAT is an excellent way to prepare for the SAT.
3. Put some serious thought into what is important to you besides academics, when considering colleges. Do you want a strong football team, award-winning student newspaper, or half a dozen glee clubs to select from? Do you want community-minded dorms, or a campus where you can choose to live in an apartment or Greek organization?
4. Prepare your list of schools. It should include at least a couple you think you are likely to gain admission to, at least one ‘safety’ school that you’re nearly guaranteed to get in to, and at least one ‘long shot’ where you would love to go to school but have less than a great chance for admission. Think about whether you’re interested in staying close to home or trying another part of the country. Do you want the big university experience, a technical school, or a small school?
Start filling out applications early. It’s a lot of work, but if you can sum up the discipline to fill out a sample application or two to discuss with your guidance counselor and other knowledgeable adults. Make yourself a schedule of application deadlines and financial aid dates. Identify the people you would like to have you write recommendation letters. Don’t forget to write them thank you notes after they have done so!
As a sidenote, make sure you have a social security number—most people get these as babies, but not everyone. You’ll need one for financial aid applications, so make sure you’re ready to apply before you need to.
5. As early as January of your senior year, you can file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will be used to determine your eligibility for state and federal aid. Most colleges and universities use it as well when distributing their internal financial aid. Don’t postpone this step of the process. For some schools, aid is first come, first served and when it’s gone, it’s gone—so don’t miss out! You may wish to ask your parents to complete their tax returns early, so that you will have the information you need to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible.
6. Search thoroughly for scholarships, starting right here on our Financial Aid Guide, which lists college scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid by state. In addition to the many state and federal scholarships to consider, many municipalities and service organizations (like the Rotary Club or Lions) offer scholarships for outstanding youth in their community. Check to see whether your parents’ employers offer any scholarships as well. If you look into scholarships early, especially in your junior year, you may be able to tailor your experience to make yourself an excellent candidate for one or more of them.
Sound like enough to keep you busy for a while? It should be! It’s also worth it—when you’re walking to class on the campus of your dreams in a year or two, you won’t regret one single second of your college search.
Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Have something to say? Feel free to add comments or additional information.