If you are a high school freshman, the road to college looks a long way off. If you're a senior, it probably feels all too close! Either way, the earlier you start thinking about this stuff, the easier it will be to manage.
Start Thinking About Life After High School
It's never too early to start thinking about college or life after high school, even if you're a freshman. It's a good time to think about the kind of person you are and want to be. Take a look at any older brothers or sisters, cousins, friends, friends of friends -- even Mom or Dad.. What are they doing? Where did they go to school? Don't be afraid to ask -- you'll get some great insights into your own likes and dislikes.
Talk to everyone you can who went to college, or didn't. Don't worry if you suspect college may not be for you. There are hundreds of training programs and careers that do not require college, or at least a traditional four-year school. When you meet people who are doing something cool, ask how they got to do what they do. You will be surprised at the many paths it can take to get there.
So let's assume you are sure, or at least pretty sure, that you want to go to college. Let's also assume you have some idea of what you want to do or study. Of course there is nothing wrong with going off to college with more questions than answers. Part of the college experience is to explore lots of interesting options.
Make a list of your top ten schools. This should be a mix of schools you're not sure you can get into, schools that represent a "good shot," and always one or two "safety" schools – schools you know will accept you. Check their entrance requirements. Looking at SAT or ACT scores for the current freshman class and the percentage of applications accepted will give you a sense of whether a college is a long shot, a good bet, or a safety school for you.
Contact the schools to request catalogues, look at their websites and try to imagine yourself on their campuses.
Keep your grades up or work on improving them. It's a simple equation: The better your grades, the wider your choice of schools. While there is some truth that college admissions people don't consider high school freshman grades, don't be fooled -- they look at everything! But if you didn't do as well as you would have liked in your freshman and even sophomore years, don't panic. Evidence of improving grades can go a long way towards convincing them you've got the right stuff.
During your sophomore year, you might want to take the PSAT. It will give you an indication of how you will do when the time comes to take the SAT. For many students, the PSAT represents a "wake-up call." It might set a fire under you to work on those grades and really prepare for the SAT. Don't worry, colleges don't get to see your PSAT scores. However, if you score high enough on the test, you may be eligible for national scholarships and begin receiving catalogues in the mail from colleges that want you to apply.
A resume is a record of your experiences. You will need it for your college applications. So write down any jobs you have had, church or other volunteer activities, sports and clubs (in school or in your community). Everything counts, so write it all down!
Take the SAT or ACT
Okay, you're a junior. Now's the time to study for and take the SAT or ACT. The cool thing is that you can take the exam more than once and report only the best scores to the colleges that interest you. Do study for these tests!. It is a proven fact: The more time you spend practicing, the better your score will be! There are lots of study guides, software, and test-prep classes that can help.
By now you have your list of colleges: long shots, good bets, and safety schools. During the spring of junior year, many students and their parents visit colleges; some wait for senior year, after they have filed applications. If you can afford to do this, it's a great opportunity to really get a feel for a campus. Try to schedule an on-campus interview with an admissions officer. This will give you a chance to present yourself, make a good impression, and distinguish you from the competition.
You should plan on taking tough courses and not coast. Colleges look for students who will be successful and the best way to demonstrate that is to take at least one Advanced Placement (AP) college-level course. You may even do well enough on the AP exam to earn college credit.
Pay careful attention to application deadlines and be sure you meet them. Many students deal with deadlines by avoiding them. Don't! It would be a shame to lose out on the college of your choice because you were too late to be considered.
Manage your time as best you can. You've got classes to ace, tests to take (and study for), and lots and lots of deadlines. It may get tense at home when Mom or Dad asks if you've done this or that. Make a plan, follow through, and you'll be surprised how much better you'll feel and how much smoother life will be at home.
Easier said than done? Go back to your plan and check off each task as you complete it. A page full of checkmarks can be very satisfying and, more importantly, will insure that you are ready to move on down the road to college.
You've submitted your applications, taken your tests, and now all you can do is wait for the colleges to decide. A bit nerve-wracking to be sure, but you're a senior in your final semester. This is the time to relax a bit and enjoy being top dog. After all, the hardest work is behind you and an exciting new adventure awaits. Graduation is coming so now you party!