College can be one of the most exciting times in your life, but getting to college, from the difficult application process to paying for your degree, can be a massive challenge.
Lucky for you, there are things you can do to make the process easier on yourself. As you get started on your college journey, taking the time to research schools, practice for standardized tests, taking AP classes, finding your career passions, and creating a rough draft of how to pay for college can all make the journey a bit easier.
Here are a few tips about preparing for college while still in high school.
Preparing For College: A 5 Part Checklist
Preparation is the key to success, well one of them anyway. Taking these five steps can help you set yourself up for a successful college experience.
1. Research Your Dream School
One of the first parts of preparing for college is deciding which college or university is right for you. The good news is that there is a school out there for everyone. The bad news is that you have so many options that you might be overwhelmed with choices.
Some students know right away that they want to go to the same school their parents went to, and other students are choosing between a few in-state campuses. Regardless of your position, there are a couple of things you can ask yourself to help narrow down your college search. Here are a few things to help you reflect as you build the list of colleges you plan on applying to:
What Type of Career Do You Want to Pursue?
One of the first things you might consider is what you hope to do with your degree. If you already know that you want to be an urban planner, then you may want to focus your college search on schools with stellar urban planning programs. Think your dream is too niche?
Whether you want to study auctioneering or Egyptology, there’s a program for you. If, on the other hand, you aren’t sure what you want to major in, you may want to look at bigger schools with many different programs where you will be able to take a wide variety of classes.
Where Do You Want to be Located?
You may also want to consider what type of location you’re looking for in a college experience. Maybe you want to get as far away from home as possible, or maybe you would be more comfortable on a campus within driving distance of your family. Some students choose to live at home and attend a local college in order to save money on living costs. Once you narrow down a location, you can start searching for schools in that area.
How Many Schools Will You Apply To?
It’s not a bad idea to apply to a few different schools even if you have your heart set on just one. Your dreams and goals can change through the college application process, and a different school may be a better match when it comes time to make a final decision. Plus, the application process can be competitive, and applying to more schools may give you more chance of success in your application.
2. Plan For the SAT and ACT
Once you know where you want to apply, it is time to get down to business and start preparing for college entrance exams. Some schools require the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT, and some schools require American College Testing, known as the ACT. Some schools will accept either one, but you might end up having to take both to cover all your bases.
The key to working towards a killer score on either test is preparation, preparation, preparation. Whether you’re taking an after-school prep class or studying by yourself, there are lots of resources available online to help you succeed. Both the SAT and the ACT offer free practice tests, and Khan Academy offers a free SAT practice program .
Recommended: Do Your SAT Scores Really Matter for College?
Taking practice tests can help you not only learn the material but can help you get comfortable with the format of the test. This can help you stay calm and confident when test day rolls around.
3. Get Involved In Extracurriculars
In between all that studying, you may want to consider taking some time to get to work in your community. One thing many colleges look for are well-rounded students who are interested in more than just academics.
That means that getting involved in the community could potentially help you write a strong college application, and it may also help you decide what you want to do with your life. Sports obsessed? You might consider taking up a new sport to round out your classes, or volunteering to coach a local youth team.
More into classic literature than shooting hoops? Many schools have programs where you can volunteer to tutor younger students, which can not only help sharpen your skills, but may look great on an application. Whatever you’re into, don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new—you might just find a new passion for marine biology after organizing a beach clean up day with your classmates.
4. Consider Taking AP Courses
Many schools offer Advanced Placement or “AP” courses. Taking these classes may help you get one step ahead when it comes to college. AP courses allow you to tackle college-level material while you’re still in high school, and at the end of the class, if you pass the AP exam, you could be rewarded with college credits. Why try to rack up college credits in high school?
The more credits you earn from AP classes in high school, the more intro classes you may be able to skip in college. So if you take AP English in high school, you may qualify to skip out on the freshman level English class once you’re at university.
Depending on the school, that may mean that you have more opportunity to take specialized classes in your major, or it could even lead to the opportunity to graduate early.
5. Figure Out Your Finances
There’s no denying that college can be expensive. College tuition has risen 33% from the 2001-2002 school year to the 2018-2019 school year. Some suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic may have temporarily slowed the rate of tuition increase. According to the College Board’s annual Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report, tuition increases between the 2019-2020 and the 2020-2021 school year were the lowest they’ve been in 30 years. From 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, the average tuition and fees paid by in-state students at public four-year institutions increased by 1.1% and the cost rose by 2.1% for nonprofit four-year institutions.
According to the Sallie Mae How America Pays for College 2021 parent income and savings covered 45% of college costs. So, even if you’ll get some help from your family, you may need to cover some of the cost of college out of pocket. There are many ways to finance your education—you may want to start by filling out the FAFSA® and applying for grants and scholarships. If those do not cover your costs, you may also consider private student loans.
In the spirit of complete transparency, we recommend exhausting all your federal options before considering SoFi as your private lender. Private student loans lack the borrower protections—like income driven repayment plans and deferment or forbearance—that federal student loans have. But if you are looking for supplemental funding for your education, private student loans are an option.
Private student loans at SoFi have no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. The application process is entirely online and flexible repayment options are available.
The college application process can be overwhelming. Breaking it down into smaller steps and goals can make it feel a little bit easier. Consider researching schools, making a plan for standardized testing, and expanding your involvement in extracurriculars, and taking AP level courses. Getting into college is half the equation, the other half is paying for it.
When federal financial aid, scholarships, grants, and savings aren’t enough–student loans may be one option to consider to help fill in the gaps.
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