How to Prepare for College
Applying and preparing for college involves two different areas: Admission (gaining admittance into college) and Financial Aid (how you will pay for college). Here is an overview of the steps you will take as you prepare for college.
To get started, it is important to start thinking about what you like to do, and how you learn best. Here are some questions to ask yourself and to talk about with your family:
Do you learn better and are you more comfortable in a small or large setting?
In what subjects/classes do you excel (Math, Science, Literature, Arts, etc.)?
Have you spoken with your school guidance counselor to look at college options?
Have you spoken with your family about your college finances?
Take the pre-ACT "PLAN" test or the PSAT - or both.
Start thinking of programs you would like to study.
It is time to start taking the actual SAT and/or ACT college entrance exams. Advance registration is required. A good time to take these tests for the first time is in the spring.
Visits to college campuses should start during the junior year. Begin narrowing down all the colleges and universities that you are interested in and choose to visit a few during the spring.
Be aware of the application deadlines for the colleges in which you are interested. It may be best to begin applying in the spring of your junior year for colleges that have early deadlines.
It is a good time to begin looking at scholarships or grants that might be available to you. Although you cannot begin applying for federal or state aid yet until after January 1st of your Senior year, you can apply for community and private scholarships early. Some good places to search for scholarships are:
Your family's employer(s)
Banks and businesses
Complete the college application process during the fall of your senior year because many colleges have early deadlines. Most schools require your high school transcripts and ACT/SAT test scores. Send these in with your application.
Visiting colleges during your senior year is very helpful. Many colleges require interviews or ask that you visit before being admitted into specific majors. You may also be asked to visit some colleges in order to be considered for scholarships.
Once you have decided on a college or university to attend, ask about opportunities for summer or early registration for classes.
The most important step in pursuing financial aid is completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is based on you and/or your parents' tax returns for the previous year so you cannot submit the application until after January 1st of your senior year. It is important to complete the FAFSA as early in the spring as possible, since most states have an early deadline for scholarships. You can get a copy of the appication at the FAFSA web site.
You should contact the colleges and universities that you are interested in to find out their specific deadlines for financial aid.
Important things to remember
Many students ask, "Is it better to take the ACT or SAT exam?"
Know that generally there is a "1/3 Rule" meaning that roughly 1/3 of high school students do better on the ACT, 1/3 do better on the SAT and 1/3 do the same on both exams. Talk to your high school guidance counselor to understand more about the ACT and SAT exams.
Different regions of the country tend to prefer either the ACT or SAT exam. If you are not sure which exam to take we suggest that you look at the requirements for the colleges and universities you are considering.
Both exams allow you to list the colleges and universities that you would like to receive the results of your test.
College campus visits
Try to visit the campus when classes are in session. It is helpful to see what the campus life is like as you compare the advantages and disadvantages of different college.
Be sure to notify the college admissions office in advance of your visit. They will be able to plan a full range of options for you if they know what your interests and your travel plans are. "Walk-in" visits are much less helpful than visits that you plan in advance.
Ask yourself, "Can I see myself getting involved on this campus?"
Find a student and ask him why he attends that particular school.
Sit in on a class.
Talk to a professor in your area of interest.
Spend a night in the dorm.
Attend a chapel service or student life function.