You’ve Got This! Five Tips to Help You Prepare for College
We know there is a lot to consider when planning for college, so these tips and tools will help you navigate the process.
You’ve finally entered your junior or senior year in high school. Congrats! We all know that high school is educational, it can also be fun and allow you to socialize with friends. High school is also where you begin figuring out “what you want to be when you grow up.” Soon you will be faced with what you want to do once you graduate. Obtaining a college degree after you graduate is important these days. On average, a worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn over $1 million more over his or her lifetime than someone who earned a high school diploma. College might be years away but planning early can help ease any frustration you may have on selecting the right school, the application process, financial aid and more.
We’ve compiled five tips to best help you prepare for college.
Take Rigorous Courses
Admissions officers want to see that you’ve challenged yourself and succeeded. These courses show that you are ready for college-level work. More and more students are entering college on the condition that they take remedial courses, which often don’t count towards their degree. This means additional semesters in school and thousands more dollars spent on your education. Take the most rigorous courses your school offers that you are prepared for, especially in subjects you’re interested in, even if you aren’t the best at them. Your B in an AP physics class might be worth fewer points than an A in your GPA, but in most cases, it represents a greater mastery of the subject and broader exposure. Ultimately, do what’s best for you. It may be difficult to take honors calculus if you barely made it through pre-calc. Take what is rigorous FOR YOU, and then push yourself every semester.
Take Admissions Tests Early and Study for Them
The earlier, the better. If you are on free or reduced priced lunch, you could be eligible for a fee waiver that allows you to take the ACT or SAT for free. That’s in addition to the testing many high schools offer for free. Taking the test will give you a baseline and feedback for the next step—studying. Here’s a secret about many admissions tests: they don’t necessarily measure how well you know the content. While basic reading and math skills are required to pass (and if you aren’t meeting standards you should start there), the difference between an ok score and a great score for most people is test familiarity and strategy. Prep books (available at most libraries) can provide you with both. Many schools offer prep classes so check with your school counselor. There are also great free options available online. Khan Academy has an entire SAT prep course on the site designed in collaboration with the College Board (the people who make the test), complete with diagnostic tests and a customized study schedule. HINT: They also have modules to help you excel in your rigorous classes. And, we would be remiss in this discussion of tests to ignore the growing number of colleges that don’t require test scores at all. You can see an updated list of test-optional colleges here.
Your English teacher is right: even if you plan on going into a STEM career, your writing skills will be important. Starting with your application, colleges, scholarship committees and employers will use your writing ability to determine your fitness for the job. So how do you improve? Write as much as possible. When you get your papers back, read your teacher’s notes and implement them, even if it won’t help your grade. If grammar is an issue, use resources such as NoRedInk. Create a study group with your peers where you peer-edit each other’s work before you turn it in. Most importantly, read your papers out loud before you submit them. Even if they’re 10 pages long, proofreading is important.
Seek Out Scholarships and Financial Aid
Now is a good time to create a list of potential scholarships and financial aid opportunities. There is plenty of aid available to attend college, but it often takes time to research and find the scholarships that are right for you. Consider applying to scholarships from non-traditional outlets such as local non-profits organizations, corporations or churches. Some colleges offer institutional scholarships; check their websites for eligibility information and deadlines. UNCF provides more 10,000 scholarships each year through more than 400 programs. Each program has its own eligibility criteria, so go to UNCF.org/scholarships to find the programs or scholarships that are a good match. You should also complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. FAFSA filing begins in the fall and each state has a different deadline, so check here for more information.
While we’ve just loaded you up with the most difficult classes at your school and then told you to do extra studying afterward, you’re still a human being. All work and no play make for a dull person; self-care is essential! Explore your interests and get involved in your community. Join your high school’s clubs that cater to your hobbies and career goals. Want to be a Lawyer? Try mock trial or debate club. Engineer? Try robotics or computer science club. Ambassador or diplomat? Try Model UN. Not sure? Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and 4-H offer ways for high schools students to get involved, and often have high school clubs. Beta Club, National Honor Society and Key Club combine academic excellence with community service. If your school doesn’t have a club that you’re interested in, flex your leadership muscles and start one. There’s bound to be other people interested, and it will look great on your college application.
You’ve Got This!
We know there are lots to consider when planning for college, so we hope the tips and tools provided will help you in navigating this process. Don’t stress; take it one day at a time and create a plan of action. Rely on your school counselors, family, teachers, friends and others in the community to help you meet this goal. And finally, be sure to check out UNCF.org for more resources and information as you go through this process. And have confidence in yourself—you’ve got this!
Zakyia Goins-McCants is a school administrator and a 2018 Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) Summer Fellow. Dr. Meredith B.L. Anderson is a senior research associate at UNCF.