Many high school seniors begin preparing for college their senior year in high school, or even the week before they graduate from college. By then, most scholarship application deadlines have passed, your top college has already chosen most of its college freshman class, and you have only a few months to choose the one place that will change your life forever.
Do not wait until your senior year to prepare for college. Whether you are a star athlete, a valedictorian contender, a skilled artist or musician, barely scraping by, or the winner of the county science fair, you need to prepare for college the day you start high school. Going to college does not depend on whether you go to a struggling inner city school, are home-schooled, go to a wealthy prep school, or just attend the local suburban high school. Going to college depends entirely on you and how prepared you are.
1. Keep your grades up.
For academic scholarships, students need to have close to 3.5 in high school. If that is not a possibility for you, just make sure that you maintain at least C’s and B’s. If you fail a class, take a summer class to make up the grade, do extra credit, or work with a tutor to bring your grades up in subjects like reading and math.
An easy way to work on your skills in writing and English is to read books constantly. Read at least two books a month that are at a harder level than your usual reading fair. You will only be able to write at the level that you can read, so if you only read graphic novels, then your papers will reflect this. And in college, the better you write, the better grades you get.
2. Excel at one thing, try a few new things.
Find one thing that you are good at, whether it is debate, sewing, art, writing, music, science, drama, math, history, computers, etc. and excel at it. There is no reason to study accounting if you hate math. Find what you are good at and enjoy, then find colleges that have good departments in those areas. Don’t follow the old adage that it makes sense to get a degree in something that you can fall back on. If you do not enjoy a college course, you will not do well in it, and you will only end up changing your mind after wasting thousands of dollars in tuition.
A note for athletes: My husband is a university coach, and year after year, he sees promising young athletes either flunk out of college (and their careers) because they cannot read or write, or get a life-changing injury that ruins any chance of making it to the pros. Sometimes genetics work against you, and your height, weight, or build will prevent you from getting in the pros. Do not depend on athletics to do any more than get you a scholarship. Currently, baseball is the only professional sport with a steady paycheck.
3. Begin contacting colleges your sophomore year of high school.
Look at your financial situation realistically. Mom and dad footing the bill? Well, unless they are making more than six figures a year, you are going to need scholarships. And to get scholarships, you need contacts. Mom and dad broke? Then ditto with the scholarships. Become familiar with advisors and professors in the field you are interested in. If possible, visit the college or even see if someone from the college will visit you.
4. If you cannot afford college, stay in-state and look at community colleges.
Community colleges are quickly helping college students knock out the first two years of core classes (like English, foreign language, and math), for a fraction of the cost. Between saving money by staying at home and also saving on tuition, you can earn an Associates degree, then transfer to the college of your choice to finish out your college career. Beware of student loans with high interest. A good rule of thumb is to only take out enough student loan money that you can pay back within one to two years of graduating, all other bills and expenses included.
Community college is also great for students that need to hold a job, raise a family, or are unable to attend full time for any reason.
5. Apply to any and ALL scholarships early.
Find out about any and all scholarships and grants. Find out if the college has grants and scholarships based on financial need, ethnicity, critical shortage areas (like special needs education), or based on local organizations. By the time the beginning of your senior year rolls around, be sure to find out the deadlines of scholarships and meet each deadline.