Preparing for college should be treated as a full-time job considering the time and effort you’ll need to finish everything you need to before stepping onto your intended campus. You need to make yourself an attractive undergraduate candidate by taking challenging classes and getting involved in activities outside of academics, signing up for and preparing for the requisite standardized tests, attempting to save money for the endeavor, and narrowing down your list of possible college options. Once you’ve done all that, the application process begins, and it doesn’t slow down from there. The good news is, once you’re on campus, the college prep and organization skills you honed so well in high school will make it much easier for you to make the next round of decisions, like choosing a major and classes, and deciding on the kind of college life you’d like to pursue.
Start Planning Early
By the time your senior year comes around, you should have a pretty good idea of at least where you’ll be applying to, the standardized tests you’re going to take, and the last-minute resume builders you’re going to pursue that year to make yourself a more desirable candidate for that dream school. But if you’re really serious about getting prepared for college and landing the most financial aid you can, you should starting thinking about a plan as early as freshman year, when your guidance counselor could make suggestions on the kinds of courses you should be taking and extracurricular activities you should be signing yourself up for. Start looking at schools with the programs you’re interested in, and if you’re undecided, pursue a college search with liberal arts and a broad curriculum base in mind. High school is also the time to work on your study skills, and take as tough a course load each semester as you can handle, with a variety of Advanced Placement and college prep courses. Admissions competition at the top schools has only become fiercer, and undergraduate candidates start thinking about college application season earlier and earlier.
We can’t remind students enough to apply early and apply often for financial aid opportunities like scholarships and grants. Much of that funding is already distributed by the end of your senior year, and college-based awards are often given on a first-come, first-served basis. Apply for early admission if you can, so that you can weigh awards against each other. You don’t want to find out too late in the process that you won’t be able to attend your top school because you missed a financial aid deadline and as a result won’t be able to afford that long-anticipated freshman year.
The preparation you put in to getting yourself on campus will come in handy once you’re in college deciding how to fill your academic calendar and which programs and majors to pursue. Depending on your priorities, your major could already be obvious to you or could require some research to find which are in high demand, offer a good degree of earning potential or fit in with your existing interests. Once you have that nailed down, your course loads will be mostly determined by your intended major’s requirements. If you have the time, consider classes outside your major that might add to your skill-set. While the economy may be solid by the time you’re ready to graduate, it never hurts to be able to say you have experience in fields outside your chosen major when you’re ready to look for jobs out of college. You’ll look versatile and savvy, and if you decide down the road that you want to join the pool of career-changers, you’ll already have a good idea of other fields of study you had some interest in.