College Planning Guide for Students

College Planning

How to Plan Your Route to College?

Going to college is an exciting step in any student’s life, but it’s not always easy to plan for it. As a result, you can find yourself bogged down by overwhelming choices and a minefield of information.
Here, you’ll find out how planning for college works for high school students. Proper preparation, which requires a correct mindset and effective methods for the best results, is vital. Read on to find out more.

Start Planning While in High School

High school is the beginning of the end of your secondary education, and it’s the best time to start your college planning during your junior year. With adequate planning, you’ll have a much narrower list of majors, colleges, and other extracurricular activities to choose from.

Of course, other than college planning, the most important thing to do while in college is to study hard for good grades. A high GPA will be advantageous for your college career, as more opportunities, such as scholarships, are open to excellent students. Getting poor scores can lower your GPA, making good grades much more critical.

During your junior year, you can start scouting for potential colleges. Always remember to factor in your preferred major, region, and such.
If you’re planning to attend a local college, find out more about it from newspapers and other sources of information.

Junior year is also the time to start inquiring about scholarships and grants. You may discover a program that offers incredible benefits, especially if you have financial needs.
Participating in extracurricular activities, clubs, and even community service are ways to increase your chances of being accepted.

Some of the activities you can consider are:

  • Internships
  • Becoming a prefect
  • Student government
  • Debate team
  • The performing arts
  • Part-time jobs
  • Sports teams

You may notice college acceptance committees like students who participate in these activities. If you’re not as enthusiastic in high school, you may lower your chances of acceptance.
As a student, you can also visit the colleges you’re considering, attend seminars, and start filling out a FAFSA form. However, the latter takes some time to complete, and it’s best to submit it early for higher approval rates. In addition, financial aid for college students is limited, and you may increase your chances of receiving an award if you apply sooner rather than later.

The ACT and SAT scores are essential for college applications. It would be best to try and score as highly as possible, no matter what courses you take. If your scores are too low, retake the tests. Note that there are study guides and preparation courses to help you perform better.
High ACT or SAT scores also help improve your scholarship approval rates, which alleviate the financial burden of college immensely.

In the spring of the senior year, it’s time to start submitting all financial aid documents, FAFSA forms, scholarship applications, and more. Only submit final documents to the schools you choose and inform the colleges or universities you don’t plan to attend. Then, when the semester begins, and all goes well, you can start your college career.

Asking for a Transcript and References

Colleges list official transcripts as a necessary document when you submit your application. References aren’t mandatory for college education but may help the admissions committee form a better impression of you and your high school life.

Getting an Official Transcript

It’s always the right decision to ask for an official transcript early, as the office may be busy nearing graduation. However, obtaining one will take a few days as it has to be printed and certified before being sent out.
You can also get an official transcript sent to you by applying on the school website, but this isn’t available for everyone.
Some students decide to go to college a long time after graduation. In this case, you can still obtain an official transcript. The school website may be what you’re looking for. If there’s no website, you may have to call the school for assistance.

Getting an official transcript may cost nothing at some schools but not at others. Nevertheless, all colleges want this essential document. In addition, future employers will also ask for high school and college transcripts.
The “Transcript Fee” may be included in your high school fees, which means you’ve already paid and won’t incur any further costs.
If you don’t want to use either option, consider using a third-party site. These websites can send transcript copies to colleges and employees. However, you will be charged for their services.

In the event that your high school closes down or you can’t find any contact information, go to the National Center for Education Statistics website. You can visit the page, enter your school district, and find your records, as the district preserves them even after an institution closes.

Sometimes, the district itself doesn’t exist anymore. If that’s the case, contact the state’s Department of Education. They can help provide the transcript in this case.
You can find private high schools’ transcripts using this page.

Obtaining References

References are more accessible to students but require prompt action, especially if you’re nearing graduation. In addition, teachers are often busier during this period and will find it challenging to provide you with good references.

Always ask early in your senior year to give the teacher in question more time to compose a compelling reference letter. The best teacher isn’t the one who awarded you high grades, but who knows you and your work best. They will be able to provide details other teachers won’t have.

Don’t merely send an email or voicemail message when making a request. Instead, visit personally to emphasize the importance of the letter. Meeting face-to-face will also allow you to make any additional requests.

Colleges may tell applicants how they wish to receive these references. After finding out about the process, make it easier for your teachers. Some prefer teachers to email the college directly, whereas others want you to provide them.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Your major and future career matter, and you should devote some time to considering the pros and cons of your favorite subjects. While it’s possible to change majors, you may have to study longer due to missing some prerequisite classes the new field requires. The extra time can range from a semester to two years.
Start by considering your strengths and passions, such as astronomy or biology. If you have a keen interest and love for a subject, it may become your major when you go to college. However, you should also think further than college itself.

After college, you can either go to university for further education or find a job. It would be best to consider your future career and professional goals, as college is the first step to achieving these targets. If your plan requires even more qualifications, pick a college and major that lets you reach these milestones.

Some students attend a college closer to home, which has many benefits, such as being near their family and friends and perhaps living off-campus.
However, the local college may not be the right one for your major or career plans. Therefore, it’s best to choose an out-of-state college rather than a local institution.
You can also consider several alternatives, such as online school, community college, or similar. These are valid paths that may let you transfer to a traditional four-year college as well.

It’s best to consider these questions early as you can always change your mind before applying to a college. You can even select courses geared toward your target institutions or future major if you’re still in junior year. They not only prepare you for the advanced classes in college, but the college acceptance team will also notice these course choices.
By performing well in your favorite subjects in high school, your acceptance rate may increase.

The Types of Educational Institutions

When applying to accredited colleges, it’s essential to know the differences between the different institutions. Each offers benefits the others may not, and you’ll have to sit down and think before deciding which is the right option for you. Your high school guidance counselor can also give you valuable advice tailored to your situation.

Traditional Public Four-Year College or University

All 50 states in the U.S. have at least one public college or university. These institutions are funded by the state government and are meant to provide a high-quality education at a lower price than private four-year institutions.

While out-of-state students are free to apply, some public schools will limit how many people can study there every year. Typically, these students pay more than the in-state students.
A traditional public college or university can help reduce costs, though they may not offer the specialized education you want. Nevertheless, don’t forget to give them some consideration.

Traditional Private Four-Year College or University

These institutions are owned by nongovernment entities, which allows them to spend more on the organization and offer more benefits. However, private colleges are often more expensive than public institutions for several reasons.

  • Better professors
  • High-quality facilities
  • Increased networking chances

These advantages and many others will cost money, but some students will benefit from having access to them. It’s up to you and your family to determine whether costlier education is worthwhile.
These private colleges can range from smaller liberal arts colleges to larger institutions. In addition, they may have better financial aid opportunities, depending on their rankings nationwide and other factors.

Two-Year Community College

Community colleges are a step below a four-year college, as the former only lasts two years. Completing a major results in an associate’s degree and certificates. Some students meet the general education requirements in community colleges before transferring to a four-year institution.

The main reason is that it’s so much cheaper than starting at a four-year college. In addition, those who are undecided about their majors can use these two years to decide. You can study and explore different fields without spending too much money.

For-Profit Schools

These colleges don’t have the best reputation because they prioritize generating profits over educating students. However, attending such a college is still a good choice, as it’s possible to get a solid education. For-profit institutions typically have higher acceptance rates, flexible classes, and skills-based training emphases.

There’s one primary issue with for-profit schools. The authorities may dispute their credentials, and there have even been lawsuits because the school has defrauded a student.
For this reason, think very carefully before applying to a for-profit school.

Online College or University

Some traditional colleges offer online degrees, while others are purely online-based. Recent high school graduates and nontraditional students benefit from earning an online degree.

Online schooling can be asynchronous, meaning students can progress as their circumstances and preferences dictate. Parents caring for a child will appreciate this freedom, for example. Full-time workers can also earn a wage while pursuing higher education online.

Some online colleges offer financial aid, but it will depend on the institution.
Distance learners may also have access to free textbooks they can view online or the possibility of using online databases through the institution.

Trade School or Technical Colleges

Trade schools and technical colleges are better choices if you prefer learning a trade. These institutions are more effective in getting students into the workplace. They’re often less expensive and have a faster graduation timeline as well.

Learning a trade requires real-world experience, and you’ll be able to get plenty by studying in a trade school or technical college. In the long run, this experience will help you secure a job. Many of these fields have a high demand for personnel. Therefore, trade school graduates are more likely to be hired after graduation.

Special Focus Institutions

Unlike the options outlined above, these colleges or universities are highly specialized and only award degrees in limited areas. They may be affiliated with larger institutions. While primarily meant for master’s and doctoral degree students, some may accept undergraduates.
These schools aren’t the best for students who are undecided about their future or who prefer to explore. Thus, only apply to one when you have a clear career vision.

Things to Consider When Planning:

Here are various factors to consider before applying to a college. While not all apply, we recommend keeping them in mind just in case.

Annual College Fees

Even if you know what major or college you prefer, tuition costs can be a significant obstacle to achieving your dream education. Other costs like housing, meals, and more will also add up rapidly. In addition, students will have to pay for extracurricular expenses and study-abroad programs.

In this respect, financial aid will be your best friend, even if your family can afford to pay for your annual fees. It’s always best to look for scholarships, grants, and more to offset the financial burden.
If the tuition fees are too high, you can consider an online college, as these programs are often cheaper than on-campus degrees. Some colleges also exempt online students from specific fees.

Living off-campus and buying your own groceries is another way to cut down on annual expenses. Both options tend to cost less than living in the dorms and getting a meal plan.
Sometimes, colleges may not provide enough financial aid. It’s possible to contest the decision, but you’ll need a convincing argument. If you win, you’ll get additional assistance to cover the costs.

Deadlines Can Vary

When applying for a college, there are many deadlines to consider. SAT or ACT preparation may also be a consideration if you decide to retake the exams.
In addition, scholarship and FAFSA applications have even more deadlines that likely don’t coincide. It’s best to mark all of these days on a calendar or app, so you don’t forget them.

Asking for Help

Granted, you can plan for college alone, but it’s best to consult with friends, family, and the school faculty for guidance if you’re still in high school. They’ve likely been to college and can offer you excellent advice.

Your parents know you best, and they’ll try to find the perfect option for you. So heed their advice when it comes to picking a school. Friends who just graduated or are about to go to college are also great to turn to.
The best people to ask are still school counselors, who have professional experience and will support you every step of the way.

Visit the College

Visiting a college is always a good idea, as you’ll get a firsthand impression on which to base your decision regarding a place of study. Talk to as many people as possible and try to gain information. It’s more important for those who wish to live on-campus.

It’s Never Too Late

Even if college seems far away for high-schoolers, it’s still best to start planning. The sooner you start considering the options, the less stress you’ll encounter. Submitting forms in advance will also help increase your financial aid chances.

Ultimately, the anxiety won’t be too much to bear if you’re well-prepared. Therefore, planning for a college education ahead of time is always beneficial. You won’t regret spending time filling out forms and looking for scholarships.