The Road Ahead: College and Career Planning
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Does the thought of college leave you feeling overwhelmed? Do you feel surrounded by people who seem to have it all figured out, wondering what class you missed? Are you simply baffled at how to begin the whole nerve racking collegiate process? Well, never fear, because the Howler staff is here to help. While searching for exactly the right college can seem to be a stressful task, the payoff of higher education is definitely worth the struggle, both in the eventual career options you will receive and in the real life experiences college offers you.
One of the most important things to remember when searching for colleges is that it’s never too early to start. The sooner you have an idea of what kind of schools you want to look at, the sooner you can figure out the standardized testing and application process, as well as the financial aid steps you need for the school of your choice. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to get really serious about searching for the right college by your Junior year.
The next step, college visits, are similar to an open house – you get a tour of the school, you can ask questions of the staff and students, and you will get a general feel for life on campus. College visits are highly recommended because one of the most important things you should consider when picking a school is it’s location. After all, you’ll be spending the next four years of your life in this school, and it’s incredibly important to pick surroundings that you genuinely enjoy. Most junior’s recommend starting college visits the fall of your junior year, but if you’ve already missed that boat don’t panic! Another great option is to schedule college visits during holiday and school break weeks, since class is generally still in session for Universities, and you can get a very good sense of what life is like with a student body in residence. However, all in all it doesn’t matter when you schedule college visits. And although college visits are strongly recommended, they aren’t strictly necessary. All colleges do a pretty good job of filling their web sites with photos, maps, virtual tours and student reviews.
As long as you have some knowledge of which schools appeal to you and an idea of what they might be like, the “work” part comes with applying to colleges. This is really why picking a school you will enjoy is so important, because you don’t want to put in all the work to apply to a college that you never really liked to begin with.
Another important factor in preparing for college is figuring out which standardized tests a school you’re interested in requires. While most high school students take the SAT’s, some schools look for other forms of testing, like the ACT or SAT Subject tests. While your scores on additional tests aren’t weighted as heavily as the SAT, some schools still want you to take them, most requiring at least two Subject tests. Identifying these requirements early will allow you to schedule and prepare for taking the tests.
In addition to these sorts of preliminary, one of the most important elements in applying to college is to remember to be proactive. There are many tools to help your transition to higher education, like the Common Application or many scholarships you can (and should) apply for. However, the sooner that you take command of these opportunities, making sure to finish your Common Application essay before the deadline, or fill out a FAFSA free application for federal student aid), the more success you can have. This is part of the reason that some students recommend completing early action college applications, which generally must be turned in during November or December, and let you know whether or not you got into that college early in the year. Not only does it allow you to rule out certain schools or cement your future plans earlier in the year, it also motivates many students to gather their paperwork before it’s strictly necessary, showing schools that they have the initiative to be a successful college student.
Of course it’s also important to remember that while college is the right choice for many students today, it is not the only available option. Some students choose to take a gap year between high school and college, a time to travel, figure out your place in the world, and explore opportunities outside of school. Others explore tech and trade training schools or programs for immediate skill acquisition which can also often include the opportunity to earn money while learning the trade. All in all however, no matter what you choose to do, be it college searches, gap years, or trade training, with the right attitude and just a speck of optimism, you are sure to do it well.
And lastly, if despite this crystal clear plan above, you can and should always stop by the Guidance Office to schedule college or career planning meetings. They have all the info!