A student’s four years of high school must be mapped out effectively to prepare for a successful college experience. Having a plan each year of high school will put the student on a successful path to graduating with a college degree.
Research Majors: Students should start thinking about their passions, strengths, and a field where they can combine their interests and skills. A student does not need to pin down a specific major at this point but should have a general idea of whether they want a career in music or nursing. Not every college offers the same majors, so it is important to first identify the field the student wants to focus on for four years. For example, is it in the student’s best interest to major in performance or music education? Families can help their teen research potential career paths and the pros and cons. Most universities allow students to start their studies undeclared and then apply or declare a major in their second semester. However, to stay on course and graduate within four years, it is important to have a general sense of the desired major, the course requirements and expectations, and career prospects upon completion. By failing to research majors, one wastes time and money for a major the student may not be interested in or understand, does not meet the specific course requirements, or their career aspirations do not align.
Research Institutions: Now that a desired major or field is established, researching institutions should be the next step. Does the student picture themselves in a major city, studying abroad, or staying close to home? Is the student comfortable in a small liberal arts setting or a major state university with competitive sports teams? Does the student want to live at home, need transportation, or need roommates in a dorm? Does the institution offer academic support or mental health services? Students need to visit campuses in-person early on to see if they can picture themselves there. It is best to go in person and speak with current students, faculty, and alumni about their experiences with the institution. An institution’s admissions process should be documented and followed. For example, SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and an audition or interview may be required or waived. Some universities also charge an admissions fee to apply. It is important to adhere to strict dates a school may have, such as early admissions. Other schools may have adapted to rolling admissions.
Research Finances: College is an investment. The total cost of attendance for the institution should be acknowledged, this information is on an institution’s website under tuition. Some schools will have a flat fee or pay by credit. Also, research if the institution’s tuition includes books or a meal plan. Housing is usually a separate cost and at least $1K a month should be allotted for living expenses. Students will also need health insurance. In the U.S., most students pay for their education by securing student loans. Families should discuss how they will help their students pay for education, either through private or public loans. Most students also work in college either through federal work-study, campus employment, or off-campus jobs. Students should start applying for outside scholarships during this time, for example from their local church, boy scouts, or essay writing contest. Students and families should never be discouraged by the cost of attendance, there are resources and financial counselors that will be able to discuss options. Today, universities offer payment plans and some high schools offer AP or Dual enrollment courses to test out of credits.
Communication with the College: It is essential to have proper correspondence once the student has been accepted by the institution. Emails, phone calls, and written letters must be answered in a timely fashion. Students should have a functioning email and voicemail. The school will need to communicate important events such as orientation, move-in day, medical records, etc.
While four years may seem like plenty of time for students and families to prepare for the next chapter, in reality, it will feel as if you’ve suddenly blinked an eye for just a second and are all of a sudden walking at Graduation. Preparing for college takes significant research, campus visits, self-reflection, and heart-to-heart conversations. A student will need four years to carefully plan their academic studies, it cannot happen overnight.