Before College

Preparing To Go To College By Andres Tobar

Should I go to College?

Why is a college education so important? For the student who is turned off by the idea of continuing school after graduation, it is important to consider what such a decision has on the rest of his or her life. Consider the following facts provided by the ACT (American Collect Testing), Inc. (http://www.actstudent.org/college/index.html):

  • Every bit of education you get after high school increases the chances you’ll earn good pay. Most college graduates earn more money during their working years than people who stop their education at high school earn.
  • The more education you get the more likely it is you will always have a job. According to one estimate, by the year 2028 there will be 19 million more jobs for educated workers than there are qualified people to fill them.
  • Continuing education after high school is much more important for your generation than it was for your parents’ generation. Today most good jobs require more than a high school diploma. Businesses want to hire people who know how to think and solve problems.
  • Education beyond high school gives you a lot of other benefits, including meeting new people, taking part in new opportunities to explore your interests, and experiencing success.

For most high school students, attending college is an important graduation goal. The question each student needs to answer is “Am I doing all that I need to do in my education to apply and attend college?” It is equally important to look inside oneself and build personal motivation and desire to achieve this goal. The next step is putting in place a personal plan that will lead to successful college admission and financing. Many tools are available in this Directory for locating sources of college financial aid. Other important steps of a student’s plan to make college a reality follow here.

What classes should I take in high school to meet college admission standards?

In order to prepare for a college education, high school students should select classes that are as challenging and rigorous as available. Successful completion of higher-level courses in math, science, foreign language, history, and language arts are expected. Some college programs or highly selective schools may expect their incoming freshmen to have achieved very advance math and science courses. This is particularly true for programs that accept freshmen to study engineering or pre-medical studies. A good way to determine what courses should be taken is to review the types of diplomas given to graduates. Often school systems will offer “advanced diplomas” for students who have completed a rigorous course of study. Ask your guidance counselor what classes you need for college and do research on the standards of various colleges you have heard of or might want to attend.

For many students, planning for college may begin as early as middle school. In order to take the classes necessary to apply to college, students must complete certain course prerequisites. It is not too early for students to discuss college and pathways to higher levels of math, science, and foreign languages with their middle school guidance counselor or homeroom advisors. It may be hard to think about college this early, especially for students who are uncertain they will attend college, but it is wiser to select the classes usually taken by a college-bound student. Either way, the student receives a stronger education and will have more choices at graduation.

If a student decides he or she wants attend college but may not have taken the required courses, there are still ways to prepare for college admission. For students who have not graduated, courses can be taken in summer school. If already graduated from high school, preparatory programs are available through community colleges or junior colleges. These institutions also offer two-year (associate) degrees that provide a pathway to admission into a 4-year college. Students who earn an associate degree and maintain a good GPA can often enter as a junior or third-year college student. Students need to remember, however, that unlike high school, education after high school is not free. In order to save money it is better to take your college preparatory classes while still in high school.

For students who are pursuing a college preparatory program in high school, strong consideration should be given to enrolling in high school classes that are identified as Advanced Placement (AP), if available. Not only do students who score well on AP exams earn college credits from taking the AP course, but also having AP courses on the student’s grade transcript demonstrates to college admission officers that the student is motivation to excel and taking a rigorous course of study. AP courses also give an extra point in the student’s grade point average (GPA). For example, a final grade of “B” or 3.0 in an AP class will be computed as a 4.0 (equivalent to an “A”) on the student’s transcript. If AP classes are not available, students should ask about taking honors classes. Working to keep one’s grades up is an important goal. Students should aim for making the honor roll and other academic recognitions, if available.

College-bound students should remember that college admissions officers pay particular attention to the three basic indicators of college success when admitting students: The student’s (1) GPA; (2) class rank; and (3) SAT or ACT score. To be eligible to apply to the broadest choices of colleges and scholarships, students should pay attention to these important numbers during their high school years. Any student who hits an academic rough patch or is struggling in school should not stand by and hope it gets better! Take action and ask for help from your family, and your teacher or your guidance counselor. They want you to succeed. In the end, your hard work and dedication will pay off!

What about standardized tests for college admission? How should I prepare?

Most college admissions require students to take a college entrance exam, either the Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT). The score on this test will help admissions officers know about your readiness for college. It is also a useful tool to help decide what colleges and universities are best suited to the student. The higher his or her score on the SAT, the more competitive the student becomes. Most high school students take the SAT during their junior year. Students can take the test more than once and only the highest score will be reported to colleges. A “practice” test of the SAT called the “PSAT” or “Preliminary SAT” is available for students to take in their sophomore year. There are many ways to prepare for taking this test, including practice tests online. Ask your guidance counselor if there are preparatory SAT or ACT classes available in your community. Many experts believe that one of the keys to doing well on these tests is to practice taking the test many times in advance of the actual exam. The more one takes the exam, the more comfortable one becomes with the format of the test, allowing the student to focus energy on the exam questions. Since SAT or ACT exam is usually taken during the student’s junior year, this is also a good time to begin identifying the eligibility criteria and deadlines for scholarships that would needed to pay for college.

Another important way to prepare and improve SAT or ACT scores should start as soon as possible – develop a habit of reading for pleasure. Find books or magazines in the library that interest you and develop the habit of reading for fun. Studies have shown that students who read for pleasure often do better on standardized tests. Reading is a way to built your vocabulary and learn words used within the content of their meaning. Reading for pleasure also helps increase the speed that one reads, an important skill for college. Another important skill for college is learning to write in a way that is grammatically correct. Most students who speak English as a second languages find they are working to catch up academically with their classmates. Students who face such challenges should know that with the right classes and by seeking out help – whether from a mentor, tutoring, or being part of a special programs for non-native speakers – they can be competitive in school.

To build these important skills, students should seek out activities that push them to use their reading and writing abilities – whether working on the school newspaper or yearbook, joining a creative writing club or book club, participating in the Model UN, or volunteering for a school play or concert – such activities will not only improve reading and writing skills, but also provide extracurricular activities to include on college applications.

When should I write my college essay?

Nearly all colleges require their applicants to include a personal essay. Most college-bound students begin to outline and draft their college essay in their junior year with the goal to complete the essay before the beginning of their senior year. It is wise to seek other caring adults from your family or school for feedback. Consult with your guidance counselor and your English teacher as you develop your essay. Be open minded and welcome their comments and suggestions.

How can an undocumented immigrant student go to college?

Students who are undocumented immigrants will encounter obstacles in obtaining a college education in the United States. These students are not eligible for most state and federal financial aid, and in many states are required to pay out-of-state or international student tuition. The DREAM Act, a proposed law that has been introduced at both the state and federal legislatures, would make it easier for undocumented high school graduates to attend college. Unfortunately only a few states have passed this type of legislation into law at this time. It is important to discuss this matter with your guidance counselor to get the latest information about ways to obtain more education after high school.

What is the most affordable college path to take?

For most students, attending a public college or university close to home will be their best option. This will ensure that the cost of tuition and living expenses are the most economical. For the high school student who has excelled academically in grades and test scores, however, it is possible that colleges and universities will offer generous packages to attend their institution and such offers should be seriously considered.

Is it ever too late to apply for college?

It’s never too late to apply or attend college. Some students only decide they want to attend college during their last years of high school and don’t have time to take the necessary college preparatory course work. Others have already graduated from high school before making this decision. Some students enter military service and finish their tour ready to go back to school. One way to address this is to enroll in adult education classes or a local community college and take the recommended courses that will help you get into college. Many adult education programs offer classes focused on improving basic college skills such as writing or refresher math courses. Take advantage of these programs as they will sharpen the critical skills needed for college success.