College planning guide

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Planning for college starts long before your senior year of high school. The sooner you start planning, the better, even as early as 9th grade -- colleges will look at your academic record beginning then. While the thought of attending college may seem distant or difficult, there are steps you can take now, and people and resources to support you! 

Here are some general college planning tips to keep in mind throughout high school:

  • Meet with your guidance counselor regularly.
    Keep your counselor informed of your college plans so she or he can offer suggestions and help you explore options.
  • Choose challenging courses.
    Include advance placement (AP), Running Start and honors courses. Just meeting the minimum requirements to graduate may not get you into the college of your choice.
  • Maintain good grades.
    Your GPA isn’t the most important part of your college application, but it counts.
  • Pay attention in English class.
    Solid writing skills will help you with your admissions essay and are important in many of your college classes.
  • Get involved in extra-curricular clubs and activities.
    Volunteer in your local community. In the admissions process, colleges will consider what you did outside the classroom.
  • Love the math.
    Take high school math at least through intermediate algebra as most colleges will require this for admission. Many degree programs will also require a course in statistics, and it wouldn’t hurt to get that out of the way in high school. If you plan to study any kind of science or engineering, you should take as much math and science as you can in high school.
  • Take the PSAT as a junior.
    It’s good practice for the SAT/ACT and it also can qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship.
  • Consider what type of school fits you best.
    There are lots of colleges and universities out there (more than 2,300 in the U.S. alone), each one a little different. Think about what factors are most important to you, including size, location, setting, type of school, degrees offered and campus activities or sports.
  • Apply early and often.
    Most schools will accept applications at the start of your senior year and deadlines are often in December or January. Also, remember the saying about eggs and baskets — apply to more than one school or have a back-up plan in case you don’t get into your first-choice school.
  • See the campus in real life.
    You’ve seen all the virtual tours, flipped through all the viewbooks, maybe even talked to an advisor at a college fair, but nothing will give you the same experience as actually visiting the campus in person. You’re going to spend four years there, so make sure it feels like a good fit.
  • Don’t forget financial aid.
    You should start researching scholarships and financial aid before your senior year and keep track of deadlines; many come up six months to a year before you enroll. Also, have your parents complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January of your senior year even if you’re not sure you qualify for financial aid. Almost every school will require you to complete a FAFSA to be considered for any kind of aid. ​
    If you are an HB 1079/Real Hope student who is not eligible to complete the FAFSA, you may submit a WASFA instead. The priority deadline for 2016-17 aid is Feb. 28, 2016. You can still file after that date, but you will not be considered for priority aid. (The WASFA application is for HB 1079 students only.) HB 1079 students who have Social Security numbers have the option of completing the FAFSA. It is not necessary to complete both the FAFSA and the WASFA; however, you must notify the financial aid office if you decide to complete only the FAFSA.
  • Enjoy your senior year, but don’t slack off.
    You’ll be required to submit a final high school transcript and, if your grades took a nosedive, a college can retract its offer of admission.