Now is the time for high school students to take charge of their college searches. Here are some tips to get started:
■ Determine what you are looking for in a college.
Do you want an urban campus, a chance to ski, lots of options to study abroad, the opportunity to major in marine biology or creative writing or kinesiology? What do you want to accomplish as you earn your college degree? Would you function better in a large or small school? What kind of extracurricular, volunteer or sports activities do you want to participate in as part of your college experience?
In other words, what’s important to you?
■ Know what colleges are looking for. Among the criteria colleges use to judge an applicant are: the individual choice of courses in your high school curriculum that have challenged you; grades that are consistent and represent hard work; solid scores in the SAT and/or ACT; a passionate involvement in one or two activities where you have shown initiative and continued participation; and volunteer or work experiences.
■ Be informed and do your research. There are more than 3,000 colleges and universities, just in this country alone, from which to choose.
Consult with your school counselor or consider tapping into the experience of a college admissions counselor to broaden your prospective. In addition, there are many resource books in your library and bookstores, along with a number of websites.
Start with the website of schools you want to learn about. You can also check out www.youuniversitytv.com, www.ctcl.com and www.bigfuture.collegeboard.org.
■ Develop a schedule for standardized testing.
Take a practice test on the websites for both the ACT and SAT, and then determine if you want to focus on one or both tests. In the next 12 months, decide which test dates you want to select, and when and how you should conduct your test preparation. Be sure to check your calendar to avoid conflicts as you schedule your tests.
Remember, some 850 colleges are “test optional.” Find out if colleges you may be interested in require the SAT subject tests and determine when to take them.
■ Start visiting colleges and make contacts.
A road trip to colleges which interest you is a good idea. Sign up for the information session and take an official campus tour. Be sure the college knows you are there, and get the name of the admissions officer you’ve talked with, the tour guide and any faculty or coaches you have met. Stay in touch with these folks. Also, meet with admissions representatives who travel to your high school.
■ Discuss with your family how you will finance college.
What can you afford? What kind of institutional support will you seek? What kind of scholarships should you apply for?
For complete college costs, check out the net price calculators that are now on each college and university website. For an early estimator to help you get an idea about your financial aid eligibility, visit www.fafsa4caster.gov. By using the forecaster, you will know what your Expected Family Contribution will be and if you are eligible for federal financial aid.
Also, you can visit www.cappex.com. This site is a good starting place to find out what scholarships and merit awards are available at specific colleges.
■ Your college list is actually a work in progress.
Reflect on what you experience when you visit colleges and which colleges will offer you a community and culture that feels comfortable to you.
In compiling the list of colleges where you may actually apply, be true to yourself and your interests and don’t allow yourself to be completely influenced by reputation and rankings, or what your mom’s friends say about a certain school.
New York Times writer Frank Bruni, referring to his young family members wrote, "I hope they ask themselves not which school is the surest route to riches, but which will give them the richest experiences to draw from, which will broaden their frames of reference. College can shrink your universe, or college can expand it. I vote for the latter.”
Keep Bruni’s words and the above tips in mind as you undertake your journey toward college.
College admissions is not a race to be run, or a prize to be won. It’s a match to be made.