Things to know about
Here is some background on things you might want to know about when planning for college:
Standardized tests are a big part of the college application process, for better or worse. Although these tests are a few years away, make sure your student knows that reading and math matter; they lay the foundation for succeeding at tests they will take later.
The two most commonly required tests are the ACT and the SAT (taken during students' junior year).
When to begin looking at colleges
Families begin looking at colleges at different times, but sophomore year is ideal for seriously discussing post-high school options. During middle school it helps if students see colleges and start to visualize their future there. Consider taking a walk together across a campus or attending athletic or arts events. A good time to schedule more formal campus visits is during a student’s sophomore or junior year.
Colleges welcome your visits and don’t expect that you will automatically apply or enroll there just because you visited.
There are two main types of degrees that U.S. students pursue after high school. Bachelor’s, or baccalaureate, degrees are offered by four-year colleges and require students to choose a major and also complete some general requirements. Associate degrees require two years of post-high school coursework and may focus on a specialization or career area. Vocational, career or trade schools also offer a variety of diplomas or certificates corresponding to a specific career path.
Classes to take
One thing that students and parents can do to prepare for college early on is to get involved in selecting coursework. In general, students should always register for the most academically-challenging courses they can handle. As early as middle school, a foreign language is recommended. In high school, honors, IB (International Baccalaureate), AP (Advanced Placement) and CIS (College in the Schools) classes are a great way to prepare for college-level — and possibly even skip some college prerequisites.
Private vs. public colleges
A public institution receives a large portion of its operating budget from the state. A private college is one that was started by a group not affiliated with the government. (While a private college’s founders may have been religious, your child usually does not have to be affiliated with that group to attend.)
A private college’s list price may be more expensive than a public institution because public colleges are supported by the state. However, private colleges offer many scholarships and grants based on a family’s need and the student’s academic (or other) talent. It is worthwhile to apply to private colleges to see what kind of aid they will be able to offer your family. You truly don’t know unless you apply.
Applying and getting accepted to college
Colleges weigh many factors when deciding whom to accept, from grades, test scores and activities to letters of recommendation and personal essays. The weight a college places on each factor may differ significantly. Generally, strong grades from the sophomore year onward and good ACT/SAT scores are important, but colleges are looking for a sense of who students are and how they would fit in at their institution — this is where letters of recommendation and a personal essay can be valuable.
College success and the first-generation college student
Applying for college can seem overwhelming to first-generation college students (the first in the family to complete a four-year degree). Luckily, many middle and high schools have programs to help first-generation students through the application process and through their undergraduate years too. Look to see what kind of college access and preparation programs are available in your district or at your school. Consider before- and after-school tutoring opportunities that exist at many middle schools.