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How To Prepare For College

Last updated September 15, 2021

When you’re ready to start exploring college, forming a plan can mean the difference between getting into your dream school or one of your safety schools. Here are a few things you definitely need in your plan.

how to prepare for college

Visit your school counselor

The school guidance counselor is a leading character in your college story. The guidance counselor can help keep you on track for high school graduation, as well as make sure you’re aware of all kinds of resources like college fairs, campus tours, or scheduling entrance exams.

Take the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

If you are a junior, you need to take the PSAT your junior year to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. It is also a great way to start practicing for the SAT. Your guidance counselor will have information about the PSAT and how to register.

Attend a college fair

Almost every city in the nation hosts a college fair to give prospective students a chance to meet with admissions counselors and learn more about a specific school. These fairs are usually free for students and attract a mix of local and regional schools, small private schools and large state schools, and everything in between! Be sure to go prepared with a few questions for each of the schools where you want to apply.

Register for the SAT or ACT and start studying

Only a few schools have ditched the ACT or SAT as a requirement for admissions, so that means you can’t escape the need to prepare for the tests. Whether you take the SAT or ACT, you need to study to get the best score. Check with your school to see if they offer any test prep classes you can take. If not, there are definitely free resources at the library, local community centers, and even apps for your phone to help you get ready for the SAT or ACT. If you don’t get the score you wanted the first time, don’t panic. You can take it again. Taking the test more than twice is probably not necessary though. Your ACT or SAT score is only a part of the evaluation process for admissions.

Finalize your college list

Now that you have gathered information about the many colleges and universities to choose from, it’s time to finalize your list. This is where you organize your list into categories: safe schools, stretch schools, and dream schools. You should evaluate this list based on the kind of experience you want to have in college, the size and location of your school, and of course the academic programs available at each school. Applying to multiple schools can be expensive, so think long and hard about the schools you want to make your final list.

Get organized

After finalizing your college list, it’s time to get organized. Map out the important deadlines and requirements for each school on your list. Keep track of these important dates so you don’t miss anything. Don’t wait until the last minute. Those application essays might seem easy to knock out by themselves, but remember you have multiple applications to complete! Tackle the early deadlines first, and then work your way down the list. Remember to celebrate as you check each application off the list!

Solicit your letters of recommendation

There are probably a few teachers, counselors, coaches, or other adults in your life who can write amazing letters of recommendation for you. The key is to give them enough time to help you shine. That means asking for your letters early, and not the night before it is due. You also need to provide the letter-writer with enough information about you and what you want to highlight on your application. Create a short bulleted list highlighting your leadership roles, community service, and extracurricular activities, as well as your academic successes.

(Not sure how to ask for a letter of recommendation? Read our tips here.)

Hit submit on your applications

The time has come to actually hit the submit button on your college applications. You’ve written your essays, listed out your activities, secured your transcripts, and received your letters of recommendation. Take a deep breath and just do it! If you’ve given your best to each application, the rest is out of your hands. Now would be a good time to reflect on the entire process. What went well? What could have been better? You might need to apologize to your parents for that tantrum you had a few weeks back. And to your English teacher who was trying to help you improve your essay when she insisted you rewrite it three times before it was just right. They know you were stressed out, but your apology can get you back in their good graces.

Send out thank you notes

It might seem a bit old fashion but a little thank you can go a long way! Now that your applications are submitted, you have a few weeks to go back and thank everyone who helped you get through the application apocalypse! Head to your local store and pick up a pack of thank you cards. Write a personal note to each person who helped you and hand deliver them if possible. You will instantly become their favorite student.

Start the search for financial aid

The biggest piece in your financial aid puzzle is the FAFSA. You have to complete the FAFSA each year to qualify for federal financial aid. This form is also used to help award state and institution grants and scholarships. That means even if you don’t qualify for federal Pell grants, you could still qualify for grants from your state and school. Some of these will be based on financial need and some might be based on other qualifications. After you complete the FAFSA, it’s time to start searching for scholarships. Like grants, scholarships are money you don’t have to pay back. And the more money you get in scholarships, the less your family will have to pay out of pocket to cover the cost of college. 

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