College Planning 101: How to Choose, Apply and Get Into College

If you are a high school student, then the many college possibilities for you can feel intimidating and overwhelming. Since you have unique interests and goals, there is not a single technique that is perfect for guiding you through the college decision process, but there are several proven strategies and programs that will help with college planning so you have exciting options by the end of high school.

College Planning Starts Now!

The first important strategy is to start college planning now. If you are in 8th or 9th grade it is not too early for you to start thinking about college. You can simply begin by having college conversations. Adults love talking about their college experience, so simply ask them about it. Ask them about the college they attended. Ask them what they liked about college. Ask them what they liked about their college major. Ask them where else they applied to college. It is also important to tell your school guidance counselor that you would like to go to college. Your school guidance counselor will help you through the various steps in high school to give you the most choices in eventually selecting a college when you are completing 12th grade. Your teachers are also great resources of knowledge for you about college. Let your teachers know about your college interests and I’m sure they will enjoy telling you about their own college experience. Also, make sure to talk to your friends and family about your interest in going to college. If your parents didn’t go to college that is not a problem. Your parents can still very much be a part of the college process with you.

Use High School College Programs

One way to get your parents involved is to have them join you in a meeting with your high school guidance counselor to talk about college. Additionally, most high schools host a “college night”. Even if you are a 9th grader, have your parents come with you to your school’s college night. This is an opportunity for each of you to become educated about the many college possibilities and financial aid opportunities. Additionally, meeting with your school guidance counselor or attending college night is a terrific way for you and your parents to learn about the other requirements that will be necessary to apply to colleges such as SAT/ ACT tests, subject tests, essays and letters of recommendation.

Take Challenging High School Courses

To give you the most college choices you will want to pursue a rigorous high school education. You know your academic strengths and weaknesses, so try to take more rigorous classes in the subject areas where you have academic talents. For example, if you think you can do well in a high school honors or AP class, you should take it since those classes are given more weight by colleges. Additionally, by taking more rigorous classes in 9th and 10th grade it will open up more rigorous class opportunities later if those early classes are pre-requisites for other classes. Push yourself to get the best possible grades that you can. The stronger your grades the more college and financial aid options you will have.

Juniors: Practice College Admissions Tests

If you are starting your 11th grade year, it is important that you take the PSAT test. This is a practice test to get you ready for the SAT. Once you take the PSAT you can link your results with the online Kahn Academy which will give you customized practice problems that will help you do even better on the SAT.

Think About Majors & Colleges

11th grade is also the time you should start thinking about the possible majors you can pursue in college. There are many online resources that provide detailed profiles about each college and also the majors they offer.

When thinking about the possible colleges you might apply to, it is important to make sure that your potential college list covers three buckets of schools. Those three buckets are:

  1. The Dream or Reach Schools (schools requiring slightly higher high school GPAs and SAT/ACT scores than what you have)
  2. The Match Schools (schools with GPAs and SAT/ACT scores that are very similar to what you have)
  3. The Back-Up or Safety Schools (schools with slightly lower high school GPAs and SAT/ACT score than what you have)

You should definitely apply to a couple Dream or Reach colleges, but considering how competitive acceptance into these types of colleges has become, it is important to also apply to some colleges, that are not quite as competitive. It’s recommended to select a good amount of Match colleges, plus apply to a few Backup or Safety colleges. It is ideal to have more rather than fewer choices of colleges that have accepted you, since financial aid and other necessary factors may vary.