With over 5,000 higher education institutions located within the United States in addition to the changing demands of the broader labor market, where does a high school student begin to make decisions for their learning journey and career path? This process has always been notoriously stressful but even more so today with the surge of student loan debt and the traditional value proposition of a post-secondary degree not holding the value that it once did. Today, it is all the more critical that students get the right guidance to support them as they navigate this process.
Maximizing Time and Opportunity by Preparing Early
The most important part of the college admissions process is to prepare as early as possible to set a foundational plan for your high school years. The focus should be on student achievement, academic rigor, grades and activities that will shape the selective college admissions journey. Decisions made during these early years will inevitably affect admissions chances once they are ready to apply.
The most critical preparation areas are:
- Strategic planning: creating a 4-year roadmap and plan with set goals and milestones
- High School curriculum: choosing challenging high school courses in addition to demonstrating academic success
- Standardized testing: practicing and preparing with effective test strategy techniques for high scores
- Extracurricular and leadership activities: maximizing the opportunities that are available at school and in the community
Exploring Colleges, Majors and Careers
Maximizing the available time for academic and career exploration supports students in identifying how their passions align to fulfilling a purposeful mission. A typical family should spend between 50-100 hours researching programs, schools and careers. If you try to jam all this information in at the last minute during senior year on top of all of the procedural and logistical steps related to college admissions, students will miss out on critical development time necessary to help them make better informed decisions.
It is important that students understand that a college degree is not a means to an end. They must fully comprehend the expected return on investment, potential career path and associated facts which can help them make the best decision for their future.
Researching Colleges and Preparing an Application
The senior year is focused on demonstrating interest and the successful completion of academic and extracurricular activities while adhering to a deadline-driven strategic plan to ensure that students complete their application on-time. Students will work through finalizing their list of schools which are best matched to their interests and goals. In addition, some other critical components of the process are:
- Deciding on early vs regular decision
- Filling out the application for select schools
- Writing a strong college essay
- Obtaining letters of recommendation from teachers
Most importantly, a student must know what opportunities that they can afford in order to ensure they are making the best long-term financial decisions which will have a lasting impact on their lives.
Paying for College
Students must spend adequate time fully researching student loans, scholarships and other financial aid opportunities to truly understand what options are available. Every bit of financial aid available should be sought out because it can help in covering the high cost of post-secondary education.
Once you know the full cost of attendance for each school that you are applying to (including tuition, room and board, student fees, transportation books, etc.), then you can begin to compare the choices. However, the sticker price is not the only consideration and there are a whole host of other considerations and available options to help students in financing their education.
The most important areas of focus for financing a college education are:
- Completing the FAFSA and CSS Profile
- Searching and applying for grants and scholarships
- Identifying and applying for work study during college
- Researching, understanding and paying back student loans
- Financial aid packages from schools and institutions
The cost of an education is undoubtedly the most significant investment that a student will make in their lifetime. The importance of taking the time early to fully understand the process and components of financial aid to help maximize opportunities available cannot be overstated.
There are many moving parts to the college admissions process but with the proper guidance and strategic plan in place, you can be ready to maximize your odds of both academic and admissions success.