The process of preparing for college can be long and complicated. From researching all the options to submitting the applications, applying for financial aid and making final decisions, there are many factors and deadlines to consider. It can be overwhelming for any student to navigate, and especially so for those without much parental guidance.
When it comes to preparing for college, there’s no need to wait until a student’s senior year of high school to start. Here are some things younger students and parents can do to get ahead of the game.
|Begin saving for college expenses early||
Parents can start investing money in a 529 Plan or Educational Savings Account as soon as the child has a Social Security number, and the earlier you start the more compound interest works in your favor. Even if your child is already in middle or high school, you can still save enough to minimize your child’s need for student loans.
|Define what the student can expect from their parent(s)||
Communication between children and parents can be a challenge. Often teens assume their parents will pay for them to go away to college, while parents may expect them to live at home and work to pay for it instead. It’s important for parents and teens to have an intentional conversation and clearly define what the student can expect from their parent, and vice versa.
|Get experience in potential career fields||
One main difficulty students face when deciding on college is not knowing what field of education or career they want to pursue. This can cost extra time and money in college when a student changes majors in an attempt to find the right fit. Students should start exploring career fields that interest them while in high school. Beyond online research, there may also be hands-on opportunities like company tours, job shadow days, or summer internships for students to see first-hand what a specific career is like.
|Write an essay||
College applications generally require the student to write an essay about their life goals. Scholarship applications also require a similar essay. The essay plays an important part in the selection process – it‘s the window by which those making the decisions get to know the student. Teens should begin writing their essay early – say in 9th or 10th grade – and continue to refine it over time. Have mentors and teachers read it and make suggestions to improve it. When it comes time to apply for colleges and scholarships during senior year, you’ll have a well-constructed essay that only needs a few adjustments for each application.
|Apply for scholarships like it's your job||
Every year scholarship money goes unclaimed because students simply don’t apply. Look at local businesses, associations and foundations to see if they offer scholarships. You don’t have to wait until 12th grade to apply, you can be awarded scholarships all throughout high school and claim the funds when you’re ready to start college. The more scholarships you apply for, the more chances you have to get free money for your education.
There’s a lot students can do to prepare for the college application process before 12th grade. Getting started early can minimize some of the stress involved and make the process less overwhelming come senior year.
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