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10 Things to Know About Preparing for College

Congratulations! By reading this you're setting yourself up to earn 💲1.5 million more over your lifetime than someone who hasn't.

The time has come for you to start thinking about what's next after high school. For many, the answer is a four-year college degree. This path could earn you quite a bit more, like $1.5 million more, over your lifetime than someone who doesn't have a college education. There are so many aspects of preparing for college that can often overwhelm students and parents alike - from which college to attend, what you want to study, when to take exams, how much they cost...the list goes on!

What are the important things that you need to prepare for college admission?

1. Start taking AP courses or dual enrollment classes in high school

A dual enrollment class or AP courses are offered to high school students while they're still attending classes at their high schools. Students receive college credit after finishing the course and passing its state-mandated exams.

The more work you put in now, the less time it will take during your course load as a college student. Some, by the time they get to their senior year in high school, have already taken one or two years' worth of courses at the college level. Not only do they help you prepare for the type of classes you'll be taking, they save you time (and money) in the long run.

2. Get involved in extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, and volunteering

College administrators often say they want students who are serious about their studies but also have time for other interests so be sure that you are a well-rounded applicant.

If your resume is already impressive, great! But if it's not, then you might want to consider adding some extracurricular activities like sports, clubs and volunteering that will make a difference in what colleges see when they review your application materials. It also lets them know that you have great time management skills. The admissions committee will see that you're a well-rounded individual with skills and interests outside of academics.

There are many ways to stand out from other applicants while still keeping your grades at a level that will allow you to gain admission.

-Volunteer work in your field of interest (invite your friends to volunteer with you).

-Creative pursuits such as theater arts, dance and music performance are also excellent additions to the application process.

-Sports and clubs that demonstrate leadership, courage or teamwork. I recently saw a post on Rocky Mountain High School's @gorockyfootball Instagram feed that talked about looking for a student manager. The student would have the opportunity to be involved in day-to-day operations of a football team. Such opportunities can be great for students looking to get into the sports industry and would also look good on your college resume.

Your college resume becomes even more important if you do not plan on taking the SAT or ACT.

For her thoughts on this, I reached out to Amy Nixon, a counselor from Class101, and she had this to add: "With the future of SAT and ACT still uncertain after this last year of many universities going test-optional, this is more important than ever. If a test score is not included in a university's assessment of you, your activities will be closely evaluated. What do you have on your resume besides your GPA? In my opinion, leadership experience can be one of the most impressive components to add to your academics. Start planning early so you have time to build your resume to something you are proud of!"

Click here more for more info about Class101

3. Check into the AVID program at your school

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a nonprofit organization that trains educators so they can better prepare students for college, careers and life. It may not be offered at your school but if it is you need to take advantage of it. The AVID approach combines instruction in organizational skills, note-taking and scholarship hunting with a rigorous curriculum to help students get into post-secondary education.

For example, students will learn note-taking techniques that allow them to review notes or look at specific material as well as strategies for getting scholarships. From assigned homework to returned tests, students will carry a large three-ring binder to keep all of their papers organized. The flexibility enables school leaders to start small and gradually add more time to each step of the process as needed.

Who is the AVID Student?

The AVID-College Prep program, created for the students who are academically capable of completing a rigorous course load but lack in motivation and determination to do so. These students know they have what it takes, but lack the paperwork or resources available to take advantage of their potential.

AVID students receive fee waivers for their SAT and ACT tests in their junior and senior years. They also qualify for five free college applications (waivers for processing fees).

4. Open a 529 college saving plan and start contributing to it as early as possible.

529s are tax-advantaged savings plans that allow you to save for future college costs in a way that is advantageous, especially if your child doesn't have access to other sources of funding like scholarships or grants.

The IRS also allows up to $10,000 in tax-free withdrawals per year, per beneficiary for tuition payments at private, public and religious schools.

Idaho residents can claim a state tax deduction on contributions of up to $6,000 a year ($12,000 for married couples filing jointly) to the Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal). https://www.idsaves.org/home.html

It's never too late to start a college saving plan.

The time to start a college savings plan is not when your child is a senior in high school. That said, your savings plan doesn't have to be invested for long periods of time before you can reap its benefits. For example, if your child has a $4,000 spend coming up at Boise State University this fall; put that money into their 529 savings account now, a few months before it's due, so you'll be able to deduct that amount off your Idaho income tax calculations at year end.

For more information on this and other 529 questions contact: Paul Mower at www.MowerCPA.com

5. Apply for scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities

Saving money for college doesn't have to be rocket science, but when it comes to applying for scholarships, the process is a bit overwhelming. Many often don't start this part of their college application process until it's too late in the game and many end up missing out on grant opportunities and scholarships.

The search for scholarships can be difficult, but early planning allows students to find special scholarships. Keep in mind that you have to wait to apply for federal aid (FAFSA) until October 1 of your senior year in high school.

Many do not fill out financial aid forms, and many parents don't bother with need-based financial aid. It's been said that these forms are more difficult to complete than yearly taxes. Although many believe they are ineligible because of their income level, even a small amount of aid can help offset the cost of a college education. Scholarships from area companies, Rotary Clubs, and foundations are a great way to offset college expenses so be sure to look into them.

America’s largest regional interstate tuition savings program called the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

The Western Undergraduate Exchange is a tuition-saving program in 16 different states and territories. Through the WUE, eligible undergraduates may choose from hundreds of programs across participating schools at no more than 150% of that school's resident rates set by nonresidents. If you're planning on attending one of the schools be sure to ask for the WUE tuition rates for Idaho residents.

The increased access to affordable higher education has many benefits including less student loan debt as well an increase in educational opportunities not available locally or through traditional means such as studying abroad during summer break - which can be very costly if it’s done independently rather than with the assistance provided by WUE!

6. The PSAT and SAT exams

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is used to prepare you for the SAT or ACT. The content and format of the SAT and PSAT have a lot in common, but there are also key differences that you need to account for.

PSAT can be taken any time starting in the 8th grade. When it's taken in 8th or 9th grade it can help direct you to areas that need special attention before graduating high school. Your PSAT scores will not determine your admission to colleges nor affect your GPA, but specific high scores can earn you scholarship dollars.

Start preparing and get your PSAT score as soon as possible so you can see what scores to aim for on the SAT. There are several practice test sites that will give you hints about the real test before taking it. This will give you a sense of what areas need additional work so you can prepare your studies accordingly. If you are a low scorer, it's worth retaking them in December or January after studying to try and boost up your test results.

While the PSAT prepares you for the SAT, it's the SAT that measures your preparedness for college and is sent to all universities considering your application.

Where to Prepare for the SAT or PSAT?

Preparation courses are often offered free of charge at high schools. If not, you can find private classes in your area where a test prep tutor will coach you through the materials and strategies on how to take the exams.

7. Choosing a college can be the hardest part

When you start thinking of colleges to attend a lot of factors come into play. Things like location, academics, and even the culture and climate of the campus can be a deciding factor.

What is the distance from home?

When selecting a college, the distance from your home and the distance to an airport can be deciding factors. If your child wants to live close to home, then proximity is an important consideration for them. Distance from home matters less if the location has a desirable climate or culture that suits their tastes and needs. The weather can be a deciding factor for those who want to escape the harsh winters of their hometowns or experience the benefits of warmer climates. Did you grow up somewhere like Florida that has one season, summer? You may want to go to a school located in a state that has four seasons.

What is the alumni placement rate at the college?

Every college wants to make sure it is preparing its attendees for success, and a good way of measuring this is by looking at the alumni placement rate. This number will show you how many graduates from your chosen school have been able to find jobs in their field or industry after graduation. If that figure seems low then there may be an issue with graduating prepared employees.

What is the culture and climate of the college campus?

What is the vibe of the school; the behaviors and points of view of the students and teachers? Do they seem happy? A college that has a diverse population and faculty will provide you with more opportunities to learn from people of different backgrounds. Are you looking for a small-town feel or a larger campus where you meet someone new every day?

8. Create a list of colleges that are good fits for your interests, skills, and personality

Life on campus is just as important as the classes you take while attending. A few things to keep in mind as you research colleges:

Is it a large campus with many clubs or a small liberal arts school?

What after-school events are available?

Does the campus offer internship opportunities?

Does the campus have a good reputation in your field of study? If you're looking to get into electrical engineering or computer science, you're probably not applying to Amherst College which is known for liberal arts. You're more likely to target a college like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. for that.

9. Apply to at least three colleges - one of them should be your safety school

Applying to college can get expensive, application fees can be up to $75 per school so it is important that you don't just apply to any school on your list without doing research first.

You should develop a list of potential colleges your freshman year of high school, as it will help you choose the right schools.

A college list should include schools that are close to home, schools that are far away, and colleges that are suitable for the student socially and culturally.

Participants in AVID qualify for five free college applications (waivers for processing fees). See below for more information.

10. Visit potential college campuses

When looking to see what the college is like you can visit campus virtually and then in-person once you find one that meets all your requirements. This is one of the last opportunities to walk around on campus, visit a potential class or two, and take in all that it has to offer before making a decision.

A good tip is to visit when classes are in session. This will allow you to talk with current students which can help them decide if their school feels like home or spark some questions they didn't know they had for the admissions office.

As you visit your future campus, try sitting in a dining hall or an outdoor patio and observing how the students interact with their friends — do they look like you or dress like you? Do they act the same as you do? These are good indicators that you've found the right place if you feel comfortable.

Super extra special bonus insider tip:

One way to save cash on campus is to become a resident assistant (RA). All college dorms have one or two students living in that building who typically are a few years older who are not only enforcing the rules of the dorm but are also a resource to answer questions. In exchange for your service at the university as an RA, they usually "pay" you by giving you free room and board.

Congratulations on taking the necessary steps for success on your college journey! 🙂

There is an abundance of college prep information available for parents and high school students, and it can be overwhelming when trying to determine what steps should come next. Whether you came here to find out when to start planning for college or see how to save money, there are so many factors to consider when choosing a college.

Hopefully, this has helped you cut through the confusion of navigating how to best prepare for your college journey. While the information can seem daunting, with the right planning and attitude, you will feel less burdened and even enjoy the experience as a whole! And hey, bringing in a million and a half extra in income probably won't hurt either.

Best of luck with your college admissions!