Start College Planning Early, Experts Say

Focus on your GPA, get involved, develop good study habits. Students can start preparing for college as early as freshman year, which makes it a lot easier as the semesters tick by, say local high school counselors.

Here are a few tips from Kent County high school pros about making the most of high school, getting into just the right college and ultimately finding the best career fit.

See related story: Headed to College? What You Must Know

“Take ownership of your learning, challenge yourself and get involved.” - Lori Johnston, East Grand Rapids High School counselorLori Johnston, East Grand Rapids High School counselor

What are three things students should focus on pre-college?

  1. Keep your options open. Don’t try to figure out when you are 15 what you want to do. Cast your net wide. There will be careers and jobs that don’t yet exist that they might love.
     
  2. Take the most rigorous core academic courses you are qualified for.
     
  3. Find your three big themes: What make you happy? What makes you feel successful and confident? What do you love to do? It’s not the end result, it’s the journey. What are you doing to get yourself there and know you made the right choice?


What are factors high school students should consider when choosing a college?

Fit and match, size and location, academic opportunities and scholarship opportunities. Where do you want to live, learn, eat and sleep? What kind of people do you want to surround yourself with and how willing are you to take risks? How far away from home do you want to be?

It takes over a year for most students to make a good decision. It’s really a process for them to prioritize what really matters to them. When they step on campus, does it feel like the place they should be, where they want to study and live? Do they feel that sense of belonging?

“Take hard classes. An A or B in a college prep class is better than an A in an easy course.” - Anne Harig, Wyoming High School counselor

What are the best ways to prepare in high school for freshman year in college?

Take responsibility and ownership. The kids who are the most successful take ownership of their learning, challenge themselves and get involved in something. What colleges want to see is involvement with passion. What is the student passionate about and what do they love to do? Show a pattern of passion. There isn’t the prescribed right activity. Pick something you are passionate about and do what you love to do.

Anne Harig, Wyoming High School counselor:

What are three things students should focus on pre-college?

  1. Create good study habits that carry over past high school to help them with the rigor of college. Students should start creating good study habits in middle school.
     
  2. Spend time investigating what career fits both interest and skills. Take advantage of career inventories like Career Cruising and job shadowing. Ask adults questions about jobs. Get a summer or part-time job to learn what skills you have.
     
  3. Take tests like the ACT and SAT seriously. Like it or not, scholarship money and acceptance to college are largely based on scores. Students should practice well before the test. There are tons of online resources that are free and books you can buy to increase scores.


♥What are factors high school students should consider when choosing a college?

Sadly, the No. 1 thing is cost. If you can’t afford it, you can’t go. Students don’t know the actual cost until April, the deadline for financial aid letters. Up until that point they should consider program of study, size, resources to assist (especially freshman year) and location.

What are the best ways to prepare in high school for freshman year in college?

RIGOR — take hard classes. An A or B in a college prep class is better than an A in an easy course. Especially in classes requiring more reading and writing.

Carolyn Bolthouse and Gina McCambridge, Comstock Park High School counselors

“Periodically update your list of courses, activities, volunteer service and awards you receive each year.  - Carolyn Bolthouse and Gina McCambridge, Comstock Park High School counselors

What are three things students should focus on pre-college?

  1. Students need to take the most rigorous courses available of which they are capable (including during their second semester senior year).
     
  2. Apply in the early fall—don’t procrastinate!
     
  3. Establish the best GPA you can your first-semester freshman year.


What are factors high school students should consider when choosing a college?

Visits to college campuses are an important factor in helping students choose the proper college, and they should consider these factors:
 

  • Does the college offer the programs of study in which they are interested?
     
  • What are the size, out-of-pocket expenses and location of the college?
     
  • What is the job placement rate in their degree program for graduates of the college?
     
  • What are the support services the college offers including tutoring, career services, etc.?
     
  • What is the college’s four-year graduation rate (can students graduate within four years, or are they often delayed because of necessary classes not being offered every semester)?
     
  • What are the best ways to prepare in high school for freshman year in college?
     

Students should periodically update their “resume,” their list of courses, activities, volunteer service and awards they receive each year. They put this off and then are overwhelmed with gathering all the information for college applications and scholarships (often don’t apply for scholarships as a result).

Again, taking the most rigorous coursework they are capable of prepares them for the academic rigors of college. Students should establish reliable attendance patterns in high school and carrying those over to college.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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