While summer fun is getting started, some students have a little more on their minds. Many high school soon-to-be seniors (and even some juniors) are already thinking about college preparations. Recent graduates may even be preparing to relocate… and some procrastinators are scrambling to make last-minute college plans for the fall. Still others may have no idea what they want to do.
No matter which group you or your teen fall into, don’t despair. Even though tuition prices have increased over the past two decades, college is an option for virtually anyone who wants to go. The key is being prepared.
Whether you’re a student who simply assumed you would attend college and have always operated with that plan in mind, or whether you made a conscious decision during high school—or even after graduation, the good news is, you can still get it done. Students should start browsing college websites early to get a feel for what schools and programs appeal to them. The internet is going to be one of the best initial tools for narrowing down that long list of possibilities, so it’s a good idea to spend some time and bookmark favorite schools or degree programs that spark interest. Think of this phase as doing a little online shopping: research is key.
Amber Dubuc is a high school guidance counselor with the Oklahoma City Public Schools system. Guidance counselors are often one of the best allies a student can have when it comes to college planning and preparation. Counselors are trained to help with all aspects of the process, from preparatory coursework to choosing a school and filling out applications. “For those that can handle it, we love to have their ACT and SAT already out of the way junior year… maybe even have them in a concurrent enrollment program [with a local college], which allows them to receive credits while still in high school,” says Dubuc. “Of course, not all students can handle that kind of course load, and that’s okay.”
The summer before beginning senior year can be an opportune time to visit colleges. “Students need to visit as many campuses as they can,” says Dubuc. Also, this is a good time to talk with admissions counselors about the process.
For programs that require an essay, it’s never too early to start practicing. “Senior year should be spent focusing on time management and writing skills,” adds Dubuc. For students who haven’t done so, they need to make arrangements for their ACT and SAT testing and submit their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). “For students who qualified for Oklahoma’s Promise during their sophomore year, they need to make sure they are on track to receive it,” says Dubuc. This program, set up by the Oklahoma Legislature, allows for a four-year education at a public Oklahoma college or university for students whose families meet the income requirements at the time of their application. Qualifying students are also required to maintain a cumulative 2.5 GPA in grades 9–12 and complete 17 units of college prep courses required by the program’s curriculum. In other words, no slacking during senior year.
Students who have not yet begun applying for scholarships will need to do so as soon as possible. “Guidance counselors should have all the information they need. They can walk through the FAFSA with students and help them apply for grants and scholarships,” explains Dubuc.
Incoming seniors can start by making a simple checklist, including the following steps:
- Meet with guidance counselor.
- Take the ACT/SAT (retake as needed).
- Complete FAFSA application.
- Visit colleges.
- Practice essays.
- Apply for applicable scholarships.
- Apply to schools of choice.
College Entrance Exams
Many colleges and universities base admission on ACT or SAT scores; it’s best to refer to the school’s website before taking either test to determine admission criteria so as not to spend either time or money unnecessarily.
According to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (www.fairtest.org), many schools are not requiring either test for admission, including many schools in Oklahoma. A list may be found on their website.
What is the ACT?
The ACT is a national college admissions exam covering English, math, reading and science, plus an optional writing test. The test is administered six times each year (in September, October, December, February, April and June), contains 215 questions (plus the optional writing test) and results are tallied based on the number of correct answers. Base test fee is $35, $50.50 for ACT plus writing; fee waivers available. Other fees may apply. (www.actstudent.org)
What is the SAT?
The SAT tests reading, writing and math skills through a general test or subject matter tests. The test is administered several times each year, and students usually take the SAT early in their junior year, a second time late in their senior year and results are based on number of correct answers with point fractions subtracted for incorrect answers. Base test fee is $50, individual subject tests available at $12 or $23 per test, fee waivers available. Other fees may apply. (sat.collegeboard.org)
College Costs & Benefits
From $20,000 to $65,000 a year—that’s the tuition cost for one year of college, says John McDonough, CEO of Studemont Group College Funding Solutions (www.studemontgroup.com). “And for elite schools, we’re talking about three times the cost of your local state school. Either way, your kid’s higher education can easily shoot into six figures after four years.”
However, McDonough reminds parents to remember the return on investment of a college education. College graduates earn 84 percent more than those with only a high school diploma, according to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. On average, college graduates earn more than one million dollars more in their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma.
At this point in the year, however, many students in the metro have yet to even make a decision about college. If they’ve decided to go, they may have no idea what they want to do. “In my experience, most of them don’t know what they want to do. Guidance counselors can give them interest inventories… but really, it’s about teaching them to think Big Picture. They need to understand that a degree equals life, and freedom from a lot of pains. They need to know that where they end up isn’t as relevant as getting started with the basics,” says Dubuc.
For students who have a less-than-exemplary academic record, there is still time. “There’s never a better time than the present to start fresh. We live one time. We are all allotted do-overs. I tell my students, if you want to live and live well, then buckle down and get focused. Start small. Take a couple of classes. Consider starting at a junior college. There are plenty of programs that are geared towards kids that require remedial classes before beginning their [degree] programs. Good tutors and labs are there. It’s really about instilling in them that they have to want it. That there’s no other choice in the times we live in now,” concludes Dubuc. The good news is, it’s never too late.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and single mom to two girls. An Edmond resident, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma and is an HR manager in the medical field.