College Prep: Preparing for Life After Senior Year of High School

A new school year is right around the corner (or has already started in some cases).  College dorm move-in is in full swing (2 pieces of advice: prepare for extra time if shopping at big box stores since these stores are really busy right now, and check out the previous blog on health supplies to bring with you to the dorm). This is also the time of year where high school students come into clinic super stressed about life after high school.  Preparing for college can be a daunting task to any high schooler, especially an up-and-coming junior or senior. Not only do you have to worry about getting or maintaining your grades, you also have to worry about college applications, standardized tests, and even paying for college once you have been accepted. Below are a few tips and tricks to help you get better prepared for your future after high school is over.

Extracurricular Activities and Essay-Writing

Colleges love students who do more than just attend high school and get good grades. Sure, grades and test scores do have weight with admissions committees, however decent GPAs and test scores can be a dime-a-dozen (if anyone still understands that phrase) and sometimes even those applications with amazing grades/scores can become lost in the mix when universities are sorting through them. Extracurricular activities can make you really stand out. These activities can be in the form of a club, sport, volunteer opportunity, or work experience. Being a part of one of these activities allows you to demonstrate to the college that you are capable of more than just numbers on a sheet of paper. One activity is not more valuable or more unique than another despite what someone might tell you. What makes your involvement important is what experience you gained from participating in them. What epiphanies did you have, or valuable lessons did you learn? What made your involvement memorable? (Seriously, have answers to these questions.  This will come in handy during essay writing or interviews).

When it comes to writing your essays, try to write a story that no one else can tell. Use one of your extracurricular activities as a launching pad for your papers if you are able. I participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) before applying to graduate school and learned the importance that a positive role model could make in a little kid. I knew that a few people could write about that specific experience, so I used a personal story relating to it as the base of my essay and sprinkled in other (maybe less significant) experiences in the body of the paper. Be unique and you will stand out from the rest.

Standardized Tests

If I were to do one thing different when it came to college preparation, I would have chosen to study for my standardized college admission test (ACT or SAT) instead of just taking it. I took the exam twice but did not use a resource such as online reviews, classes, or a book. However, had I prepared for the exam, I could have gotten an even higher score and maybe even an academic scholarship. There are a range of scholarships available to anyone who does well academically either via their GPA or their standardized test scores. Generally speaking, the higher your GPA/ACT/SAT score, the greater the chance or amount of scholarship/financial aid from the school.

There are various ways to prepare for an exam. You could purchase a new or used prep book or check one out at the library. There are many different publishers of prep materials (Kaplan and Princeton Review are popular ones, but there are many others and no one resource is superior to others). You also don’t need to get the most recent version of the text as the test itself changes little from year-to-year. These companies along with others offer online or in-person prep courses as well, which may be helpful for some people. If you don’t learn well in groups, getting a private tutor is an option as well. You can even try just doing a practice test online to see where you fall and then plan to take one later to see how much you’ve improved. Just understanding how the test is written and figuring out time-management strategies is extremely helpful. Time-management is a major component of all standardized tests.

Financial Aid

Financial aid can come in many forms including loans (government or private), scholarships, work-study, etc. I cannot stress enough that THE SOONER YOU APPLY FOR ANYTHING, THE BETTER YOUR CHANCES ARE TO RECEIVE FINANCIAL HELP. This applies virtually to all forms of financial aid. I was the youngest of three kids in my family, but I was the first to receive a significant tuition scholarship (~$10,000 my freshman year) from my school just for getting my FAFSA application in early because my other two brothers applied late.

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA is the form used to apply for government loans to help pay for undergraduate or graduate school. The application is free and you don’t have to accept the full amount that they offer, or any of it for that matter, when it comes time to decide. Besides some smaller scholarships I received here and there, government loans accounted for the majority of my financial aid, but it could have accounted for more. THIS SHOULD BE YOUR FIRST STEP WHEN APPLYING FOR FINANCIAL AID regardless of what you end up doing. Also, be sure to use the correct FAFSA website (fafsa.gov) as there are other “poser” websites that’ll charge you to apply (i.e. fafsa.com, among others). Remember, free is in the name. The opening date for FAFSA applications for the 2019-2020 school year is Oct 1, 2018.

When applying for FAFSA loans, you’ll get this option asking whether you would be willing to participate in a work-study form of aid as well. You don’t have to check this, but it doesn’t hurt to see what’s available. This is a form of financial aid that helps you pay for college by working part-time for the university in one of its many buildings (library, administrative services, dorm counselors, etc.) depending on the institution. If you think you’ll be able to balance school with a part-time job, then this is a very reasonable option as well.

Private loans are another option in case you need more financial aid beyond what the government can offer you. Private loans generally have a higher interest rate than government ones but can be a useful resource if need be. You can apply for common online ones or talk to your bank to see what options are available.

Scholarships can come in many forms when you start applying for financial aid. Some may come directly from the school after they receive your FAFSA applications, as what happened to me when I applied for college. Others can come from private individuals or sponsoring companies. The best way to know what’s available is to talk with your high school’s guidance counselor or to call the universities/colleges you’re interested in attending. They can provide an abundance of scholarship opportunities that you may be eligible for. Some may require you be from a certain background to qualify (race, ethnicity, specific socioeconomic status, religion, etc.), others may require certain activities (donate so much blood to your blood bank, participate in afterschool sports or clubs, etc.), and some can be found at the places you or your family work or volunteer (my dad applied for one for me through Alcoa where he worked, and I could have applied for one via Best Buy had I been smart enough to do so at the time). Most scholarships however, will require just a simple essay and/or personal references and a luck of the draw. These essay-type ones can be found everywhere including the internet, so if you can spare the time to search for them and write, it is well worth it.

Finally, don’t let the name or prestige of the institution make you think you won’t be able to afford attending class there. When it comes to offering financial aid, many big-named universities offer some substantial financial aid packages for incoming students. Check out this list of the most generous schools.

 

Good luck students!  Here’s to a great school year!

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