Steps You Should Take Now to Prepare for College

The long-term impact of the recent recession on college and university admissions means that developing a plan to get into the college as early as middle school is imperative. Budget cuts and reductions in funding often force colleges to adhere to stricter admission guidelines and accept only the most qualified scholars. Developing a step-by-step plan now is critical for future academic success.

The Basic First Steps

Learning is more than committing facts to memory. Certainly, knowing facts is part of being academically successful, but learning how to learn is what sets you on the right path. Improving your learning skills from middle school on will give you’re the tools you need to pass college readiness exams and excel after you enter college. Being a better student also enhances your enjoyment in class, helps you discover your natural talents and increases productivity.

Here are ways to improve your learning skills:

  • Sit close to the front in class whenever possible. Sitting in front is less distracting and enables you to be more engaged in what is going on.
  • Join in discussions and ask questions. Actively participating in class makes learning more fun. Asking questions keeps you from falling behind. Remember, other students probably have the same questions, so speak out when you don’t understand.
  • Sharpen your skills in every class. Practice writing in history class, apply your algebra knowledge in science and science in vocational classes. Each skill supplements multiple subjects.
  • Learn to take notes. Taking class notes is a valuable skill that will serve you well throughout your educational career. Practice jotting down key points in an efficient, legible manner.
  • Lean to evaluate, proofread, rewrite and correct written assignments before turning them in. Computer spell checkers don’t catch inappropriate word usage or grammar errors. It’s up to you to make sure your written work is structured properly and is error-free.
  • Learn to take tests. Taking tests are part of student life. Standardized tests are required throughout high school and tests, such as the ACT, are used as an indication of your college readiness. Developing test-taking skills in middle school will help you feel more relaxed in the testing environment.
  • Talk to your parents, counselors and teachers about your goals and what you hope to accomplish. They can give you advice and support.

Your High School Curriculum

Each college has its own minimum course requirements and some major require more than the basics. Before planning your high school courses, check the requirements for the college of your choice to make sure you comply. The ACT, developers of the college readiness exam, recommends a basic college prep program.

The ACT recommends the following:

  • Four years of English.
  • Three years of mathematics, including rigorous course work in Geometry and Algebra I & II.
  • Three years of science, including Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
  • Three years of social studies.
  • Additional foreign language, computer science, dance, drama, music, theater or other classes that are required for specific majors.

Your junior year is a great time to think about options and possibilities. Good grades are extremely important during your junior year because it’s the last complete year admissions officials see when you apply for college. Many juniors take the ACT or SAT when it’s offered in the spring and take it again when they are seniors. There are several advantages to taking these standardized college readiness tests in your junior year. Taking the tests a year early not only gives you a feel for the testing environment, but it gives you a way to find out where your academic strengths and weaknesses lie. Also, if you haven’t already, open a savings account and start putting money into it. Working a summer job is a way to earn money and reduce college loan amounts.
The summer before your senior year is an ideal time to visit colleges, request school catalogs and obtain admission information. Senior year is hectic and it helps to enlist the help and advice of your parents, teachers and counselors. Most seniors take the SAT or ACT in October. October is also an excellent time to apply for scholarships and complete admissions applications by the stated deadlines. If your SAT or ACT score was not what you had hoped, register to take it again. Submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after the new tax year as possible. Make sure all of your applications and documents are submitted on time. Watch your mail for paperwork and further instructions. Choose your college, mail your deposits and remember the lessons you learned as you begin your college career.