College and Career Planning
If you’re looking ahead to your second-to-last year of high school, here’s a to-do list for you. Check these items off during your junior year, and you’ll be squarely on track to get to college.
- Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
- Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
- Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
- Attend college fairs and go on campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
- Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
- Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
- Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
- Fill out the FAFSA4caster at ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.
After you exhaust other financial aid and employment opportunities, student loans can be a good option to cover educational expenses. When borrowing, remember that unlike grants or scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, student loans must be repaid with interest. You should always be 100 percent clear about what you are signing up for.
Myth #1: I don’t need to worry about my student loans while I’m in school.
Truth #1: You need to think ahead. Don’t blindly take out student loans without considering your major or future career—or without finding ways to minimize your debt while in school.
Myth #2: I should borrow as much as I can.
Truth #2: You should borrow the minimum you need. Loans are a helpful way to get an education that might seem out of reach, but be informed before you borrow. Your future self will thank you!
Myth #3: I have to pay back 100 percent of my student loans.
Truth #3: Maybe not. Depending on the type of loan and your profession, forgiveness programs can help you pay back a portion or all of your student loans.
Myth #4: I need to pay someone to help me with my student loans.
Truth #4: You should never have to pay someone to help you with your student loans. Contact the financial aid office at your college for assistance.
Find more information about student loans here.
College is a time to meet new people, develop new or existing interests and gain experience that will help get a job after graduation. If there was one thing you could do to accomplish all these things, wouldn’t you do it? Join a student organization related to your career goals, and join another one for fun. Check your college’s website for a list of clubs and attend the student organization fair. Tons of perks come with getting involved on your campus, but here are few important ones:
- Make friends. Joining a club is the easiest way to find people who have a shared interest or passion. People who share interests are generally the easiest people to build friendships with. These people will, in turn, introduce you to more students who will expand and diversify your social circle.
- Relieve stress. Academics are important and should be a top priority, but you will need to take a break. Joining a group with other chemistry majors will be helpful when you want to complain about homework or need help studying, but it’s also important to join a group to have fun. It’s a bonus if your club involves exercise (dance club, outdoor club, etc.), which provides extra stress relief.
- Increase focus. Studies show that staying busy and engaged on campus will improve your grades and focus. If you go back to your dorm room right after class, you probably won’t have a focused five-hour study session. (Let’s be real, you’ll probably watch Netflix and accidentally take a nap.) However, if you need to finish an assignment within a two-hour period before you go to student org activities, you’ll be more productive and focused.
- Build self-confidence. Most student organizations offer leadership opportunities that can build confidence and improve decision-making abilities. Being around older, more experienced students can help you develop these skills in a low-pressure environment.
- Network. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” has truth to it. Making connections with students going into the same field will help you down the road. An older member of your student organization might even help you land your first job out of college. On top of the personal connections, student organizations give you the opportunity to build marketable skills like teamwork, communication and leadership. They also show that you can manage time and responsibilities.
- Learn about yourself. Joining a student organization can show you your own strengths and weaknesses. You find out what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Maybe you find that you love multitasking and creative brainstorming. Equally important, you can find out what you don’t like. Maybe you realize you hate being the organization’s secretary and you’re better off in roles that focus on big picture, strategic planning.
Textbook costs can make your jaw drop. They can be one of the pricier extra expenses that go along with attending college. But these tips can save you hundreds of dollars every semester:
- Don’t buy new textbooks. If you can, always go for used. Glossy new pages might be pretty, but you won’t be able to resell a book for its full price. You can purchase used textbooks from Amazon and other internet sites, through your college bookstore and from classmates. See if there’s a social media page where fellow students sell books.
- Use an older edition. If your instructor assigns a brand new text book, ask if it’s OK to use an older edition. Editions typically don’t change much year to year, so you can probably get away with an older, cheaper one.
- Look beyond the bookstore. College bookstores might not have the best prices. Some offer used books and rentals, but it’s still important to check prices elsewhere.
- Rent your textbooks. Many campus bookstores, along with websites like Chegg, offer rentals. This is often a good option because you can pay less and you don’t have to worry about trying to sell the book after the semester. However, you should still look at all your options on a case-by-case basis.
- Ask previous students. Ask someone who’s taken the same course if you really need the book or if they’d sell you their old book.
- Use e-books. Some textbooks are available for a lower price in an online edition. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can usually read e-books on your laptop, iPad or smartphone.
- Share with a classmate. If your schedules allow or you don’t expect to need the textbook frequently, split the cost of a textbook with a classmate. You can meet up for study sessions, or one person can take photos or make copies. You can’t make copies of an entire book without violating copyright laws, but a few pages here and there is fine. If your instructor wants you to buy an entire textbook but assigns only a few pages of reading from it the whole semester, you’re probably not violating copyright laws by making a single copy of those pages for your homework.
- Check the library. Your school probably has limited copies of frequently used class textbooks. See if you can reserve them ahead of time and save some money.
- Wait until the first class to buy. Sometimes professors will work with students who can’t afford to pay hundreds for a single textbook. Some will tell you right away that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook, or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or cheap. The first day is usually spent going over the syllabus, but be prepared to buy the textbook quickly if you need to.
Some students take a year between high school and college to work, volunteer, travel or save money. Many educators say that kids who take a break after high school are more mature when they arrive at college and are more engaged in their education moving forward. This is particularly relevant to students who burned out in high school from years of AP classes, test prep, volunteer projects, sports, music lessons and other extracurricular activities.
Still, gap years can be scary for parents and other adults who care about a student’s success. Many fear that one year will turn into two years and will eventually lead to their student never completing a degree.
When considering a gap year, students should take these three steps:
- Apply to college and defer enrollment. That way, there is something waiting for you at the end of your gap year. Some colleges also might let you defer their scholarships—check with the financial aid office.
- Make sure you apply for financial aid during your gap year. File your FAFSA, apply for scholarships, grants and loans, etc. Remember, you can file your FAFSA starting on October 1 and the earlier you submit it, the better.
- Form a concrete plan. Studies show that students who have a concrete plan are much more likely to start college after their gap year. Ask yourself: What will you accomplish during the gap year? Sitting on the couch playing video games doesn’t count. Will you have a job? How will you pay your bills/save money? Will you volunteer? Will you do an apprenticeship or study abroad?
You can find more information from the American Gap Association, gapyearassociation.org.
When you are selecting a college to attend, you want to know how much it’s actually going to cost, if you’ll make enough to pay off loans, what the current students are like, etc. Gathering all this information takes a ton of time, especially if you’re not sure where you want to go. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education offers a valuable online tool to help you compare schools and make an informed decision. For any school that offers post-secondary education in the United States, the College Scorecard, collegescorecard.ed.gov, will show you:
- Costs—Not the published costs, but the average annual costs that students actually pay, broken down by family income and compared to the national average.
- Loan debt—How many students take out federal loans, graduates’ typical debt and monthly payments, and percentage of students paying down debt compared to the national average.
- Earnings after school—Average graduate’s salary compared to national average, and percentage of graduates who earn more than students with only a high school diploma.
- Student body—A demographic breakdown of the student population by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
- Success rates—Retention rate after one year and graduation rate, compared to the national average.
- Test scores—Standard range of SAT and/or ACT scores for students who are admitted and enrolled.
- Academic programs—Available areas of study, as well as the most popular programs offered.
This combination of factors gives you a more complete picture of your investment and potential payoff from attending a specific school. A school with high costs, high loan debt and low graduation rates, for instance, might not offer your best chance of success. A school with high costs might be a more reasonable choice, however, if it also offers high graduation rates and high salaries for graduates.
While these might be important factors, the most important pieces of the equation will be how a school fits with your needs. The College Scorecard lets you look up specific schools or search based on criteria such as location, size and degrees offered. It also offers predetermined searches such as “Affordable Four-Year Schools with Good Outcomes” or “Find a Community College in Your State with High Salaries.”
Happy college hunting!
Studying for an exam can make anyone feel anxious—even overwhelmed. Here are tips to help you ace the exam, big or small, every time.
- Don’t procrastinate. Give your brain enough time to process and retain information. When you find out about the exam, immediately mark the date when you need to begin studying. Waiting will just stress you out.
- Organize your study space. Some people have trouble concentrating with a million things in front of them. Clear off your desk or clean your room. Do whatever helps your brain focus.
- Know yourself. Figure out what time of day you focus best. (Early morning? Lunch? Before bed?) How do you study best? (Alone with silence? Listening to music? In a public place?)
- Turn off your Internet, TV and phone. If you get distracted by these things (who doesn’t?), save them as a reward for completing your study session. If you need your computer to study, try an app like this one that blocks websites for a short time. Give your phone to someone until you’re done studying.
- Set timed goals for each study session. A schedule will help you stay focused. Example: Study three chapters of U.S. History for 30 minutes, take a 10-minute break and then make a study guide for your math test in 20 minutes.
- Make flashcards. Make free virtual flashcards and quizzes on websites like Quizlet.
- Explain the material to someone. This is a great use for a study group. Take turns explaining relevant items to each other. You will learn from your peers, but you will also remember the material better if you can internalize and explain it.
- Study in different places. Different locations force your brain to form new associations with the study material. Basically, the more unique memories you have with the material, the better you’ll remember it.
- Rewrite your notes. Copying your notes by hand is a great way recall older material and reinforce your knowledge.
- Get creative. Make up stories and songs about the material. You’ll be surprised how much better it will stick in your brain.
- Take breaks. Plan to take breaks while studying. Get a snack. Dance around. Play music. Do jumping jacks. Breaks are beneficial for your brain and concentration.
- Plan your exam day. What time will you leave? What will you eat beforehand? How will you get there? Plan to arrive early so you’re not flustered.
- Be positive! Half the battle is believing you can win! You got this!