BOSTON - A question on many parents and high school student's minds is, "When should I start thinking about college?" The answer to that question is: 5th Grade. The study habits that lead to a successful academic career should begin in elementary school, and the preparation for advanced studies should be actively nurtured by the time a student reaches 5th grade (more on this next week) However, it's never to late!
While traditional college is not for everyone, it appears that there is now a type of college for everyone. One thing to pay close attention to with many colleges: there are a number of trade schools that call themselves colleges but if you check, they do not offer liberal arts degrees or much in the way of majors outside of a given field. Also, there are a lot of programs calling themselves colleges that are not accredited as colleges or universities, in which case a degree from them is really just certification that you took classes in a given area. Most of the websites for colleges and universities demonstrate their accreditation on the site. If they don't and it's a school that you're interested in, call them and ask.
The next question that should be on a high school students mind is, "which college do I want to go to?" tenth and eleventh grade are good time to start checking out colleges and making some choices about which ones appeal to you. Thanks to the Internet, you can conduct a cursory exploration of as many as twenty colleges in a day, and if possible should be followed up by a physical visit to the school during your junior year. If your parents are unable to take you to visit the schools of your choice, look into various community programs that often visit and tour colleges, including the historically Black colleges and universities primarily found in the southern part of the country.
The question that is possibly most pressing on your parent's minds: How are we going to pay for college? The good news is that there is money out there and a lot of it goes unclaimed. Government based grants and loans are just a piece of the picture and are often not enough to pay for tuition, fees and books; not to mention that many middle- income families do not qualify for many of the government- based grants. The answer is research! Both the internet and the downtown branches of the public library have books and listings of private scholarship sources, ranging from $500 - 40,000 you just need to look for them and apply. Some are based on academic achievement, some are based on interests and hobbies, some are based on ethnicity, or the region that you live in. If you go to Google and type in "college scholarships+ ...." and after the plus size type in a subject, "African American," "minority," "[city and state that you live in]," "[hobby, sport, or activity,]" you will find that literally millions of sites will come up. Take some time to look through them and you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.
By junior year of high school, you should have a short list of colleges, universities and/or trade schools that you will be applying to. Another good master list to have in your possession is this one: Free College Applications
which lists all of the colleges that waive application fees for qualifying students. This is also a good time to go over your resume and see if document your work, volunteer and hobby activities, including clubs and civic (community, church, etc.) activities. This is a good time to start collecting the applications form the schools of your choice and see what the requirements are, as well as get ready to take the S.A.T. (Scholastic Aptitude Test). On these applications, check out the essay requirements and start outlining your college essay.
The essay is an extremely important element in your essay, as this is an opportunity for admission officers to find out things about you that your grades, SAT score(s) and. resume do not. Not only is this an opportunity to tell your story and talk about your dreams and goals, but it also tells the reader how you think critically and process information, simply by the way you've represented your point of view in the essay. The essay can be the difference, for example, between an A student getting rejected from the same school that accepted a B+ student, all because the B+ student represented themselves more clearly and critically in their essay.