Back-to-School: Prepping for college starts in high school
by Whit McGee
Special to The Star
Aug 18, 2013 | 1375 views |  0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Another school year is here, and with it comes a long list of things to do.

There’s football season, homecoming, prom in the spring and let’s not forget about college prep.

You are preparing for college, right?

If you’re a high-school student, understand this: College will soon be upon you, and everything that you do this year will set you on the course to your future institution.

As an admissions counselor, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit hundreds of high-school students throughout the state. Many are surprised to discover that colleges want to pursue them.

There are three things I encourage high-school students to do as they prepare for college — be proactive, be focused and be open.

Be proactive

Simply stated, proactive means taking responsibility for your actions by doing today what others might put off until tomorrow.

If you take just one thing away from this article, make it this: Students who get the most admission offers and the most academic and scholarship opportunities are those who work to reach their college goals.

Being proactive can pay off tremendously. What some students don’t know — often until it’s too late — is that many universities have scholarship deadlines right after Thanksgiving. If you’re a senior now, that means you may have less than four months to explore your college options.

Make a list of attributes you’re looking for in a college — location, size, diversity, classroom setting, campus environment — and make a short list of degree programs and careers that pique your interest.

Then begin investigating colleges that have the attributes and programs you’re looking for. Make a point to visit those institutions and keep track of their deadlines.

Be focused

Believe it or not, the grades you make every day do matter. But let’s be honest — making an A on a geometry test probably isn’t your idea of a good time. Focusing on your high-school academic experience is one of the more valuable things you can do to prepare for college.

Most universities have GPA requirements that include classes as early as ninth grade. Even Alabama’s community colleges offer some of their best scholarships to students who earn high marks in school.

Equally important should be your score on tests like the ACT and SAT. Universities consider them an unbiased means of determining college readiness and scholarship eligibility.

I recommend that most students take the ACT or SAT several times in high school, starting before senior year, to get comfortable with the test and to identify areas for improvement.

Being focused extends outside the classroom, too.

Students who are involved in a extracurricular activities such as athletics, community service and school organizations often have access to additional college leadership opportunities and scholarships. Get involved in a handful of things, making sure to document all your activities and accomplishments on a résumé.

Be open

“I could never go to Auburn,” a high school senior once told me.

“Why not?” I asked. “They’ve got the degree program you’re looking for.”

“But I’m an Alabama fan,” the student replied.

Sadly, I’ve had this exact conversation several times with students, and even parents.

The key to being open in the college search process is not allowing your preconceived notions or assumptions stand in the way of exploring what an institution might have available for you.

Students should communicate often with guidance counselors and parents about their plans for college. If you’re looking at a specific college, reach out to one of its admissions representatives. Institutions want students to have a point of contact who can provide information about academics, scholarships and campus life, which is why I strongly encourage talking to an admissions representative.

Being open also means touring some campuses in person to figure out what you like and where you fit.

What parents can do

To parents, I make this suggestion: Help your high schooler find the right college, but make them do all the work. After all, they’re the ones who are going to college. They should take ownership of their college experience, starting with the admission process.

The world of higher education considers students to be adults and will treat them as such. Colleges communicate directly with their students about everything from grades to financial aid, so the sooner they can adjust to handling their own affairs, the better off they’ll be.

Finally, I believe the same principles listed here for students also apply to parents: Be proactive in communicating with your kids about school, be focused on getting them to pull their weight in the classroom and in the admissions process, and be open to discussing their education and helping them find information to prepare for their future.

Former Star staff writer Whit McGhee is assistant director of admissions for communications at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
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Back-to-School: Prepping for college starts in high school by Whit McGee
Special to The Star

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