College Prep Guide - Your Path to College

Going to college can create a lot of opportunities for you that may not have been available otherwise. New friends, new knowledge, new experiences, a degree –– they all put you in contact with more of the world than you could ever imagine.

Maybe you have had your heart set on college since you were a little kid and maybe you haven’t, but either way putting yourself in place to make it an option will be a move that changes your life. It’s going to require good, hard work, but the payoff will be tremendous.

To make college a potential reality, you’re going to need to do the right things in high school –– tougher classes, better grades, extracurriculars ­­–– that will make a college want to have you.

You will to have to keep track of application deadlines, test dates and scholarships. You will to have to do the homework to know which college is going to be right for you. You will to have to work with your parents to make it happen financially and work for everybody in the end.

And at Vermont colleges, the sky is the limit. You can study anything from Arabic to video game design, history to criminal justice –– and still be only a couple of hours from home, distance enough to make all the difference in the world!

You could play on one of the many varsity sports teams (see organized sports article) or just play an intramural sport. You can volunteer at a hospital or join the student government. Vermont has just about everything you could want, minus the cost and pain of long-distance travel.

In short, Vermont is one of the best places to learn, anywhere. Below are steps to take each of your four years of high school to ensure that you get into the college(s) that you want to when it’s time.

FRESHMAN YEAR

  • Get in touch with your school’s guidance office. With your guidance counselor, try to develop a good plan for high school so that you start out on the right track, meeting all the requirements necessary to get into the best possible colleges for you.
  • Get motivated. Don’t settle for anything less than your best when it comes to getting good grades. You don't want a lazy freshman year to keep you from getting into your dream school.
  • Get involved! If you’re thinking about college, extracurriculars are a huge boost on your applications, but they also are great ways to meet people with similar interests, keep you from getting bored, and in the end will probably give you plenty of experiences about which to write college essays.
  • Get thinking about summer. What do you want to do with your summer break:  get a job, volunteer, land an internship, practice a sport? Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that you enjoy, that works for you and also makes you a more attractive applicant when it comes time for college.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

  • Keep doing what you’re doing –– except try do it even better! You’ve got another year before the push to college really starts to heat up, so keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t let those grades slip!
  • Get to know your teachers and build those relationships. If you’re looking to go to college, teachers are great people from whom you can get letters of recommendation. The most convincing recommendations are written by those what know you well.
  • With a year of high school under your belt, figure out what you enjoy studying, what you’re good at, and what your weaknesses are so that you can focus on making them strengths, too. If you’re studying topics that interest you, you’re going to enjoy school so much more and with the many different types of majors offered at schools around Vermont, you can keep up this trend when it is time for that next step.
  • Whether you have a job or not, you should be getting an idea of how to manage your money. With college just a couple of years away, learning to save money and spend smartly will pay off in the long run.
  • If you’ve already had a job or an internship, you know what to look for by now. If you’re looking for one, ask your friends who have been there already. Work experience is a great plus as you prepare for school (the money is nice too!) –– it is even better if you can get a job in a field that you think you might want to pursue down the road.

JUNIOR YEAR

  • There is lots to do between now and college to make sure you get to that first day without a hitch.
  • Serious sit-downs –– first with your parents, to get the family’s opinion, then with your guidance counselor to see what sort of college options are out there for you.
  • Go visit a college or two. Just because you visit doesn’t mean you have to go there, so take the opportunity to see what college is like, what you find appealing about a campus so that you have something with compare to later on.
  • Register for and take the PSAT. Most students will take the PSAT in October of their junior year, so look into the test during the summer before.
  • Familiarize yourself with the SAT. Get used to the types of questions, the overall format and even take a practice test or two. There are several great SAT prep books out there that could prove to be very helpful.
  • Sign up for and then take the SAT. This usually occurs in April, May or June, so you’ll be registering a couple of months ahead. Even if it goes really well, plan on taking the test again in the fall of your senior year.
  • With senior year getting closer by the day, sit down and talk with your parents again about what you think your college career will look like, where you might like to go, how you will pay for it and who you can ask for letters of recommendation.
  • Make this last summer count! Enjoy it, but make it worthwhile for college applications. Don’t just sit around!

SENIOR YEAR

This is the big year. Finish with a bang! There is a lot to accomplish in these months, but hopefully you’ve done enough preparation already. Here are the final things you’ll need to do on your path to college:

  • Visits, visits, and more visits! Hopefully by the start of your senior year, you’ve narrowed down your college list. It’s time to hit the road and see as many as you can –– getting a feel for a campus is really important in deciding whether or not you want to be there for four years.
  • Check your grades! Make sure you’re on track to graduate and your GPA is where it needs to be. Later on, when you’re filling out applications you’re going to need copies of your transcript to send with your application. Don’t wait to get your copies until the last minute when the guidance office is swamped!
  • SATs and ACTs (again!). It is probably a good plan to take the SAT or the ACT at least one more time before you apply for college –– you want to have the best score you can for your application.
  • Nail down your recommendation letters. Ask (politely) the teachers or other adults you think would give you the best, positive recommendation. Once you’ve gotten your letter(s), be sure to write “thank you” letters to each person.
  • Research scholarships early! There’s money out there for all sorts of people, so do your homework and put yourself out there, because, no matter how small they may be, scholarships add up fast and become more and more valuable.
  • Figure out the schools to which you really want to apply, keeping it reasonable –– any more than 6 or 7 become expensive and excessive when you are paying the application fee to several different schools.
  • Get the ball rolling on your applications –– don’t put them all off until the last minute. You want to make sure all of your answers are the best you could possibly give and you want to make your essays as polished as they can be. Don’t forget to fill out all parts of the applications that need to be completed! When you complete the applications, make copies so you know what you’ve done and have records of it.
  • Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) with your parents. This is a required form that all colleges use to figure out the amount of financial aid you should receive.
  • Sit down with your family and make the big decision. Compare financial aid packages, locations, campuses and courses of study.
  • Take part in “accepted student” days, which can help make or break the decision.