I Want to Go to College…But Where Do I Begin?

I Want to Go to College…But Where Do I Begin?

By Maggie Flynn

For some of you Sparklers, your college search probably began in the third grade, when Mom and Dad took you to their alma maters, bought you a sweatshirt, and waxed poetic about how you'll follow in their footsteps someday. Since then, your life has been filled SAT prep classes, trips to the guidance counselor, and AP classes all designed to get your into your dream school.

For others, however, it's entirely possible to make it most of the way through high school and realize you're none too sure about what you need to do to get to college. Take this email we received:

Hello my name is Megan and I'm a junior at high school. I have no idea where to go and what the reality of life is yet. Like with the costs and the time and the hardship none of it has hit me. ALL my friends want me to go where they are going and I just want to be happy and go to college to get somewhere and become someone! But to get there I know nothing like SATs or ACTs and I have no idea what I need or have to do to prepare myself for it. I just want to go to college not have to stress all the "what ifs." Please help me.

Ah, yes, wouldn't it be lovely if the September after you graduate from high school, you could just walk into the college of your choice and sign up for classes? Unfortunately, applying to colleges is much more complicated than that, and there are a lot of hoops you need to jump through to get there. Here are some steps that Megan and others in similar situations can take now to start preparing:

1. Focus in on the type of school you want to attend: There are basically three types of colleges you can attend: private four-year universities, public four-year universities, and two-year community colleges, where you can get your basic requirements taken care of and then transfer to finish your degree at a four-year school. Tuition costs, the availability of financial aid and scholarships, your GPA, and your SAT or ACT scores (more on those tests in a minute) can all play a role in determining the type of school you'll go to.

Generally speaking, private universities are most expensive, public universities less expensive than private colleges, and community colleges most affordable. Also, community colleges usually don't require the high GPAs and SAT/ACT scores that more competitive private and public universities do. If your school has guidance counselors, make an appointment to see one and discuss which type of school would be the best fit for you. In the meantime, read up on the basics of the college search.

2. Start studying for the SAT and/or ACT: The SAT and the ACT are tests that college admission boards use to measure student aptitude, and most college won't even look at your application if you haven't take one of these tests. Many college accept both the ACT and the SAT, but others are looking for just one of the two. Make sure you know which tests are required by the colleges you intend to apply to. You can do this by going to the schools' websites or talking to your guidance counselor. You should also read up on the types of questions you’ll encounter on the SAT and ACT, take a few practice tests, and then put together your study plans.

3. See what areas of your college application you need to improve: The SAT and the ACT are only one part of your college application. Admission boards will also look at your transcripts, your extracurricular activities, and your admissions essay, among other factors. If it seems like you need a higher GPA to get into the schools you choose, make a study plan that will help you raise it. If you're not involved in many activities, think about doing some volunteering this summer or taking on some other endeavors that will help your application stand out. Also, it’s never too early to start brainstorming topics for your application essays.

Preparing to apply for college can be hard work, and just thinking about it can make you feel overwhelmed. However, if you start reading up on it now and plan to do a little work every day on your college research and preparation, you'll feel a lot less stressed because you'll know exactly what you need to do to get into the school of your choice. Good luck!

Do you need test prep or college advice? Write to advice@sparknotes.com!

Topics: college, college search, college applications, college admissions, college requirements

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