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Learn... Plan... Prepare for College

Steps to Build Plan
  Step 1 - Student Preparations
  Step 2 - Take exams
  Step 3 - Choose college and apply
  Step 4 - Get financial aid
  Step 5 - Prepare for departure
  Step 6 - Get help
  Find the annual costs of any four-year college or university
  Scholarship Search Wizard
Prepare your student

The first step in the college planning process begins early on in High School. Your child needs to understand the benefits of a college education, the classes they need to take, and the importance of extracurricular activities and community involvement. However, don't expect them to get the message right away. You, as their parent, must guide them through the process and remain vigilant so that they will be ready for the school of their choice when the time comes.

Benefits of a college education
Whether from a technical, community college or 4-year program, a degree can expand the number and type of opportunities your child will have in life.

  • Greater Knowledge. A college education will increase your child's ability to understand developments in science and in society, to think abstractly and critically, to express thoughts clearly in speech and in writing, and to make wise decisions. These skills are useful both on and off the job.
  • More Money. A person who attends college generally earns more than a person who does not. It is estimated that a college degree can mean an extra $1 million in income over a lifetime.
  • Greater Potential. A college education can help increase your child's understanding of the community, the Nation, and the world -- as he or she explores interests, discovers new areas of knowledge, considers lifelong goals, and becomes a responsible citizen.
  • More Job Opportunities. The world is changing rapidly. Many jobs rely on new technology and already require more brain power than muscle power. In your child's working life, more and more jobs will require education beyond high school. With a college education, your child will have more jobs from which to choose.

Different types of education programs
Not everyone attends a 4-year college, and not everyone should. There are children that are predisposed to certain skills, such as automotive mechanics, that may not benefit from four years at a university. Other children may love working on computers, and would be better off getting a technical certification. The important thing for the parent and the student alike is to understand the child's skills and desires, and focus on getting the right type of education that will benefit them in the best way.

Four-year colleges and universities

These schools usually offer a bachelor of arts (B. A.) or bachelor of science (B. S.) degree. Some also offer graduate and professional degrees.

  • Four-Year Colleges: These are post-secondary schools that provide four-year educational programs in the arts and sciences. These colleges confer bachelor's degrees.
  • Universities: These are postsecondary schools that include a college of arts and/or sciences, one or more programs of graduate studies, and one or more professional schools. Universities confer bachelor's degrees and graduate, master's and Ph.D. degrees. Many universities also confer professional degrees, for example, in law or medicine.

Other Colleges

Colleges with programs that are less than four years in length are often called community colleges, technical colleges, or junior colleges:

  • Community Colleges: These are public, two-year colleges. They mostly serve people from nearby communities and offer academic courses, technical courses, and continuing education courses. Public institutions are supported by state and local revenues.
  • Technical Colleges: These are generally colleges that have a special emphasis on education and training in technical fields. However, although some technical colleges offer academic courses and programs, not all technical colleges offer two-year programs that lead to an associate of arts or science degree. Technical colleges may be private or public. Junior colleges and community colleges that offer many technical courses are often called "technical colleges."
  • Junior Colleges: These are generally two-year colleges that are private institutions. Some junior colleges are residential and are attended by students who come from other parts of the country.

Take a variety of challenging courses
To better prepare your child, and increase their chances of being accepted by major colleges, consider a variety of courses, intermixed with challenging courses, and make sure they get good grades.

A variety of classes. Your child should take a variety of classes, both to demonstrate an interest in different areas of study and also to help them discover subjects they may enjoy. It's recommended that you work with a high school guidance counselor to develop a plan for various courses, especially to ensure that they take the necessary courses for college. You might begin with this list of suggested classes when you meet with the counselor.

grammar, literature
3 to 4
algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus
3 to 4
biology, earth science, chemistry, physics
Social Studies
3 to 4
geography, U.S. history and government, world history
Foreign Language
2 to 4
any one language
1 or more
art, dance, drama, music
1 or more
shop, automotive, home economics
1 to 3
economics, statistics, computer science, psychology

Get good grades. Although everyone understands the need for good grades, they can play a major role in the college admissions process. Colleges will note that your child is a good student and serious about learning. The grades also can have an impact when applying for scholarships and grants.

Take challenging courses. Although grades count, colleges also want to see students that have challenged themselves with more difficult classes. Honors or advanced placement courses usually carry more weight during the admissions process. Some of these classes may even apply toward college credit.

Extracurricular activities and community involvement
More and more, colleges are stressing the importance of having students that have participated in extracurricular and community activities. Teamwork and leadership skills are derived through a variety of extracurricular activities, including athletics, band, choir and other clubs. Discipline and responsibility are often derived through community service and volunteer work. These endeavors also expose your student to various career interests that can lead to scholarship opportunities.

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