Even in middle school, you need a college checklist. College planning needs to start before you start 9th grade so you can meet high school graduation requirements and college admission requirements. I’ve counseled many young people through the maze of applying for college. I’m sharing my tips for college planning for them. See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for 11th and 12th graders.
Check high school graduation requirements
Check college admission requirements
Taking the right classes in high school is a key step for preparing for college. You need to look up the high school graduation requirements for your state and make sure you take the right classes. Take the time to get to know your guidance counselor so you can get help and advice.
You also need to look up the college admissions requirements for some of the colleges you are thinking about. It’s very possible that high school requirements are not exactly the same as college requirements. For example, in North Carolina, you need 4 English, 4 Math, 3 Science, 4 Social Studies, 1 Health/PE, and 6 electives to graduate from high school. The state university system minimum requirements are 4 English, 4 Math (with specific courses), 2 Foreign Language, 3 Science (with specific courses), and 2 Social Studies (with specific courses). You can see that the two lists are not the same! You will need to get started right in 9th grade, or even in middle school.
Minimum requirements are just that, minimum. You can look up the “student profile” at universities you are considering to see what kind of classes accepted students took in high school. For a very competitive major such as electrical engineering, you may need to take 4 years of science, 4 years of math (including calculus), and it’s highly likely you need 3 to 5 Advanced Placement (AP) courses to win a spot in the program.
Be sure to ask your guidance counselor about Honors and AP offerings at your school. Some students I know did not have calculus or physics offered at their rural high school. They found out they could take those courses online from a state university or they could get permission to go to the local community college during the school day to get those credits.
Sign up for a 529 savings plan
Ask your parents to check out your state’s 529 savings plan. There are possible tax benefits and many states allow you to use the money no matter what or where your postsecondary schooling is. Set it up as soon as possible and you can build up your college fund by depositing gifts and money you make from working.
Identify your interests for college planning
Start thinking about what possible careers you might like to have. The career you want will help you decide what your college major should be. The college major you choose will help you decide where you should apply for college. Many careers require you to take more classes after high school, but the classes could be available at a technical or trade school, community college, or in the military.
To start exploring, you can take a test to help you identify your main interests and personality. Then you can explore careers that fit your interests. Use this printable to see some of the questions to ask your self. Ask your guidance counselor about possible tests you can take, such as Holland Code or Career Key. Your interests could change as you take more classes, so think about taking the interest tests a couple times between 6th and 11th grade.
Once you know your interests, you can explore careers that match with your interests. Many lists of careers also list interests or the Holland Codes. For example:
|Building contractor||Realistic, Conventional|
|Electrical engineer||Investigative, Realistic|
|Chiropractor||Investigative, Realistic, Artistic|
Choosing career possibilities will help you to find what you would like your college major to be.
Explore salaries and job projections
Each state has websites that help you to find what salaries are typical for different jobs or occupations. In addition, job projections will tell you which occupations are most likely to need more employees by the time you graduate from college. Jobs with the most annual openings can include retail sales, administrative assistants, and registered nurses. In your state, you may need to look for the Department of Labor or Commerce. See the Resource Links below for websites to help you explore job projections.
As you plan what to do after high school graduation, you have many options for college planning. There are business and trade schools (such as cosmetology or truck driving); community college, where you can do your first two years of college or earn credits in a vocational or technical program; apprenticeship in a skilled occupation; a four-year degree from a college or university; and, training in the military. Colleges vary widely on costs. Usually a community college or trade school will cost less than a state university. A state university will cost less than a private or out-of-state university.
Résumés and keeping track of your accomplishments
When you apply to college, you may need a résumé as part of the application. A résumé is a summary and showcase of your education, experiences, and accomplishments. You need to keep a record of your education, activities, and jobs during high school. Colleges will be looking for awards and honors you receive, your clubs (band, Spanish club, etc.), and outside-school activities, such as church or community service.
Do you have a child in high school? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 in this preparing for college series. I’ll be looking for questions in the comments below or contact me at lisa[at]thecasabouquet[dot]com.
Resource links for college planning
- State web sites for graduation requirements from the National Center on Educational Outcomes
- College admissions articles from Peterson’s
- Explore careers and majors with Big Future from the College Board
- Get Schooled, a college planning website for kids
- World of Work map from ACT
- Career Key is an online interest test to help find careers. Pay site.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook from US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Report from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
- K-12 resources from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Employment projections including annual wage from US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Find colleges with the College Navigator from the US National Center for Education Statistics
- Résumé Workshop from the Purdue Online Writing Lab
- 529 plan info from Saving for College