Today’s high school freshmen are 14 or 15 years old.
They’ve just gone from top dogs in middle school to the smallest fish in a big sea. Academics are a cut above their previous studies. Their bodies and minds are going through periods of change, too.
With high school just starting, college probably is the last thing on the minds of high school freshmen. But it should be. In fact, freshmen year helps lay the groundwork for sophomore, junior and senior years, and ultimately college.
Below are five tasks that ninth-graders should be doing now to get a head start on their college planning.
High School Freshmen Checklist
(1) Meet with a school counselor. Academic advisors and guidance counselors help students set course schedules and monitor grades, but they’re also experts on college planning. Advisors can explain the college admissions process, financial aid, placement testing and what to expect from campus life.
(2) Explore college options. Across America, there are more than 4,300 degree-granting institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Education. No two schools are alike. There are two- and four-year schools, public and private colleges, and liberal arts and research institutions. Colleges are located in urban, suburban and rural locations. There also are trade schools that offer certificates and professional licensure.
(3) Understand finances. Colleges are expensive. That’s why it is important for parents and students to have a conversation about finances. Published tuition prices, however, aren’t necessarily the amount that all students pay. There are an abundance of scholarships, grants, loans and work study programs that help reduce the cost of attendance. You just need to know how to find them.
(4) Review college majors. Teachers start asking this question in kindergarten: what do you want to be when you grow up? Now is the time for freshmen to start answering it. Guidance counselors can help students narrow down possible career choices based on abilities and interests. Another way to begin narrowing the list is by visiting websites of colleges to see what degree programs are available.
(5) Study, study, study. High GPAs and test scores unlock the majority of colleges, and thus more academic opportunities. By ninth grade, elementary and middle school grades are wiped clean, and every freshman starts the school year with a clean slate. Planning, time management and effort are critical factors that determine academic success. Freshmen should begin studying for the ACT or SAT, and set a goal of finishing the first semester with a 4.0 GPA.
In high school, it’s easy to get off track with so many potential distractions. That’s why Guadalupe Center emphasizes college, and what it takes to get there, from day one. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators should all be willing to help. After all, today’s high school students represent the next generation of leaders.
Freshmen essentially have four years to pave their path to college. Although the ship hasn’t necessarily sailed for sophomores, juniors and seniors, delaying the planning process only cuts down the time students have to make these incredibly important decisions. The clock is ticking.
– By Daniel Martinez, Tutor Corps Program high school director at Guadalupe Center. For more information, please visit GuadalupeCenter.org or call 239-657-7711.