The wait for college can seem absurdly long, especially if you’re not even old enough to drive yet. Believe me when I say, however, that the time will fly by and the application process will be here before you know it.
If you’re a sophomore in high school, there’s plenty you can do to start preparing for college. In fact, many of the steps you take right now could determine the path you eventually travel. If you’re serious about earning a college education at an awesome campus that fits your personality to a tee, then you’ll definitely want to think about the following tips.
Forget What You Want To Do; Focus On Where You Want To Go
For many students, the degree they enter college to pursue may not be the degree they leave with.
Surprised? This report from the National Center for Education Statistics and the US Department of Education reveals that 48% of persons who majored in a STEM industry (that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to begin their college careers between 2002 and 2009 eventually chose to go a different route, either by dropping out or, in the case of about half those persons, switching majors. That percentage increases further, to above 50% of majors, in non-STEM areas.
By conducting career research now, while you’re still super early in the college selection process, you can reduce the time you spend at school and your costs overall. There could be career paths out there that you didn’t even realize existed but that will pull you in a completely different direction than what you could be thinking today.
Be open to the possibilities. Instead of being hyper zoned in on one degree and basing your college decision off of that path, start looking at overall campuses. Do they offer the athletics or student involvement opportunities you want? Are they a small school or a large university? Could you be happy there?
These questions will be far more important than what programs they offer, and you can narrow in on a program as your first year of college approaches. You need to attune yourself to the culture of each school rather than invest in a single academic program, as your desire for that program could change fast, especially by the time you actually arrive on campus three years from now.
AP Classes Are Your Best Friend
When you plot out your schedule over the next couple years, give serious consideration to AP classes.
It may not seem like a big deal now, but the possibility of taking care of a handful of credit hours before you even leave high school can save you both time and money later.
Not all AP classes will transfer to all colleges, but the more you take, the greater your chances of being able to apply as many credits as possible to your degree. And trust us, any costs you can trim from your time in college will be something you’re thankful for in the long run.
Where this really comes in handy is with those prerequisites and outside-the-degree subject requirements that almost all majors have. Even if your major lies far away from something like mathematics or history, you’ll likely need to take one or two classes related to those subjects. But if you can get them done before you even start college, you’ll be able to focus all your attention on the other courses that are more applicable to your major.
It’s something to think about in the coming semesters.
Onward and Upward
Your school probably has a guidance office and counselors available to assist you on your journey to college. Use them. Far too many resources at high schools around the country go untapped by a vast majority of students who don’t think it will be worth the time.
Please don’t fall into that trap. If you’re struggling with some aspect of high school or the college search process, or even if you’re not struggling, take advantage of the unique resources that are available to you at this moment in time. Those resources will not be there once you’re out of high school three years from now.
One particular resource to take advantage of (if you qualify) is Upward Bound. This program is specifically designed to prepare first-generation college students and those who meet certain income thresholds for college academics and campus life. And it’s not all hard work. Upward Bound provides an opportunity to take part in fun group activities, go on field trips and more.
Here at Nebraska Methodist College, we work with Burke High School on this awesome project, and we’re happy to host dozens of students each summer.
Find out what sorts of resources your school has and that you qualify for.
You won’t take the ACT until next year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush up on test preparation now. If you have your sights set on a school that expects a certain score, then do yourself a favor by reviewing some ACT study guides in the coming months. Pick up some SAT guides while you’re at it.
This is possibly even more important if you don’t know where you’ll go to school. If you do great on your ACT early on, it frees up your time in your junior and senior years to research potential colleges and focus on things like extracurricular activities, campus visits and whatever else appeals to you.
One final note about this: it’s true that some schools, even very popular ones, have moved away from using standardized testing scores as an entry metric. But those schools are still few and far between. The vast majority still use ACT and SAT scores to make their decisions, so take these tests seriously.
It Will All Work Out
Okay, now that we’ve scared you half to death with all the stuff you haven’t done yet, we leave you with one last piece of advice:
You still have plenty of time to do all the things listed above and then some. Sophomore year is where you start to think about college, but you still should leave yourself plenty of time for fun. While it’s a good idea to take a few early steps into the college waters, you’ll have years to worry about the application process, narrowing down your list of schools and conducting the heavy research it takes to make a decision about college.
So don’t go too crazy with the college search. Enjoy your time in high school, and we in the higher education community will see you in a couple years.