Preparing for college can be complicated, but we’ve broken it down into four simple steps from the national KnowHow2GO campaign.
Step 1 - Be a Pain! (in a good way)
College doesn’t just happen. Let everyone know that you’re going to college and that you need their help. Don’t take “no” for an answer! Keep asking until you find the person(s) who can help you with taking the right classes, finding the perfect career match, completing applications and navigating financial aid. Some ideas:
Teachers and coaches. They’ve been there, and it’s their job to help you succeed.
Family. So what if your parents didn’t go to college? Your folks may well have real experience and knowledge that can help you on your way, or maybe you have other family members who can guide you through the process.
Jobs and experience. Track down places outside of school where you can get real-world experience from adults who can show you how it’s done. Shadowing someone for a day at their business will help you see if it’s the right career for you. Even better, get a summer job to help you learn about working with people.
Counselors. If you can’t talk with your school counselor, check your local community college or community center and meet with the counselors there.
Other connections. Connect with family, friends or neighbors who have been to college and ask them how they got there.
Step 2 - Push Yourself!
Working a little harder today will make getting into college even easier.
- Take the right classes. Succeeding in college starts with taking the right classes in high school. Indiana’s Core 40 diploma will prepare you for colleges and careers, but some Indiana colleges now require Core 40 with Academic or Technical Honors.
- Check out requirements. Look up entrance requirements for colleges you’re interested in, and sign up for the classes you need now. Check out our college exploration page for more on requirements.
- Meet the challenge. Sure, grades are important, but the tougher the courses you take, the more likely it is that a college will decide to take you. In general, most colleges prefer students who challenge themselves with harder courses, even if they earn only average grades, than those who take easier courses just to get higher grades.
- Achieve honors. Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses are the gold standard for colleges and carry much more weight than other courses in working out your grade point average. Plus, high AP scores can test you out of college courses, saving you money on tuition later. Dual credit courses also allow you to skip more expensive college courses later.
- Ace the exams. Pushing yourself in your classes will better prepare you for college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT. Good scores on those tests will help you earn academic scholarships – free money for college!
Step 3 - Find the Right Fit!
Find out what kind of school is the best match for you and your career goals. As you explore colleges, keep these questions in mind:
- What’s the right match? The kind of college you choose to attend should reflect your career goals. Read more about matching your education and career goals, or explore college planning with the College GO! Week campaign.
- Big or small? Do you want to attend a big university with more program choices and social activities, but also larger lecture classes? Or would you like fewer choices but more personal attention and a better chance to stand out? You decide.
- Home or away? Attending a local college versus living in dorms or an apartment - what’s better? It depends. For some, residence hall life is an important part of the college experience, but commuting from home is less expensive.
- Which major works? The college you attend needs to have a major that matches your career goal. Talk to a professional in your future career if you’re not sure, or ask your teachers.
- What activities are available? Getting into extracurricular activities outside of class - band, science club, the school newspaper, drama or even volunteering - helps you discover what your real interests are and where you’re heading.
Step 4 - Put Your Hands on Some Cash!
If you think you can’t afford college, think again. There’s lots of aid out there.
- How much do I need? Use the free Indiana College Costs Estimator to estimate your financial aid package at any Indiana college. Enter as much of your demographic and tax information as you can for the most accurate estimate.
- Who gets it? Many more people than you might think. Financial aid is awarded based on need or merit (academic achievement, athletics and other talents). But you have to apply to find out.
- What kind of money? There are a lot of different types of financial aid out there. Grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back, while work-study entails holding an on-campus job and contributing your earnings directly towards tuition. Loans do have to be paid back, so look for low-interest federal loans.
- Where do you look? Colleges expect you and your parents to pay what you can, but schools, state and federal governments, and private businesses and organizations are also great sources for financial aid. Check out CashForCollegeIndiana.org to get started.
- Is it free money? Not likely - most financial aid packages are a mixture of grants that don’t need to be paid back and loans that do, but not until after you graduate from college.
- How do I apply? Your school guidance counselor can help you, including how to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which makes you a candidate for all federal student aid.
- Do deadlines matter? Absolutely. College financial aid goes fast. The earlier you can get in your FAFSA application and all of the other information that a college asks for, the sooner you’ll receive your financial aid package.
For more information about the four steps to college success, visit the national KnowHow2GO campaign’s website.