1. What classes do I need?
Counselors should give you information on courses you'll need to complete in preparation for college. In addition, counselors can tell you about Advanced Placement classes, which allow you to gain college credit while still in high school (and save some money!). Also, ask about electives that could make you more attractive to college admissions committees. Taking certain electives may help show that you're a well-rounded individual who can contribute to campus life.
2. What entrance exams will I need to take?
Most 4-year colleges require prospective students to take at least one standardized college entrance exam. You'll likely take either the SAT or ACT. In some cases, you may need to take both, since different colleges require different tests. Ask your counselor for guidance on which test(s) to take, and how you can prepare (for example, by attending a test prep course or taking practice exams).
3. When do I need to submit college applications?
College application deadlines vary between schools, which is why it's important to consult a counselor on an appropriate timeline for applying. Keep in mind that deadlines for early action and early decision plans (programs that may help improve your likelihood of being accepted) can be well before official application deadlines. A counselor can help you develop a timeline and stay organized.
4. What should I consider in my college selection?
Just as each person has his or her own unique personality, each college has its own personality. Some are party schools where nobody cracks open a book until the night before an exam, some are hard-core study schools where the library is open 24/7, and some are commuter schools without much campus life. Every college has strengths and weaknesses, so the most important thing is to find the best fit for you. Ask a counselor about factors you should consider in choosing a college. Counselors should advise you to take into account school size, campus environment, diversity, and other aspects of the college experience that may be important to you.
5. How should I choose a major?
You know you want to go to college, but you don't know what degree you want to get. You should choose your major based mostly on your future career plans. If you don't know what you want to be when you grow up, now's the time to get some career counseling. Ask your counselor for a career assessment to help you determine your future goals. The counselor may assess your interests, values, personality, strengths, and aptitudes. Based on the results, a counselor can recommend a variety of career options.
6. How does financial aid work?
Financial aid is an important part of the college equation for most students. It can be hard to understand all of the terms and requirements. Check in with a counselor for info on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and student loans. Get the scoop on application deadlines. Make sure you understand how much money you'll need to borrow and how long you'll be paying it back. Knowing this information may influence your choice of school.
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7. What grants and scholarships can I apply for? What about work-study?
In addition to loans, many students rely on grants and scholarships. These options represent the best way to fund your education, since you generally don't have to pay them back. Ask your counselor about government grant programs, as well as books and websites that list scholarships. Be warned that the application process can take a lot of time and energy, but the potential result is free money! Also, ask about work-study programs, which can allow you to work on campus in exchange for some of your tuition.
8. Are there extracurricular activities that can help me prepare for college?
Grades and entrance exam scores are not the only criteria colleges use to select students. Most schools also value involvement in extracurricular activities, including sports, music, theater, and others. Commitment to community service or a job can also impress admissions officials. Different colleges value different types of activities, so it's important to do your research and plan ahead.
9. What college resources do you recommend?
Helping students through the college application process is an important part of a school counselor's job, so they should be able to recommend many resources. Request print materials, websites, and other resources that offer information about the application process, career planning, and specific colleges. Also, ask about college fairs and other exhibitions where you can get a lot of info in one place.
10. Will you help me throughout the college selection process?
Getting into the college of your dreams isn't something that happens overnight or without a lot of hard work. Having the help of a counselor as you plan and achieve milestones can make a world of difference. Your counselor can help you create a step-by-step plan, make key decisions, and develop short- and long-term goals.
If your school counselor isn't able to answer all of the above questions, seek out a private admissions counselor, independent educational consultant, or qualified career counselor.
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