When it comes to college, I like to tell families that it's never too early — and never too late — to start planning. Even elementary school-age children can be encouraged to dream big and start thinking of themselves as "college material." By middle school, students can spend time shadowing professionals or attending special-interest camps that may lead them to a major or a college to explore further.
But what if you are at the opposite extreme? For instance: You're a high school senior. It's already November, and you've just realized that you've done almost nothing about those looming application deadlines.
Every fall, I meet a few students like this. And every year, I tell them the same thing: Relax. Take a deep breath. And get to work, because you still have time to get into a college you'll love if you put in extra effort now. You may not be ready for some of the earliest deadlines, but most colleges accept applications until Feb. 1.
To get ready fast, I recommend students first try to zero in on a major. It's a lot easier to create a short list of schools if you know you're interested in, say, architecture or accounting.
If you truly have no idea, you could take a career assessment or aptitude inventory. (Your guidance counselor may have some suggestions on where and how to do this.) Or consider majoring in interdisciplinary studies, which will permit you to sample several academic fields and take courses in a variety of liberal arts and professional fields.
Next, develop a list of schools that pique your interest. I always suggest you visit as many of these campuses as possible, so you may wish to include at least a couple that are nearby. Schools close to home, including junior colleges where you can take core courses, allow undecided students to sample college life while still in a familiar setting. Here in East Texas we are fortunate to have some excellent universities and junior colleges right in our back yard.
At the same time you're researching and making these important decisions, make sure your paperwork is in order. Have you taken the SAT or ACT, and are you satisfied with your scores? If not, there's time to take one or both again. You also must gather letters of recommendation, write essays, obtain transcripts, complete financial aid forms, and prepare to actually fill out the applications.
Whew. Yes, it's a lot to do, especially while juggling school, sports, activities, and maybe a job. But I promise you: It will be worth it when you get that letter in a few months, informing you that you've been accepted at a school that's right for you.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and financial aid, and find the college that's right for them.