College Prep: Notes from A-Z for college planning success

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Welcome to 2012 - the year the student in your life draws a step closer to the rest of his or hers.

In many respects, a college education is like a passport. It offers a world of possibilities, but to get from here to there, one needs to understand the ABCs of the journey.

Therefore, I have created an A-Z list of college planning notes and tips to assist aspiring college students (and those who love them) navigate the journey before them.

Apply yourself. Colleges and universities are looking for finishers, which begins with applying one's self.

Be proactive. Determining the right college fit takes time, so don't wait until the junior and senior years to begin explore options. Start today.

College Board. The makers of the SAT also host one of the most comprehensive college planning websites. Bookmark and begin exploring this robust website.

Deadlines. Understanding and adhering to the myriad deadlines in the college application process is crucial. A second "d" word here would be to develop a system for keeping track of deadlines.

Early Decision vs. Early Action. Depending upon your student's comfort level with committing to a college at the outset of the application process, these pathways offer the potential for preferential consideration. Visit with your student's counselor for more information.

FAFSA. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the only way to be considered for financial aid from a college or university. High school seniors and community college transfers should plan to apply in January or February. Apply through

GPA. It goes without saying that one's grade point average is a significant determinate in the college application process. The better the GPA, the better one's possibilities are.

Housing. With so much attention given to admission and financial aid applications, housing applications and deposits can get overlooked.

Interest Inventories. Understanding one's strengths is a vital step toward understanding how and where to develop one's gifts after high school. A quick Internet search entitled "Interest Inventories" will unearth several free online assessments.

Job Shadowing. Another way for students to gain insight to potential careers is to investigate job shadowing or to apply for a summer internship.

Kinesiology. Those interested in careers connected to health, fitness, and sports may wish to explore this popular major.

Letters of Recommendation. Sophomores and juniors can ease the stress of the application process when they are seniors by requesting teacher recommendations at the conclusion of a course.

My Road. A no-cost individualized college planning service offered by the College Board. (See Letter "C")

Needs Analysis. This is the calculation done based on FAFSA data to determine a family's Estimated Family Contribution to a student's education.

Online Courses. Many colleges and universities have begun to supplement on-ground offerings with online courses to help expedite graduation rates. Consider enrolling in either an online college prep class or an online enrichment class this summer to gain familiarity with this medium.

PSAT/NMSQT. The PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is given to juniors (and sometimes sophomores) on high school campuses in October. A strong score can generate scholarship opportunities and communication from colleges. Prep guides are generally available from school counselors in September.

Questions. Ask lots of them from those who have recently gone off to college. Use them as an opportunity to go to school on their experience to gain valuable information.

Research. As one works diligently to ensure academic readiness for college, it is also imperative to simultaneously perform copious research on schools to understand the right academic fit - as well as admissibility. is an excellent resource to help flesh this out.

Scholarships. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of scholarships and performance-based opportunities to help underwrite a college education. One site worth bookmarking is FastWeb -

Testing. One of the primary lynchpins connected to college admissions is one's level of achievement on the ACT and/or the SAT, which is why so many test prep opportunities abound. Kaplan Test Prep,, and The Princeton Review,, offer a handful of useful resources at no charge.

Undeclared. Many students enter the four-year college arena with an undeclared major. Some schools have programs that require such a declaration, but generally it is not required.

Visits. There is no substitute for visiting a variety of campuses to help a student understand how certain institutions feel. Easter and summer vacations are great times to pack-up and go.

Work Study. When reviewing an institution's financial aid package, check to see if work student was included. By committing to work a few hours a week, students can help defray a portion of the cost of attendance.

Xavier University. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, Xavier is ranked first by US News & World Report for having the best graduation rate among Midwest master's-level colleges and universities.

Your Online Self. More colleges are exploring social media sites, etc. to gain an understanding of their applicant pool. Now more than ever students need to ensure their digital footprint is above reproach.

Zeal. Approaching one's education and the college application process with zeal and passion is perhaps the single most important trait that one can have in this or any other year.

Happy New Year!

• Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


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