College planning: Take your shot at higher education

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You can be sure to miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.As an ex-college and high school basketball coach, I often recited this aphorism as both a literal and a figurative exhortation to our players.For those who were gifted shooters, it was meant as an actual encouragement to take good shots. And though my definition of a good shot didn’t always match a player’s definition, the point was to have them play freely and without regret.For those who brought other gifts to the team, this axiom was communicated to motivate them to carry out their roles and responsibilities with assurance.As a college and career counselor, I often share this same axiom, but as a metaphor to encourage thought — and action.It’s been my experience that many students, and sometimes parents, can become paralyzed by the steps and perceptions associated with college and career planning. Thus, I have chosen to dust off this adage in order to challenge high school students and their parents to enter this game with confidence. There are two keys to becoming confident in this arena — making a plan and working a plan. However, before one can consider these steps, he or she must first answer the question, “Why go to college?”This is a great question. The truth is that going to college may not be everyone’s heart’s desire. Or maybe it’s the connotation of “going to college” that needs to be examined. On its face, this expression often conjures the idea of going to a 4-year school. While there is strong merit to considering a 4-year experience, the goal of pursuing a college education, regardless of whether it is a 2-year or 4-year school, should be to enhance one’s passion in some way. For some, the attainment of an associate’s degree or completion of a certificate program may be just what they need or want to achieve this, which is great. Again, the goal should be to develop a passion.The value of a bachelor’s degree lies not solely in the heightened earning capacity one experiences with a 4-year degree ( but also in the potential opportunities it creates. Particularly in a depressed job market.Parents and educators alike desire to help those in their care develop as many options as possible in life. Pursuing formal or higher education can make an enormous difference.Once a commitment is made to pursue a degree, it is vital that a plan be created to achieve it, which optimally begins with getting organized. And a significant piece of getting organized is goal setting. The process of setting goals and priorities will be explored chapter and verse in this space over the course of this school year. To help stimulate this type of thinking, students are strongly encouraged to sit down with a school guidance counselor or a college planning professional.In addition to meeting with a counselor, students should also consider visiting and bookmarking This website, which is operated by The College Board, makers of the SAT, is one of the most comprehensive Internet resources for individuals needing college planning support. Included in the college planning area of the College Board website is a section referred to as “Big Future.” This suite has everything a prospective college student could ever want, including an area where a personalized college search or plan can be created. After a commitment has been made to pursuing a college degree, and once goal-setting and making a plan has occurred, the next critical path item is working the plan.This is where the rubber meets the road, because this is where one’s work ethic comes into play. There are certainly important academic requisites that need to be achieved in order to go to college, and the presence of an intellectually curious mind is central to this. Yet what often gets lost in this process, not to mention in society, is the value of work ethic.“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,” President Calvin Coolidge once said. “Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”In order to maximize one’s college options, a student must be committed to working diligently to get the very best grades he or she can achieve, the highest standardized test scores he or she can achieve, and becoming involved in campus life. This comes down to intentionality and a concerted effort.More than three-quarters of students are accepted by their first-choice college (Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA). Some of this can be attributed to properly matching a student’s academic vital signs (GPA, scores, etc.) to the institutional averages of the schools being considering. For the most part, though, the majority of it can be traced to making a good plan and working a good plan.Now, get up off the bench and take a shot.• Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


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