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Planning for College

So you're not sure what your plans are after high school? Then your best bet is to keep your options open. The following information could be relevant to you regardless of what school you attend after graduation.

10 Ways to Jumpstart College Planning
It's amazing, but decisions you make as early as 8th grade have a huge effect on your college career. They affect how soon you'll go to college, how good the college you go to will be, and even whether you'll go to college at all.

1. Get involved
Getting ready for college isn't all work. Find something you really like doing, and then dive into it. Maybe you're drawn to sports, student council, music, art... you get the picture. You'll develop skills and be more appealing to colleges (see the next section on extracurricular activities).

2. Do the work
If you expect to go to college later, expect to study now. No one can do it for you. Don't talk the college talk -- "I'll go to college to get a great career" -- without walking the walk.

3. Take challenging courses
Colleges look at your grades, sure, but also at how difficult your courses are. They want to see that you've challenged yourself. Plus, if you pursue advanced courses, such as AP®, you may be able to get college credit.

4. Get help
Having trouble in a class. Talk to teachers or counselors -- let them know you want extra help.

5. Read
Read at least 30 minutes every day, beyond study and homework. Read what interests you -- magazines, novels, whatever. People who read more know more. And when you take PSAT/NMSQT® and SAT® tests, knowing more will really pay off.

6. Don't delay
You take the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior (or even as a sophomore). So you have a few semesters before then to take the solid math and other courses that get you ready.

7. Get the college-bound facts
How do you know all the right moves to get into college? Ask someone who's done it. Get to know your counselors. Ask a career planner at a local college, or a trusted teacher. Do Web research.

8. Involve your family
When parents or guardians haven't been to college themselves, they may think they can't help you. That's not true. They can talk to counselors and help you stay on the right path.

9. Look for a mentor
If you don't find support at home, look for other adults who can lend their enthusiasm and help make sure you succeed. You might look to a counselor, a teacher, or someone else you trust.

10. Confront personal roadblocks
If you have a problem that's really getting in the way of schoolwork, try to sort it out. Talking to friends helps, or look for an adult -- parent, coach, nurse, counselor -- who can offer advice.

Extracurricular Activities
Sure, life in school is pretty darn interesting. You've got algebraic equations, Bunsen burners, sentence diagrams... But chances are, you've got pursuits beyond school, too. Maybe you play in a band, are on a sports team, or do volunteer work.

Colleges care
The good news is that colleges pay attention to your life inside and outside the classroom. Yes, your academics probably come first, but your activities reveal a great deal about you, such as:

  • What your non-academic interests are.
  • Whether you can manage your time and priorities.
  • Whether you can maintain a long-term commitment.
  • What diversity you'd bring to the student body.
  • How you've made a meaningful contribution to something.

Haven't gotten involved yet?
Lots of school, community, and religious organizations give you chances to explore your interests and talents. If you haven't felt drawn into something yet, there's no shortage of opportunities. For example:

School activities (see index for list)
It's pretty easy to find out about activities available at school. Sometimes the challenge is figuring out how much to do. Here are some quick tips:

  • Most importantly, find something you like to do, and stick with it. Quality is more important than quantity.
  • If you can handle it, try to excel in more than one area. For example, write for the paper and do volunteer work.
  • Don't worry about being president, or captain. The key is whether you've done something significant, center stage or behind the scenes.

Work experience
Work experience -- paid or volunteer, year-round or summer -- can help you identify career interests and goals, gain work experience, and apply classroom learning to the real world. It's also a great way to earn money for college, of course. Consider arranging for an internship or to shadow someone at his or her job.

Community service
You can also gain skills and experience through volunteer work, such as by tutoring elementary school kids or spending time at a local hospital. Sunnyside schools even offer academic credit for volunteer work through the Serve and Learn program. See Career Center staff for details.