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The First Five Things to do when Pursuing Higher Education

As you begin to navigate the college process, it can feel like you’re running wildly downhill. Juniors and Seniors in high school will tell you that time flies by as you visit schools, submit applications, look for scholarships, and try to find the best college fit at the best price.

To boil it down to the very simplest tasks, here are the things you should do first as you think about pursuing higher education:

  1. Have a candid conversation with your parents about college funding. Too many students are left in the dark about how much their family has saved for their education. Instead of getting blindsided well into the process, have a very open and candid conversation with your parents about how much has been saved for school, what amount you’ll be expected to contribute, and how student loans will factor into your college funding.
  2. Build a list of schools you may be interested in. If you’re unsure which school you’re most drawn to or want to keep your options open, start by creating a college spreadsheet. You can add campus size, location, number of students, and any notes you take during your campus visits. Our College Search & Cost Comparison tool and each college’s net price calculator will help you determine just how much each school would actually cost; you can add that to your spreadsheet, too.
  3. Invest time in your GPA and getting the best score possible on the ACT. Higher scores generally mean higher awards, so don’t throw your ACT and GPA to the wind! Consider taking an ACT prep class prior to the official test to raise your score, or push yourself with AP classes that raise your weighted GPA and demonstrate to colleges that you enjoy a challenge. The higher your scores, the more that scholarships will be available to you through the college or other awarding agencies.
  4. Apply for scholarships like it’s your day job. It’s the single highest paying part-time job you’ll ever have as a student. Even if you haven’t yet chosen a school, it’s time to start searching for scholarships! You may receive institutional aid from your college, but scholarships from your high school, community, and other sources will help cut the cost of your education – and the amount of student loans you’ll have to take out – greatly. Not sure where to start? We are: use our Scholarship Search tool to find a scholarship that’s perfect for you!
  5. When choosing your major, do your utmost to graduate in 4 years. Haven’t decided what you want to study? A recent Penn State article found that nearly 50% of students enter college ‘undecided’; you’re not alone. But it’s also now taking students closer to 5 years on average to finish their Bachelor’s degree, and that extra year could potentially add tens of thousands to your final student loan bill. Do your best to choose a major early enough that you can finish within four years. You’ll thank yourself after graduation!

The biggest key to a successful college search, application, and funding process is to enlist others to help you. This is a very big decision - and having people around you to listen to your ideas, help you with research, and have your back is critical. Just remember - you’ve got this!