The first step in the college journey involves building a support team that can help you make sure your college search goes well––information-rich and with several opportunities to ask questions. For most students, this team includes:
Most students don’t want their parents telling them what to do about college, and that’s actually a good thing, since you’ll be on your own before you know it. But there’s a difference between your parents driving the college bus and you kicking them to the curb; they know you well, they may know other people who can help you reach your college goal, and there’s a good chance they’re going to help you pay for college, so you want them on board in a big way.
The best way to create an effective college partnership with your parents is to set up a weekly 20-minute college meeting
, when you focus on your college goals and talk about the steps everyone needs to take that week to make those goals a reality.
Your school counselor and other college advisers. Make the most out of your school counselor in your college search. Tenth and 11th grade students should contact their counselor early on to find out how the counselor communicates information about college nights, signing up for college tests, application deadlines, and more.
If you’re in a school where your counselor is overwhelmed with other duties, you still want to find the best way to stay in touch with them—if a college needs a transcript or has a question about your application, they’ll be calling your counselor. At the same time, you’ll want to find someone who stays on top of the latest information on colleges and financial aid, since deadlines and requirements change all the time.
To get other college help, see if you have a local college access network (LCAN)
or see if there is a community-based organization like Upward Bound or ASPIRA that offers college help in your community. Your community may also have independent educational consultants (or private college counselors) who offer group services at a reduced price. This is the kind of information parents can discover when talking to other parents, so make sure they ask around.
Teachers. You won’t ask teachers for college recommendations until spring of your junior year, but the best time to build strong relationships with high school teachers starts with your first day of class in ninth grade. Not only does this guarantee you’ll get strong college letters—you’ll actually end up learning more about yourself and the world around you!
Teachers can also help you think about career and college options. Good math teachers can tell you about the jobs good math students will like, and music and art teachers often have the best information on colleges that will help you make your dreams come true.
Friends and Neighbors. What’s true for teachers can be said for everyone in your community. Your local dentist can tell you about dental school; a local attorney can tell you if law is all it’s cracked up to be; your lab partner in science class may have found a college they think is perfect for you. Any college advice they give you should be double-checked with your counselor, but they can show you the “big picture” of a career that can help you make a stronger college decision—so ask!
by Patrick O'Connor
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