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How to Plan for College, Starting Your First Day of High School

Plan Future Timeline

“It’s never too early to start planning for college!” You might hear that often as you start high school, but what does that mean? Here at College Foundation of North Carolina, we know it means that your actions early on in your education will help determine your success when you finally reach your first year of college. On our website, you’ll find the steps you need to take to get ready for college, and the best time to start working on them. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find: 

Ninth Grade 

While college might still seem far off, four years can pass by in a flash. Begin taking action now to ensure that you can get into the schools you’ll eventually want to attend. Find a study strategy that works well for you this year, and begin looking at the SAT and ACT. Talk with your counselor to discuss a possible class schedule for the next four years, including the availability of honors, AP, and college courses. To help you maintain focus, set goals now for the next four years regarding what classes you want to take, what colleges you want to visit, and what careers you’d like to explore. Take care to keep your grades up, because even as a ninth grader, your grades are building your GPA. Finally, talk to your parents about how you can work together to start or continue saving money to pay for college. 

Tenth Grade 

Here is where your planning should intensify. By tenth grade, you might be old enough to consider a part-time job or volunteer opportunity to add to your experience and make you more attractive to colleges. You should also look at what AP or high-level classes you might be able to take in your junior and seniors years and begin talking with your counselor to register for them. With the Career and College Promise, NC students can start taking college courses while they’re still in high school. Talk with your school counselor about how you can enroll in these courses. You can also take some pre-tests to help you prepare for the ACT and SAT; if you are taking the ACT, the PLAN test will be good preparation, while the PSAT is helpful for preparing for the SAT.   

Eleventh Grade 

Your junior year is when things start really heating up! Your planning in ninth and tenth grade will start to pay off, as you earn higher positions in your extracurricular activities and begin taking more advanced classes. Begin looking at scholarship opportunities, because there will be many! One is the National Merit Scholarship – you can take the PSAT this year to enter, and if you do well enough on the test and meet the academic requirements, you can advance to the finalist level and compete for scholarships with some of the best students in the country. You should also start visiting colleges, and look at what it takes to get into and attend your favorite schools. Your list of schools can be sorted by tuition rate, academic programs, campus size, and the average amount of financial aid given to students. This will set you up to apply intelligently during your senior year. 

Twelfth Grade 

You’ve finally made it to your senior year! You might be tempted to spend your year relaxing, but this might be the most important time to get to work. College applications, financial aid, and harder classwork will end up taking a lot of your free time. Thanks to changes made to the FAFSA form, you can begin filling it out in October of your senior year, and it will use prior-prior year finances. Start asking your teachers for letters of recommendation early, to give them plenty of time. Remain active in any extracurricular activities you do, including a job or volunteer work. As you start getting your admission results back, evaluate what you need to do financially to attend each school, then rank them. When you decide which school you want to go to, inform all of the schools that you were accepted to of your choice. Then, start getting ready for your first year of college by scheduling an orientation session and getting ready to move out!   

Preparing for college isn’t easy, but using all four years of high school can make the process much more manageable. Start early, because effective long-term planning will help you get exactly where you want to be. For more help planning out your path to college, visit the CFNC Plan section

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