1. Fill out the FAFSA.
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid®. The FAFSA will determine what federal financial aid you will receive, like grants, work-study, and loans. Also, many states and colleges use this data to award their own aid. Grants generally depend on financial need, and you won’t repay grants. So, that’s like getting free money. Federal work-study provides part-time employment while enrolled in college. Federal loans come in several varieties, but Direct Subsidized Loans offer financial benefits because the government pays the interest on the loan while you’re in college. Check out our blog for tips on filling out the FAFSA.
2. Take (or re-take) college entrance exams.
Most colleges and universities require applicants to take a college entrance exam—either the ACT or the SAT. The tests help determine college readiness. Each exam has an application fee, but it can be waived upon financial need. It’s up to you which exam to take. Sometimes students decide to take both exams to see which one they score higher on. So, that’s always an option. Since many students perform better the second time around, you should consider taking the same college-entrance exam twice. Many universities will “superscore” the exam results, which means they take the best score from each subject area to create your total. Either way, it’s important to prepare for the test. You can study on your own with the help of a study guide, or take a prep class. US News offers some other helpful hints regarding college-entrance exams.
3. Collect personal information.
Before you start filling out college applications, take some time to jot down your personal information so you have it all in one place for each application. First, you may want to create a professional email address dedicated only to the college application process. This will help keep you organized. Then, write down things like your address, social security number, driver’s license number and date issued, date of birth, name and address of your school, and your expected date of graduation. You’ll also want to write down all the extra-curricular activities you’ve been involved in as well as community service. And, don’t forget all your honors and awards. Keep all this information in one place with our Senior Launch Guide.
4. Find the best fit.
What type of postsecondary education interests you? Are you interested in a two-year program or a four-year university? Or, you might want to save a little money and start out at a community college and then transfer to a university. AZ Transfer offers great resources for students who want to begin at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university. As you think about your options, check out the cost of attendance for each opportunity. You’ll want to find out about admission requirements, too.
5. Research and apply for scholarships.
Finding and applying for scholarships will yield big results. Scholarships.com and Fastweb.com offer a great place to start. But, don’t just think about national scholarships. Colleges and states also offer scholarship opportunities. Also, the town where you live or even your parent’s employer may have scholarship programs. Religious and cultural organizations are a great resource, too. As you prepare, be on the lookout for scams. Remember, you can’t win a scholarship you didn’t apply for, and don’t freely give out personal information, like your social security number.
Lastly, if you have questions about applying for college, check with your GEAR UP coach or school counselor.