Going to College 101


Class is in session. Anyone who meets a college’s admission requirements, gets accepted and can afford tuition (either through financial aid, their own savings or both) can go to college. Let’s dive into the who, what, when and how of helping your student get into college. 

When should your student start thinking about college?

It’s good for your student to have a general idea of their post-high school plans (including college) in the back of their mind as soon as they begin high school, but by their sophomore or junior year they should really start preparing for college. And by senior year, they should be taking action to get ready for college the following year, including taking the ACT or SAT, researching colleges, and taking campus tours.

What classes should your student take to prepare for college?

Taking AP or honors courses in high school can help your student get ahead before they even start college, as well as prepare them for the type of coursework they’re going to have at the university level.

Which tests should your student take for admission to college?

Your student should take the ACT or SAT. Some colleges require test scores for admission, while others use ACT and SAT scores to determine merit scholarship award amounts. Your student may also be required to take a math placement exam before starting college so they’re placed at the appropriate math level. 

How important are GPA and extracurriculars?

Some colleges accept a GPA under 3.00, and others don’t. It depends which college your student wants to go to. If a college says they don’t accept anything less than a 3.00, your student can see if they offer conditional admission. This is where your student might not meet posted admission requirements, but the college will review them anyway on an individual basis, and may still accept them based on some of their other accomplishments or circumstances. Some colleges require students to simply meet admission standards and they’re in, while others take extracurriculars into account. Your student should check out the admission requirements of the colleges they’re interested in for specific details.

Do the research

Your student should explore several different colleges. One way to do that is by attending a college fair. There they can collect viewbooks and other college materials and talk to lots of college representatives. They can learn about the program they want to study, financial aid, housing, extracurriculars, the campus, student life and more. They’ll probably need to take notes because they’ll be talking to so many representatives and getting lots of information.

Submitting college applications

Your student should try to apply to all the colleges they think they want to attend, but know that each university charges an application fee. They’re not particularly cheap and they can add up pretty quickly. Still, your student should definitely apply to more than one school — if they don’t get into their dream college, they’ll still have other options to choose from.

As your student begins planning to go to college, they should first make sure they meet all the admission requirements and application deadlines of the schools they’re considering. Getting good grades helps, so they should study, study, study throughout their high school career. Also, as part of their application, they should make sure colleges know about any leadership roles they’ve assumed, recognitions they’ve earned or unique experiences they’ve had. 

If your student doesn’t meet a school’s admission requirements, they might still be accepted through individual review — where admission staff looks at a student’s application on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of their experiences and circumstances. If they don’t get into their dream college, there are plenty of other great colleges out there and they just might land in one that’s a better fit for them. If your student doesn’t get admitted to a college, there may be alternate pathways to get there, including starting classes at a community college and then transferring. 

The college journey

Your student’s college journey can be as long or as short as they want it to be. If they’re attending college full time, they can expect to spend about four years pursuing their undergraduate degree. Of course, this varies — some students need to take classes part time, repeat a class or take a semester off, which can delay graduation. Some students can complete their degree in fewer than four years by taking more classes each semester than the average full-time load. If your student does that, they should be prepared to spend most of their time in class or studying.