Preparing For College

Many students say they do not feel prepared to go to college or even make a decision about where to go. The information below can help you understand how to best prepare for college and what steps you need to take to get there.

1

Where Do I Begin?

Starting to think about college is really starting to think about your future and what you would like it to be.
For many people, the jobs they'd like to have require a little (or a lot) more training and education than what you get in high school. Once you know where you want to end up, it is easier to plan on how to get there.

Going to college can mean a lot of different things.
You can think about college as the education and training you receive after high school. It can be going to a four year university, taking some classes at your local community college, or gaining training or a certification in a specialized field such as auto mechanics or cosmetology.

No matter what your plan is, the big first step is high school graduation.
But there's a lot more to it than that.

2

Prerequisites: Doing What You've Got To Do To Get In

Prerequisites refer to requirements needed before being accepted to a college or a college degree program.
Prerequisites are a way for colleges to make sure each incoming student has the best chance to handle the workload, time requirement and overall demand of classes. Taking the right classes and taking your classes seriously is the best way to prepare to be a serious student when you get to college.

Not every college is the same when it comes to admissions criteria but most schools will look to make sure that you have completed a standard core of classes.
Just as requirements vary from college to college, different programs at the same college may have very different standards for admission. For example, here are some criteria for The College at Brockport - SUNY:

  • Strength of your academic program
  • Course grades and high school average
  • Class rank
  • Standardized test scores
  • Application essays
  • Supplemental application information
  • Letters of recommendation, resume, portfolio, etc.

The real key is to start your college plan when you begin your freshman year of high school.
By knowing your goals, you can take classes that will help you get in to the programs you want. For example, if you want to pursue a career in engineering, you would want to take plenty of math and science classes.

But not knowing exactly what you want to do is fine.
By doing well in your core classes, you will be well prepared to apply to most schools. Talk with your counselor or favorite teacher about what courses to take.

3

Tests to Take

Standardized test scores are often required with college applications.
Colleges can use test scores to compare performance of individual students or groups of students. Tests are only one indicator of student promise but most colleges require them.

Some of these tests do have costs.
The good news is that many students can take the tests for free by getting a waiver. Students should talk to their high school counselors for more information.

Students may take some or all of the following tests:

  • PSAT/NMSQT
    Commonly shortened to the PSAT, this test assesses a student's math, reading and writing skills and can be a great practice for the SAT exam. Students who take the test in the 11th grade can qualify for a National Merit Scholarship program (NMSQT) that offers financial aid to college-going students. Because most colleges will not request your PSAT score, many students use the test as to identify areas they need to work on before taking the ACT or SAT exams.

    Beyond getting practice for the SAT, taking the PSAT is incredibly important because it signals to colleges that you are interested in them and gives them the opportunity to be interested in you. The PSAT is offered only twice a year; both test dates are in October.
  • ACT
    Most colleges request an ACT score, an SAT score or both. The ACT test score can be used to prove competency in the areas of English, math, reading and science reasoning. Students are given a composite score from each of the four sections that ranges from 1 to 36.

    Although the ACT and SAT are similar, one major difference is that the ACT does not penalize students for answering multiple-choice questions incorrectly. The ACT is offered six times a year, typically September, October, December, February, April and June.
  • SAT
    The SAT is widely accepted for college admissions and lets you show colleges how well you can apply your knowledge in three sections: reading, math and writing. Your SAT score is the total of the scores from the three sections and ranges from 600 to 2400. It is a comprehensive test and lasts 3 or 4 hours.

    You can also enhance your college applications by taking additional SAT subject tests which test your knowledge in specific subject areas. The SAT is administered six times a year, typically October, November, December, January, May and June.