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College planning guide

Why is college important?

You’ve probably heard that a college degree can open many doors for you. It’s true, but what are the advantages that going to college can provide?

For starters, since many careers require a college degree, attending college will increase your opportunities. Also, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a college graduate will earn $1 million more over a lifetime than someone who doesn’t attend college. Most important, the people you meet, the experiences you have and the knowledge you gain from college will impact you for the rest of your life.

Preparing for success

Effective planning and preparation are both key to college success. Even if you’re not yet sure about attending college, making the right choices now will keep college attendance available as an option for you.

It is strongly recommended that college-bound students complete these courses in high school:

  • English: four years
  • Mathematics: three years
  • History and social sciences: three years
  • Biological and physical sciences: two years
  • Foreign language: two years of a single language

Guidelines for eighth grade

  • Develop good study habits, which will assist you in high school as well as in college.
  • Visit the websites of colleges that interest you, and note their high school curriculum requirements.
  • Let your guidance counselor know you want to follow a college preparatory program when planning your high school schedule.

Guidelines for ninth and 10th grades

  • Request information from colleges that interest you. Keep track of admission requirements and important dates and deadlines.
  • Visit the colleges that most interest you, perhaps as part of a family vacation or other activity.
  • Ask your guidance counselor about scholarships available from your high school, in your community or nationally.

Guidelines for 11th grade

  • Take the ACT or SAT exam between March and June. If you aren’t satisfied with your initial score, take the test again in early fall of your senior year.
  • When planning your senior year, choose at least three or four academic courses per semester. Continuing with math, a foreign language and lab sciences greatly enhances your opportunity for academic success in college.
  • Search for potential scholarships using free online search services such as, and Many scholarship applications must be completed as early as November of your senior year in order to qualify for funds available the following fall.

Guidelines for 12th grade

  • Keep your grades up. Many schools review final grades and may rescind an offer of admission if grades slip this year.
  • Apply for admission to the colleges or universities that most interest you no later than October. Check each college's website for specific application deadlines.
  • Attend a financial aid workshop with your parents in your local school district.
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online as soon as possible after October 1 to apply for need-based financial aid for the following academic year.
  • When you receive admissions offers, remember to send in any required deposits. Deposits are normally refundable until May 1.

Financing your education

A college education is the single best investment you can make for your future and your career. Don’t miss out because of expected costs. Financial aid is available in many forms for families who need assistance, and merit scholarships are available for deserving students.

Your high school guidance staff and the financial aid staff at any college or university can help you and your family realize your college dreams. Information is also is available at these websites:

Additional resources

College Board - SAT information, test questions and planning tools
ACT - ACT information, test questions and planning tools
Peterson's - Test prep, college and scholarship search tools
U.S. News & Word Report - Education rankings
Princeton Review - Test prep and college search tools