7 Steps to Achieving Higher Education Goals By Jeannie Borin M.Ed. The college application process can be overwhelming for busy juniors. Alongside their demanding academic workload, many students juggle work and extracurricular activities while also wanting to enjoy time with friends before heading off to college. However, with a well-executed college selection plan, this complicated process can be transformed into an effective journey. Here are seven essential steps to help you achieve your higher education goals: Step 1: Seek Expert Guidance Applying to college is no easy feat. Universities now require more information from students than ever before, making the application process complex and challenging. To navigate this terrain successfully, it’s crucial to have the right support and direction. While most colleges suggest seeking support and counseling, it’s important to know where and from whom to seek guidance. High school counselors, though well-meaning, often have limited availability, and families may be unaware of the current application requirements, options, statistics, or the preferences of university admissions officers. Therefore, before embarking on the college application process, it’s essential for families to fully understand what it entails and ensure their children receive proper guidance. Independent educational admission consultants can be invaluable for busy families. If you decide to seek guidance, carefully consider the qualifications of the counselor. Membership in the Professional Independent Educational Consultant Association (IECA) guarantees you’re working with a certified consultant, as the association upholds rigorous qualifications for its members. Step 2: Stay Informed Admission processes undergo changes every year, and it’s vital to stay up to date with the latest information. Understanding different application methods, such as Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive First Choice Early Action, and Rolling Admissions, is essential. Moreover, some renowned universities, like Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia, have recently eliminated their Early Admission Plans. It’s important to be aware of such news and its implications for students and their families. To stay informed, rely on trusted sources like the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which provides current college news and updates. Additionally, contacting university admission officers and thoroughly reviewing college websites will give you access to current brochures and admission information at no cost. Step 3: Ace the Tests Standardized testing can be a significant source of concern for students each year. Many families struggle with questions such as which tests to take (ACT and/or SAT I), whether colleges require SAT II Subject Exams, when and where these exams are offered, and how to register for them. Testing requirements can vary, with some universities mandating specific tests while others recommend them. Stay informed about the testing landscape and requirements by seeking guidance from reputable sources. Stay updated on changes in testing policies and ensure you’re well-prepared to excel in the exams that matter for your college applications. Step 4: Craft Compelling Essays With over 800 test-optional universities in the United States, college essays have gained greater significance in the admissions process. Understanding what university admission officers look for in essays is crucial. While some universities provide applicants with the freedom to choose their essay topic, others pose specific questions. For example, an essay prompt might involve deciphering content from legendary philosophers and connecting it on a personal level. Writing an intelligent, captivating essay ranging from 100 to 600 words (depending on the institution) is a skill worth developing. Essays should adopt a storytelling format, showcasing creativity and intrigue. However, writing first-person essays is not commonly taught in high school, making the process more challenging. Many colleges require three to four essays of varying lengths and themes. Step 5: Secure Strong Recommendations The number of recommendation letters required varies across colleges, often leading to questions from students and parents alike. Common concerns include: “How many recommendation letters do I need?” “What information should be included?” “Whom should I give them to?” “Should I submit my recommendations with the rest of the application?” “Should I waive the right to see them?” Each university has its own preferences for how applicants should submit recommendations. Ensure you understand the specific requirements and expectations of each college. Seek guidance from your high school counselor or admission consultants to ensure your recommendation letters are tailored to showcase your strengths effectively. Step 6: Highlight Your Accomplishments The “Brag Sheet” is a valuable tool for presenting your extracurricular activities, honors, and awards earned during high school. Knowing how to concisely and effectively communicate your experiences is essential. Typically, applicants have limited space, often around seven short lines, to list their years of involvement and achievements. Understanding how to maximize this limited space can make a significant impact. Work with your guidance counselor or admission consultant to present your activities in the best possible light. Craft compelling descriptions that showcase your commitment, growth, and impact within each activity. Step 7: Financial Planning Many families approach their children’s college years without adequately considering how they will finance their education. Financing college education is likely to be the second-largest out-of-pocket expense a family incurs in their lifetime. To navigate the complexities of college financial planning, seek assistance from programs such as the College Connections Certified College Financial Planning Program. It’s essential to start financial planning for college as early as possible to maximize benefits. The longer your funds can compound in a tax-preferred education plan, the more cost-effective your college education will be. Remember, achieving your higher education goals requires careful planning, timely information, and expert guidance. By following these seven steps and leveraging available resources, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the college application process successfully and set yourself up for academic success.