This post is part of a series of excerpted from Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders. It highlights planning steps that you can take now to make your college application process easier and more effective.
If you are fortunate, you have an accessible and knowledgeable guidance counselor available in your high school. But as a recent survey from the non-profit research group Public Agenda indicated, 48% of recent high school graduates surveyed felt their counselor viewed them as simply another “face in the crowd.” If you have knowledgeable and available resources at school, it’s a great place to start. If not, other resources, such as books and websites are plentiful.
Start by evaluating your academic profile, because that’s what colleges will do first. Overall, you should plan to apply to a range of schools, covering a spectrum from “reach” to “likely.” Colleges will evaluate your application in the context of your high school. In general, the more competitive you are within your high school class, the more competitive a college you can apply to. Have you taken the AP, IB, or honors classes that are offered? Have you taken four or five solid academic courses each year? Are your test scores within or above the ranges cited by your target colleges? It might be easier to obtain “A’s” in less rigorous classes, but the most selective colleges will look for demonstrated rigor in a more challenging curriculum.
You might have a well-formed idea of your intended major, or you might join the largest freshman major on most campuses: “undecided.” How much of a role should your anticipated area of study play in your college planning? Honestly, it varies. If you have some interest in a specific field, like engineering, it’s important that you include in your search universities that offer such an option. The same holds true for nursing, business, architecture, and a few other select areas. Yes, you might change your major later on – which is why selecting a college based upon an external ranking of a single division, like engineering, can be problematic. But if you have a serious interest, consider the availability an important factor. It is quite difficult to receive an engineering degree from a college that does not have an engineering program.