Jill Haley: Back to school and planning for college | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: Back to school and planning for college

Jill Haley
Columnist

Photo for The Union John Hart

The beginning of August means the beginning of the school year for Nevada County students. For high school students, it is also a reminder that they should be thinking about college.

Many parents still believe that college planning starts in the fall of the senior year of high school, as it did when they applied. Not anymore. There are things you can do in every grade to prepare for college admissions.

High school students will pick up their class schedule this week. As a former high school counselor, I advise students to carefully select classes to maximize college acceptance chances. College prep courses are referred to as A-G classes.

In addition to taking A-G courses, students should consider taking advanced courses. Colleges look upon Honors and Advanced Placement courses very favorably. Students must be able to handle the rigor and time required of these courses to be successful.

In general, it's best to take the most rigorous courses that you can be successful at. While the high school transcript is only one piece of the college admissions decision, it's still the most important piece.

Parents often ask me if their child has "enough" extra-curricular activities to look good for the college admissions folks. Colleges will ask you to list activities beginning in the freshman year. Extra-curricular activities are essentially anything that you do outside of the school day.

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For most colleges, the key is not how many activities you are in, but what they are and how much time you spend on them. You don't have to do everything to get admitted to a great college. Pick a few activities that you are passionate about, and spend a lot of time doing them. Play a leadership role if you can.

Deciding where to apply to college will take hours of research and should begin early. What constitutes a good college list?

I recommend students have a mixture of public and private colleges on their application list. The list should also contain "likely" as well as "reach" colleges.

It is a huge mistake to put only the most highly ranked, most selective colleges on a college list. Colleges such as Stanford, Yale, and Harvard accept less than ten percent of their applicants.

Many valedictorians and students with perfect test scores never get into these schools. Having a balanced list, with colleges with reasonable acceptance rates is a must.

Parents can play an important part in college planning beginning as early as the freshman year by setting up college visits. Seeing a college in person often "jump-starts" the student in taking a more active role as the idea of going to college becomes more of a reality.

You do not need to wait until the senior year to find out if you are eligible for financial aid. Go to FAFSA.gov and check out the FAFSA4caster to get an idea of what your parent contribution might be to pay for college.

Planning ahead may be the best thing you can do to avoid common mistakes in applying and funding a college education.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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