Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Five Summer Activities to Build a Better College Plan

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Well, you’ve done it again.  You’re almost out the door for the summer, but your principal has just reminded you about the article you need to write for the summer newsletter.  Now what?

I live to serve—check this off your list!
Like a dirt road after a rainstorm, the road to college has never been bumpier for students and parents.  In April, a record number of college applications led the media to wonder, “Can anyone get into college?”  In May, disappointing financial aid packages changed the question to, “Is college worth it?” It’s now June, and members of the Class of 2015 are off to put their plans into action, while other students and their families are left wondering, “What do I do now?”

Summer gives everyone a chance to stand back and look at the big picture of life after high school.  If you have questions that just won’t wait for answers in August, take these steps to build a solid summer foundation in postsecondary planning:

Understand that more learning is a must.  In this economy, a chance at a reasonable living depends on more school after high school.  This doesn’t have to include a degree from a four-year college, but a Bachelor’s degree has the best record of financial security, since four-year college graduates have the lowest unemployment, and make upwards of $500,000 more in their lifetime than high school graduates.  Certificates and two-year degrees offer their own benefits, so the message is clear; twelfth grade is not the end of the road for formal learning.

Spend two hours building a career map. The best part about learning after high school is that you have more choices in what you can learn, where you can learn, and how you can do it. The best first step in understanding some of your options is to complete a career exploration search.  These computer-based searches give you a list of possible (that’s possible) careers based on your answers to questions about what you like to do.  Once you get your list, you can find out more about each career, including wages, job prospects, and required training, including classes you should take in high school.

Many high schools have a career search program you can use for free; so do most community colleges.  Do some looking around, and be sure to talk with a counselor about your results when school reopens in the fall.

Visit tech centers and college campuses.  It’s one thing to learn about training options online, but nothing compares to seeing a school in action.  Visiting a local college campus or tech center gives you a feel for what’s possible for you.  It’s best to see these programs when they’re in full swing in the fall, but if summer is the only time you can go, call the institution, and make your plans.  Be sure to prepare a list of questions in advance—a good list of tips can be found at

Check your high school schedule.  How well you learn after high school depends on how well you learn in high school, and that means taking the most challenging classes you can handle.  Scheduling won’t start again until mid-August, but make a note to contact your high school, and make sure your classes will best prepare you for your goals.  Again, this is where your high school counselor can help—in the fall.

Build your plan for paying now.  There are all kinds of ways to meet your postsecondary learning goals, and most have a wide array of price tags, including public universities, community colleges with strong certificate and transfer programs, private colleges that offer significant merit scholarships.  Learn how to maximize your options by visiting  and .

Check your high school counseling office’s Web site.  Your local school counselors have helped hundreds of students make strong choices about life after high school.  Most high schools have a Web site with resources they’ve discovered that help their students build strong plans.  Take a look at those options, and stay in touch with your counselor once school re-opens. They may be busy, but they’re never too busy to help a student committed to building a better tomorrow.

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