High school seniors should already be deep into the college search process.  If you’re not, it’s time to get on the ball!  Some of you are already moving on to the college admissions applications.  Congratulations!  Way to stay ahead of the game.  But for the majority of us, here are 4 steps for the fall.

Step 1: Don’t get hung up on knowing exactly what you want to study.  It’s great if you know your chosen field, but it is not critical to the admissions application process.  Many schools will allow you to apply as “undecided” or under the general “liberal arts” banner.  Even if you do apply under one major and decide a year or two later to change your major, you are not alone.  Half of college students change their major at least once.

Step 2:  Identify at least six colleges that you feel comfortable applying to for admission.  I cannot stress enough the importance of avoiding the idea that there is only one or two schools that are worthy to apply to.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Try to get in as many campus visits as you can.  The more college campuses you visit, the easier it is to identify what you want in a college.  Applying to multiple colleges will give you real options when it comes time to decide where you will ultimately go for your first year.  Applying to multiple schools is also an important aspect of securing the best opportunities for the monies available from different colleges.  Here again, don’t think that your choice will be set in stone.  One third of all college students transfer to another college at least once.

Step 3:  Complete your admission applications.  I recommend you have your admissions applications done by the end of October.  If the schools require letters of recommendation, make sure you get your letter requests to your teachers, guidance counselors, pastors, etc. as soon as possible.  The later you wait, the more requests they will have to sort through.  And here’s a tip that will be a huge help… Write up a recommendation cheat sheet for those who you make requests.  On this cheat sheet (no more than one page) include your high schools activities, interests, achievements, etc.  This will be a big help to those who are trying to sort through 30 or 40 or more different letter requests.

Step 4:  Do not make a decision of where you will be going to college anytime this fall.  You still don’t know what college is going to cost you.  There is no other purchase that you would make without knowing what the cost is, so don’t start now.  You still have the financial applications to go through.  Most of the financial application won’t be available to you until next January (the FAFSA form).  Some colleges will want a CSS Profile, but even that isn’t available until October or November.  99% of the time, you need to wait until the financial forms are filed and you have the financial award offers back from the schools before you should make any decision of what school to choose.  And that won’t be until next March or April.

http://www.realcollegesavings.com provides more information on the college funding and selection process. Download the free report “The 14 Great Myths to Paying for College” while you are there.

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