Frequently Asked Questions — Planning
Questions about Planning for College
- Isn't it true that everyone can go to college? What difference does it make what I do in high school?
- What else do I need to do to get into the college I want to attend?
- Aren't there tests that colleges use to determine who gets in?
- Which test should I take?
- Does it help to take both the ACT and the SAT?
- What if I take an entrance exam and make a terrible score? Can I take it a second time?
- What can I do to get ready for the test?
- Aren't there classes I can take to help me prepare?
- What happens to my scores once I take the SAT or ACT?
- What if I'm worried about my scores, and I don't want anyone to see them until I do?
- What if I don't know which college or university I want to send my scores to?
- When should I start thinking about college?
- Do I need to know exactly what I want to do with my life before I start high school?
- When is it too late to plan?
- Suppose I know that I want to go to college but I'm not sure what I want to study?
Even though it is possible for anyone who wants to go to college to do so, there are some things that can help make it easier for you to get into the college you want to attend and easier for you once you're in.
For instance, one thing everyone who thinks about going to college should do is to take college preparatory classes. Those include, at least three, preferably four, years of studies in English, math, science, and social studies. You should probably also take foreign language courses, computer classes, and performance art. Each college and university has its own admission requirements, so contact a school you're interested in attending to find out what you need to do to prepare or visit the school's web site.
As the number of students wanting to attend college increases, the competition to get into the best schools also increases. Colleges also often look at class rank and out-of-school activities (see the following question for information about test scores). Class rank is the placement of a student's grade point average as it relates to the entire high school graduating class. Keeping your grades up keeps your class rank high and some colleges look closely at rank when determining which students will automatically be admitted; some automatically admit anyone in the top percentages of the class. After-school or extracurricular activities (like sports, theater, band, choir, and participating in volunteer activities) can do a lot to help a school decide whether a student is one who will be involved once he or she is in college. Colleges often look at such things when determining which students to admit.
Some colleges and universities do use college entrance exams as part of their entrance criteria. But, no college uses entrance exam scores alone to determine who gets in. Many colleges use ranges of scores. For instance, a student ranking in the top 10 percent of his or her high school graduating class might need a relatively low score on an entrance exam, or in some cases might not need an entrance exam score at all, to get in. But, a student who doesn't have a very high rank among his graduation class might still be admitted if he or she scores very well on an entrance exam. Contact the school or schools you are interested in to find out if and how they use college entrance exam scores to help determine admission.
There are two major college entrance exams, the SAT and the ACT. Although the criteria differ somewhat, almost all colleges and universities that require applicants to take a test accept either score. Some schools, however, may require or prefer one or the other, so contact the school you want to attend to find out which you should take.
Some students do choose to take both the SAT and the ACT, and some test-takers do perform better on one than the other. Sometimes, however, scores on one aren't much better or worse than the scores on the other. Talk to your counselor or an admissions officer at a college or university before deciding which test to take and whether to take them both. There really isn't any way to know whether you will do better on one or the other until you take them.
Yes, both the ACT and the SAT allow students to take the test several times. And sometimes scores do improve enough to make the difference for a particular student. But there is no guarantee that a student's scores will improve. And if you want to improve your scores, you should see about doing some things to prepare first. Talk to a counselor before you take a test over.
One of the best ways to prepare for an entrance exam is the same thing you should do to prepare for college - take the right classes in high school. Generally, research shows that students who take the right courses in high school and do the best work in those classes are the ones who score best on the entrance exams. In other words, your high school classes are supposed to prepare you for college and the tests are supposed to identify those students who are best prepared to do well in college. So students who take the right courses in high school and perform well in those classes are already preparing for the exams and for college at the same time.
Many different kinds of study aids (classes that people pay for, high school courses that people take as electives, software programs, books, and web sites) are promoted as ways to improve entrance exam scores. Whether any or all of these can help improve your chances of making a good score is something you and your family should consider for your particular circumstances. Talk to your high school counselor about study aids that are available to you.
A copy of your score report will be sent to you and the schools you list on your registration form. That might include your high school, if you list its code number, and several colleges or universities. Part of the fee for students taking the test is the cost of sending your score report to colleges, universities, and/or scholarship programs that you designate. In other words, the colleges you list on your registration form will automatically be sent your scores. Your scores will be shared only with those you want them to be shared with.
You can choose to have your scores sent only to you. However, if you do not take advantage of the score reporting service when you register, there will be an extra fee charged to send your scores to colleges and universities if you request it later.
Both the ACT and the SAT allow test takers to send their scores to several different organizations, including scholarship programs, colleges, and universities. Even if you aren't certain which school you want to attend, you can send your scores to those that you think you are most likely to decide to attend. And, if you decide on one that isn't even on your list of possibilities, you can pay to have another report sent there later.
It is best to begin thinking about college no later than junior high or middle school. A student who decides to go to college before high school is able to use all four years to help reach his or her goals. Knowing what courses you need to take in high school to be accepted to the college of your choice will let you make certain that the courses you take as a freshman (and maybe even during 8th grade) will prepare you for the ones you need to take later on.
No, nothing that specific is necessary. Some of the courses you need to take in high school are determined by the graduation requirements of your school, and a certain number of others are required for anyone who wants to attend college. Once you know what those are, you can fill in the remaining time with other courses that you need to take in order to get into a school that will help you reach your career dream. If you want to be an engineer, for example, you would take different courses than if you wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Even if you can't decide whether you want to be a lawyer or write novels for a living, simply knowing that you are interested in writing or law and not engineering can be a great help in deciding on a high school plan.
It's never too late. Some people wait until they've been out of high school for years to decide that they want to go to college. Others know in elementary school. What's important is to prepare when you do decide. If you're already in high school and decide you want to go to college, develop a course plan then. List the courses you've taken already, fill in the courses you need to graduate, and use up the time slots that remain to take whatever courses you can to make sure you will be as prepared as possible for your future studies. If you've already finished high school when you decide you want to go, speak to a college administrator about what you can do to make certain that you're prepared for the classes you schedule. Some colleges offer special testing to figure out what a student must do before taking a particular course at a certain level. Some also offer tutoring sessions and even special classes designed to help people gain the knowledge they need to succeed in college-level courses.
Sometimes it is difficult to decide, especially for students who enjoy many different things and have the ability to do lots of things well. One thing that can help is to begin thinking about your choices early and to consider all the different aspects of a job. Do some research, find out what jobs are available, and talk to people who work in an area that you think sounds interesting. It may not be necessary to decide on a specific career immediately, but it is a good idea to narrow your choices as much as possible.
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