Parents who did not go to college may be uncertain about how to guide their children through the application process. “It’s difficult for me because I never had the opportunity for a college education,” says Rocío García, a Bakersfield mother struggling to help her daughter apply to college. García isn’t alone; more than 60 percent of high school students in the class of 2009 who took the SAT® reported that they were the first in their families to go to college.
However, plenty of resources are available for parents. One is the high school counseling office. Counselors are there to help and, in the absence of a counselor, a teacher or an administrator may be serving in this capacity. Start by asking the counselor whether your child is taking the right courses to graduate from high school on time. Colleges will not admit anyone who doesn’t have a high school diploma.
“We are here to provide students with information every step of the way, from thinking about which colleges to apply to, to providing fee waivers for applications and entrance exams like the SAT,” says Ansberto Vallejo, lead counselor at Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa.
Parents need to be actively involved and make it a priority to check in frequently to take advantage of the counselor’s expertise in planning for college. The College Board, one of the leading providers of college planning guidance, recommends focusing on three key aspects of the planning process: deadlines, applications and tests.
“Students absolutely need to be on top of deadlines,” Vallejo says. Starting the process early helps students keep track of test, college application and financial aid deadlines. They need to remember to send their grades and test scores to colleges, ask for letters of recommendation in advance, and write a personal statement.
Most students take a standardized college admission exam such as the SAT. It tests students on the skills they learn in high school — mathematics, reading and writing — that are critical to success in college and the workplace. The SAT is offered throughout the year, and many students take it in their junior year. For seniors, it’s especially important to be mindful of colleges’ score-reporting deadlines when they choose their test date for the SAT.
Studying hard and taking as many advanced courses as possible are the best ways to prepare for the SAT. Research shows that students who take advanced-level courses score higher on the test than those who don’t. Students can take a free practice test and receive an “SAT Question of the Day” via e-mail. These tools also may be available in the school counselor’s office, so be sure to check there first. Additional low-cost study tools are available online and in bookstores.
Any college experience is good, but completing a degree is particularly beneficial. In addition to increased family income, there are considerable nonmonetary rewards, including better health, employer-provided health insurance, pension benefits and greater opportunities for the next generation.
A college education may also offer long-term financial security. The unemployment rate for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher is about half the rate that it is for high school graduates.
There’s no question that getting into college requires thoughtful planning and action, but it’s well worth the effort for an experience that pays well over a lifetime.
About the SAT®
The SAT test dates run October 2009 through June 2010. There is a $45 fee to take the test. Students may be eligible for a fee waiver through their counseling office if they meet low-income guidelines. Call 866-756-7346 for more information on the SAT test.