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Preparing for College

First Generation Students

If you are the first person in your family to go
on to postsecondary education...


Study Skills Tips

You have to develop many different types of skills
to be a successful student...

High School Timeline

Use this timeline to help you make sure you're
accomplishing everything you...


Employment Skills

Do you have the skills employers want?
Some day you'll be entering the workforce...

College Prep Curriculum

Focusing on the high school classes that will help
you qualify to get into the...

Test Prep

Test Prep...

Selecting a College

What to look for in a school

Every person has different interests,
values, and goals...


Campus Visits

You've heard the old saying, "A picture is worth
a thousand words...

Choosing a Major

You can choose from hundreds of majors -
from accounting to zoology...


Campus Visit Checklist

The college selection process is both exciting
and nerve-wracking...

Questions to ask on campus tour

During your campus tour, you need to ask
questions as well as look around...


Tips for Adult Students

Once you have decided whether you want to
pursue higher...

College Comparison Worksheet

Fill in your top five selection criteria and any others
that may be of importance to you...


Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires
educational institutions at all levels...

Applying to College

Applying 101

The words "applying yourself" have several
important meanings in the college...


College Admissions

This practical month-by-month calendar
is designed...

Prepare your resume

A student resume can help your guidance
counselors and teachers...


Admission Procedures

Your first task in applying is to
get application forms...

How admissions decisions are made

Admission decisions aren't made by tossing
applications down...

Glossary of Admission Terms

Academic adviser - This is a senior faculty
member in your area of...

Deciding on a College

12 ways NOT to select a college

You have received your envelopes,
and it's time to make that final...


Admissions and Acceptance Letters

Congratulations! You have spent a vast amount
of time searching the Web...

What's important

If you're going away to school you will
be living in new surroundings...


College Cost Comparison Worksheet

Chart your course to see which college or
university best fits your financial resources...

Paying for College

Grants, Scholarships & Work Study

A common misconception about grants
and scholarships...


Paying for Graduate School

Before we discuss the types of aid available
to advanced-degree...

Educational Loads: Federal & Private

The majority of educational loan programs
break down into two categories...


FAFSA Deadlines

The FAFSA is the federal application for financial aid...

Tax Benefits of College

Tax Benefits of College...

Military Service

Since September 11, 2001, a tremendous

Loan Forgiveness

Many times individual states, the federal


Career Information

Fastest Growing Careers

Assemble networks from the bottom up,
from data to ...


Hot Cities for Job Growth

Hot Cities for Job Growth...

Top 50 Highest Paying Jobs

Top 50 Highest Paying Jobs...


Helpful Statistics

Helpful Statistics...


First Generation Students

If you are the first person in your family to go on to postsecondary education, any school after high school, you may have some questions. Below is a list of topics that you may want to explore. Click on the topic to find additional information:

Why Should I go to Postsecondary School?
High school graduates who do not receive any additional training will face shrinking employment opportunities for unskilled workers and will increasingly experience low-paying positions with limited or no benefit packages. "Did you know that 85% of jobs require some level of education beyond high school?" You may not want to or have to attend a four-year college or university to get the training you need to succeed. There are different types of schools offering different types of training for all kinds of careers. Higher education can be obtained at a community college, a junior college, a business, trade or technical school, a nursing school, and, of course, a four-year college or university.
Higher education is the key that opens doors to finding a job or career that you like and can provide you with the income you need.

Classes Needed for Postsecondary School
Postsecondary schools (any school above high school) look at classes you took and the grades you received beginning with the ninth grade.

Every school has 'core' courses that you must take to graduate from high school. You should check with your school counselor to make sure that, in addition to the core courses, you are taking classes that you will need to go on to higher education. These courses are a must to go on to higher education:

English/Language Arts 4 years

- American Literature
- Writing/Composition
- English Literature
- World Literature

Mathematics 3 or 4 years

- Algebra I and Algebra II
- Calculus
- Geometry
- Trigonometry

Sciences 2 to 4 years

- Biology
- Chemistry
- Earth/Space Sciences
- Physics

Social Studies/History & Geography 3 years

- U.S. History
- U.S. Government
- Geography
- World History or World Cultures
- Civics or Economics

Other Courses Needed

- Foreign language - 2 to 3 years of the same language
- Visual & Performing Arts - 1 year
- Challenging Elective
- Computers
- Communications

Advance Placement Courses
When you decide that you are serious about going on to college, you should talk to your school counselor about taking courses that are more challenging. Advanced Placement courses are composed of college level work. These courses are free to high school students, and the best part is that Advanced Placement courses will help your transition from high school to postsecondary school. If you complete your AP course and you score high on the AP exam, you may receive advanced placement in college and/or credit for a college course. Receiving credit for a course will save you money. In postsecondary school, you must pay for each course you take. You should talk to your high school counselor about taking AP courses and when you apply to a college, talk to the admissions officer to find out what the college or university policy is in regard to giving credit for such courses.

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Other Activities - In and Out of School

Colleges and universities get admission applications from thousands of students. They are looking for the student who is more than just an 'A' student or the student who is the star athlete. What postsecondary schools are looking for is a well-rounded student who is also a good student, and who is involved in activities both in and out of school. Schools are also looking for students who show commitment, a person who finishes what they start. If you participate in the following or similar activities, you could include your experiences in the essay that you must write as part of your admission requirement for college:

Participate in school activities (drama, chorus, cheerleading, various clubs, school newspaper, etc)
Participate in community activities (Scouting, your religious institution, political campaigns, etc)
Volunteer your time with a community organization, agency or institution
Participate in sports (competition or intramural)
Continue to explore your interests and enhance your talents
Run for an office at your high school
Get a part-time job

Things You Need to Share with Parents or Adult Caregivers

In addition to maintaining a close relationship with the school counselors during high school, you need to also involve a few other adults, namely your parents or custodial caregivers. Planning for higher education will be a new experience for them, as well as you, and they need to be informed about what needs to be done. You will be getting information from school, so your job is to pass information on to them. First, be sure to let them know about your goals and plans to go on to higher education. Share with them the research you have done concerning colleges and careers, the paperwork you must complete, and the deadlines you must meet. They may even be hesitant about the whole idea of higher education and the cost involved, so you may have to do a lot of the work on your own. Encourage them to talk to other adults who are helping you. The one thing they must understand is that, as a dependant student (see glossary of terms), you will need them to sign the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order for your financial aid application to be considered eligible for processing. Without the required signatures, the FAFSA will not be processed.

Special Circumstances

When you begin to apply for financial aid and you feel that you have an unusual situation that cannot be explained on an application form, you must contact the postsecondary institution that you plan to attend and discuss your situation with the Financial Aid Officer. If you are able to provide documentation that confirms your situation, the Financial Aid Officer may be able to help you receive the needed financial assistance. You should contact the Aid Officer before you file the FAFSA, as soon as you know what school you would like to attend.

Thinking About a Major in Art, Dance, Music or Drama?

If you are planning to enroll in the school of "Fine Arts" when you go to college, you will be required to show the school what you can do before you are accepted for admission. These are areas where auditions or a portfolio may be required. Music: You should be prepared to perform at least two pieces in contrasting styles. If you are a singer, you should bring a familiar accompanist to the audition. You should contact the school you plan to attend and ask for audition information. You should select your time and date early.

Acting: You may be required to audition by performing two contrasting monologues. You should take a theater résumé and photo to the audition. Because requirements differ from school to school, be sure to contact the school you plan to attend for their specific audition requirements. Dance: Some schools hold an open

lass the day before the audition where incoming students are invited to attend. The next day, as part of the audition, faculty members assess a student's ability to learn by looking for coordination, technique, rhythm, and degree of movement and body structure. Again, contact the school you plan to attend for information.

Art: Students pursuing a degree in art should be prepared to submit a portfolio. This collection should include about ten of your best pieces of art showing diversity in technique and variety in subject matter.

Finishing Touches to High School

When you graduate from high school, you should know where you are going to school in the fall and all your paperwork (admission and financial aid) should be completed and filed away in your folder. Once you have graduated from high school, you still have some loose ends to tie up before you go off to college in the fall.

Contact your roommate - see if it's possible to meet before school starts.
Get a summer job and save money.
Spend as much time reading as possible.
Schedule a physical - check with the college; this may be a requirement.
Thank your supporters - send thank-you letters. Don't forget teachers, coaches, counselors, etc. who helped you during the application/admission process or to any organization that provided financial support in the form of a scholarship or award.
Go shopping - after meeting or talking to your roommate, you will need to make a list of the things you will need in college. This list will be a long one, and it may take you all summer to complete your shopping.

First Year of Postsecondary School

Freshman Orientation
There is always some kind of orientation program prior to school starting. Make a point of arriving at school early so you can meet other freshman and to take part in orientation. No one knows what you did in high school, so going to college is like starting a new book. You have to learn what college life is all about. If upper class students participate in the orientation programs, ask questions and get to know them. Many of the people you will meet during orientation week will be around to help you over the first hurdles.

When you are accepted to school and arrive in August, your first major hurdle will be going through the registration process. Classes are not assigned. All students must register for the classes they want to take each semester. You will be competing with other freshman for the same classes. You will be notified when registration is scheduled to take place. If you do not go to the registration area in a timely manner, you may find that the classes you want to take are closed and you will have to search for other classes to take, and the listing may be very limited. College has its own rules and regulations, and you will have to learn all the tricks of the trade. Finding an upper classman to guide you through this process is a plus. Getting to know as many people as possible to hear different ways to handle situations is also important.

A Few Tips
College is not an extension of high school. For some, this will be the first time that you must make your own decisions. You will have to call on everything you've learned in life up to this point to help you make the right choices and be successful in college. Also, you are paying for your postsecondary education - get the most out of it.

Don't expect to be treated like a high school student. No one is going to tell you to do your homework.
Be responsible, go to class, get up on time, eat and don't party too much.
Create a budget. You will need money for expenses.
Stay healthy, eat right, and get enough sleep. Many first year students get sick and miss too many classes.
Get involved - Participate in clubs, organizations, campus events, intramural activities, etc.- but don't overdo it. Keep a balance between school and study.
Meet with your professors so you know them and they get to know you.
Get to know your roommate - They may not be just like you, but take time to get to know them.
Seek help with classes that give you trouble. Talk to your advisor, a teacher, the resident assistant in your dorm, or go to the campus resource center and look for a tutor listing.
Establish a consistent daily study schedule. Find an ideal place to study that works for you and helps you avoid as many distractions as possible.
Find out which campus resources can help you.
Do not go home every weekend if you are living on campus. Get to know the other students.
Read bulletin boards and the campus newspaper.

Special Note: If you receive financial aid as a college freshman, it is important that:
You complete a renewal FAFSA application as soon after January as possible each year that you are in undergraduate school to continue receiving state and federal student financial aid. Student aid that you received as a result of filing the FAFSA is not automatically renewed. You Must Apply Each Year!

You must make academic progress to keep the grants and scholarship from year to year. Academic progress means that you acquire enough credits each year (24) to move you up to the next level (Freshman to Sophomore, Sophomore to Junior, etc.) If you do not make the required progress, your financial aid will be stopped until you make the academic progress needed to move on.

High School Timeline

Use this timeline to help you make sure you're accomplishing everything you need to accomplish on time.

Ninth Grade

As soon as you can, meet with your counselor to begin talking about colleges and careers. Make sure you are enrolled in the appropriate college-preparatory or tech-prep courses. Get off to a good start with your grades. The grades you earn in ninth grade will be included in your final high school GPA and class rank.

College might seem a long way off now, but grades really do count toward college admission and scholarships. Explore your interests and possible careers. Take advantage of Career Day opportunities. Get involved in extracurricular activities (both school and non-school-sponsored). Talk to your parents about planning for college expenses. Continue or begin a savings plan for college. Look at the college information available in your counselor's office and school and public libraries. Use the Internet to check out college Web sites.

Tour a nearby college, if possible. Visit relatives or friends who live on or near a college campus. Check out the dorms, go to the library or student center, and get a feel for college life. Investigate summer enrichment programs.

Tenth Grade

In October, take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) for practice. When you fill out your test sheet, check the box that releases your name to colleges so you can start receiving brochures from them.

Ask your guidance counselor about the American College Testing program's PLAN (Pre-ACT) assessment program, which helps determine your study habits and academic progress and interests. This test will prepare you for the ACT Assessment next year.

Take geometry if you have not already done so. Take biology and a second year of a foreign language. Become familiar with general college entrance requirements.

Participate in your school's or state's career development activities.


Discuss your PSAT score with your counselor. The people who read college applications aren't looking just for grades. Get involved in activities outside the classroom. Work toward leadership positions in the activities that you like best. Become involved in community service and other volunteer activities.

Read, read, read. Read as many books as possible from a comprehensive reading list. Work on your writing skills-you'll need them no matter what you do.

Find a teacher or another adult who will advise and encourage you to write well.


Keep your grades up so you can have the highest GPA and class rank possible.

Ask your counselor about postsecondary enrollment options and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Continue to explore interests and careers that you think you might like.

Begin zeroing in on the type of college you would prefer (two-year or four-year, small or large, rural or urban).

If you are interested in attending a military academy, such as West Point or Annapolis, now is the time to start planning and getting information.

Write to colleges and ask for their academic requirements for admission. Visit a few more college campuses. Read all of the mail you receive from colleges. You may see something you like.

Attend college fairs.

Keep putting money away for college. Get a summer job.

Consider taking SAT II Subject Tests in the courses you took this year while the material is still fresh in your mind. These tests are offered in May and June.

Eleventh Grade

Meet with your counselor to review the courses you've taken, and see what you still need to take. Check your class rank. Even if your grades haven't been that good so far, it's never too late to improve.

Colleges like to see an upward trend. If you didn't do so in tenth grade, sign up for and take the PSAT/NMSQT. In addition to National Merit Scholarships, this is the qualifying test for the National Scholarship Service and National Hispanic Scholar Recognition Program. Make sure that you have a social security number.

Take a long, hard look at why you want to continue your education after high school so you will be able to choose the best college or university for your needs. Make a list of colleges that meet your most important criteria (size, location, distance from home, majors, academic rigor, housing, and cost). Weigh each of the factors according to their importance to you. Continue visiting college fairs.

You may be able to narrow your choices or add a college to your list. Speak to college representatives who visit your high school. If you want to participate in Division I or Division II sports in college, start the certification process. Check with your counselor to make sure you are taking a core curriculum that meets NCAA requirements. If you are interested in one of the military academies, talk to you guidance counselor about starting the application process now.


Collect information about college application procedures, entrance requirements, tuition and fees, room and board costs, student activities, course offerings, faculty composition, accreditation, and financial aid.

The Internet is a good way to visit colleges and obtain this information. Begin comparing the schools by the factors that you consider to be most important. Discuss you PSAT score with your counselor. Begin narrowing down your college choices. Find out if the colleges you are interested in require the SAT I, ACT Assessment, or SAT II Subject Tests for admission. Register for the ACT Assessment, which is usually taken in April or June. You can take it again late in your junior year or in the fall of your senior year, if necessary.

Begin preparing for the tests you've decided to take. Have a discussion with your parents about the colleges in which you are interested. Examine financial resources, and gather information about financial aid. Set up a filing system with individual folders for each college's correspondence and printed materials.


Meet with your counselor to review senior-year course selection and graduation requirements. Discuss ACT Assessment/SAT I scores with your counselor. Register to take the ACT Assessment and/or SAT I again if you'd like to try to improve your score. Discuss the college essay with your guidance counselor or English teacher.

Stay involved with your extracurricular activities. Colleges look for consistency and depth in activities. Consider whom you will ask to write your recommendations. Think about asking teachers who know you well and who will write positive letters about you. Letters from a coach, activity leader, or an adult who knows you well outside of school (e.g., volunteer work contact) are also valuable. Inquire about personal interviews at your favorite colleges.

Call or write for early summer appointments. Make necessary travel arrangements. See your counselor to apply for on-campus summer programs for high school students. Apply for a summer job or internship. Be prepared to pay for college application, financial aid, and testing fees in fall. Request applications from schools you're interested in by mail or via the Internet.


Visit the campuses of your top-five college choices. After each college interview, send a thank-you letter to the interviewer. Talk to people you know who have attended the colleges in which you are interested. Continue to read books, magazines, and newspapers.

Practice filling out college applications, and then complete the final application forms or apply online through the Web sites of the colleges in which you're interested. Volunteer in your community. Compose rough drafts of your college essays. Have a teacher read and discuss them with you. Proofread them, and prepare final drafts. Proofread your final essays at least three times. Develop a financial aid application plan, including a list of the aid sources, requirements for each application, and a timetable for meeting the filing deadlines.

Twelfth Grade

Continue to take a full course load of college-prep courses. Keep working on your grades. Make sure you have taken the courses necessary to graduate in the spring. Continue to participate in extracurricular and volunteer activities. Demonstrate initiative, creativity, commitment, and leadership in each.

To male students: you must register for selective service on your eighteenth birthday to be eligible for federal and state financial aid. Talk to counselors, teachers, and parents about your final college choices. Make a calendar showing application deadlines for admission, financial aid, and scholarships. Check resource books, computer programs, and your guidance office for information on scholarships and grants.

Ask colleges about scholarships for which you may qualify. Give recommendation forms to the teachers you have chosen, along with stamped, self-addressed envelopes so your teachers can send them directly to the colleges. Be sure to fill out your name, address, and school name on the top of the form. Talk to you recommendation writers about your goals and ambitions. Give School Report forms to your high school's guidance office. Fill in your name, address, and any other required information on top.

Verify with your guidance counselor the schools to which transcripts, test scores, and letters are to be sent. Give your counselor any necessary forms at least two weeks before they are due or whenever your counselor's deadline is, whichever is earlier. Register for and take the ACT Assessment, SAT I, or SAT II Subject Tests, as necessary. Be sure you have requested (either by mail or online) that your test scores be sent to the colleges of your choice. Mail or send electronically any college applications for early-decision admission by November 1.

If possible, visit colleges while classes are in session. If you plan to apply for an ROTC scholarship, remember that your application is due by December 1. Print extra copies or make photocopies of every application you send.


Attend whatever college-preparatory nights are held at your school or by local organizations. Send midyear grade reports to colleges. Continue to focus on your schoolwork! Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and, if necessary, PROFILE®.

These forms can be obtained from your guidance counselor or at to download the forms or to file electronically. These forms may not be processed before January 1, so don't send them before then. Mail or send electronically any remaining applications and financial aid forms before winter break.

Make sure you apply to at least one college that you know you can afford and where you know you will be accepted. Follow up to make sure that the colleges have received all application information, including recommendations and test scores. Meet with your counselor to verify that all applicable forms are in order and have been sent out to colleges.


Watch your mail between March 1 and April 1 for acceptance notifications from colleges. Watch your mail for notification of financial aid awards between April 1 and May 1.

Compare the financial aid packages from the colleges and universities that have accepted you. Make your final choice, and notify all schools of your intent by May 1. If possible, do not decide without making at least one campus visit. Send your nonrefundable deposit to your chosen school by May 1 as well.

Request that your guidance counselor send a final transcript to the college in June. Be sure that you have received a FAFSA acknowledgment. If you applied for a Pell Grant (on the FAFSA), you will receive the Student Aid Report (SAR) statement. Review this Pell notice, and forward it to the college you plan to attend.

Make a copy for your record. Complete follow-up paperwork for the college of your choice (scheduling, orientation session, housing arrangements, and other necessary forms).


If applicable, apply for a Stafford Loan through a lender. Allow eight weeks for processing. Receive the orientation schedule from your college.

Get residence hall assignment from your college. Obtain course scheduling and cost information from your college.

Congratulations! You are about to begin the greatest adventure of your life. Good luck.

Study Skills Tips

You have to develop many different types of skills to be a successful student. You need skills that help you study, organize, manage your time, take tests, take notes, and cope with stress.

What set would you like to work on?

Study Skills


1.Find your own quiet place at home to study where you can concentrate and do better on your homework.
2.When studying, sit in a comfortable chair but not one that is TOO comfortable.
3.Don't do homework in front of the TV - it is too distracting. While you're at it, try to ignore the telephone - your friends can leave a message!
4.Quiet background music might help you stay focused while you are studying.
5.Study with a friend or a group of friends. Compare notes and ask each other questions.
6.Know what your learning style is, and study in a way that best matches your own learning style.
7.Take short but frequent breaks, like a five minute break after twenty-five minutes of studying.
8.Try to relate what you are studying to things you already know to remember information more easily.
9.Start with the most difficult tasks or assignments, and then move on to the easier ones to focus maximum brain power on the hardest tasks.
10.The quality of your study time is much more important than the quantity of your study time.
11.Get into the habit of studying every day.
12.Try to determine your best study time and plan on studying at that time every day.
13.Think of homework as practice, not work. You know that you don't get better at things like sports or music or cheerleading unless you practice. School's the same.
14.Plan on a fun activity for yourself as a reward for when you are DONE with your studying.
15.After each study session, try to recall the main points and as many details as possible.
16.If you are not sure about something, ask a teacher, parent or friend for help. Asking questions is one of the most effective ways we learn!
10.Plan to spend MORE time (not less time) on the subjects that are harder for you.


1.Use things like outlines, charts, or flashcards to help you organize and learn new material. You'll be reviewing the material while you are making these tools, and you'll have them to use later when it's time to study for tests.
2.Use a planner to keep track of homework assignments, tests and projects. Write in your planner every single day so that it becomes a habit!
3.Keep a notebook or folder for all your notes and homework assignments. You might need one for each subject to make things easier.
4.Keep a "To Do" list. Write down things you need to do, then decide what needs to be done right away and what can wait until later.

1.For each study period, decide what you want to accomplish and how long you will spend on each subject or assignment.
2.Break your workload down into manageable chunks and take your homework one step at a time.
3.Don't procrastinate (that's a big word that means putting things off). Give yourself plenty of time to get things done by planning ahead and sticking to a schedule.
4.Be aware of things that distract you or waste your time, and keep them to a minimum.

1.Be well rested before taking tests.
2.Don't cram for tests! It's OK to spend extra time studying the night before a big test, but don't try to learn EVERYTHING that night.
3.Try to find out what type of test you will be taking (essay, multiple choice, True/ False, matching, etc.). It's likely that test questions will be similar to homework you have done, because homework is "practice."
4.DON'T PANIC. Just tackle one question at a time. If a question is too hard, skip it and come back to it later.


1.Don't try to write down everything the teacher says. Focus on the main ideas.
2.When you're taking notes, use your own words.
3.Keep your notes organized. They will be as important as the text book.
4.Each night, review the notes you took that day. This will make things easier to remember when it comes time to study for the test.


1.Don't sweat the small stuff. Try to prioritize your activities, and focus on the most important ones.
2.Work off stress through some kind of physical activity. Exercise is a great stress reliever because it takes your mind off of things that are bothering you.

Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat right and get enough sleep. Eating too much or too little, or sleeping too much or too little, can aggravate the stress that you already have.

Employment Skills

Do you have the skills employers want? Some day you'll be entering the workforce, and your job prospects will depend on the skills you have to offer to an employer. Your middle school, high school, and college years are a great time to develop these skills, no matter what career field you are considering.

1.Strong Work Ethic - Employers want workers who are reliable, dependable, and self-motivated. You can develop a strong work ethic through your academic work and through extracurricular activities. So get involved in school leadership positions, music, athletics, or a part time job.
2.Time Management Skills - Time management involves planning and following a schedule, listing the tasks you need to complete, and estimating how long it will take. Good time management skills are needed in every profession. But don't wait until you are working to develop them - start working on them NOW. They will help you become a better student.
3.Problem-Solving Skills - Most employers look for employees who can identify a problem, develop solutions, and implement them. This makes them more independent and more valuable as an employee. That's why so much emphasis is placed on math (and problem solving) in school!
4.Communication Skills - Verbal communication includes speaking and listening. Written communication includes reading and writing. It is vital that you develop ALL of these skills. Communication is a two-way street, and those who can communicate well are the ones who will get ahead in life. So work on your reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills every chance you get.
5."People" Skills - The ability to work well with others is important in any field. Good working relationships are built on trust and mutual respect, and they help employees work more efficiently and effectively. Take advantage of opportunities to develop your "people" skills through team sports, music, clubs, or other group projects.
6.Computer Skills - Nearly all employers want workers who know how to use a computer, and not just for games! Be sure to develop your ability to use word processing and spreadsheet programs, e-mail, and the Internet. This will also be very beneficial for you during high school and college.

Your school years aren't just about school work. You should also use these years to develop and sharpen your employment skills. They will give you an edge when you are competing against other young adults for the job of your dreams!

College Prep

Focusing on the high school classes that will help you qualify to get into the school of your choice is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for a postsecondary education.

This section is dedicated to helping you throughout your high school career so you are ready to apply for and attend your future college, university, technical, or trade school.

Use the list of College Prep Curriculum and College Bound Reading List to determine which classes you should take and which books you should read. Find out if your state participates in the High School High Stakes program, which will also help you prepare for college. If you're interested, we also offer Special Information for Athletes, describing how to become a collegiate student-athlete.

College Prep Curriculum

College-Preparatory Curriculum
English. Four units, with emphasis on composition (English 9, 10, 11, 12)
Mathematics.Three units (algebra I, algebra II, geometry) are essential. Trigonometry, precalculus, calculus, and computer science are recommended for some fields of study.
Social Science.Three units (American history, world history, government/economics)
Science.Four units (earth science, biology, chemistry, physics)
Foreign Language. Three units (at least 2 years in the same language)
Fine Arts.One to 2 units
Other.Keyboarding, computer applications, computer science I, computer science II, physical education, health

College-Preparatory Curriculum Combined with a Career Education or Vocational Program
English.Four units
Mathematics.Three units (algebra I, algebra II, geometry)
Social Science.Three units (American history, world history, government/economics)
Science. Two units (earth science, biology)
Foreign Language.Three units (at least 2 years in the same language)
Fine Arts.One to 2 units
Other.Keyboarding, computer applications, physical education, and health and half days at the Career Center during junior and senior year

Test Prep

Text coming soon.

What to Look for in a School

Every person has different interests, values, and goals. Taking a good look at your own likes and dislikes will help you narrow down the list of colleges to consider.

Once you have a list of colleges that offer your desired academic program and sport, you can narrow your search by evaluating what else is important to you. Things to consider might be:

campus size
religious affiliation (if any)

job placement services
student-faculty ratio
tuition and other costs

When you have decided that you are interested in a particular college, call the admissions office and arrange a time to visit. It's important for you to see the campus firsthand so that you can judge whether or not you will feel comfortable there. Try to arrange your tour while classes are in session, so that you aren't touring a ghost town.

You should be narrowing down the list to four to six colleges that you would like to apply to. It's perfectly okay to choose several that are your dream schools, but make sure that you keep your feet on the ground. Balance the list with several schools that you know you have a good chance of getting into, as well as a "safe bet," a college at which you know you'll be accepted.

Criteria to Consider

Depending on your personal interests, the following characteristics should play a role in helping you narrow down the field of colleges.


Private, independent
Private, church affiliated


Very small (fewer than 1,000 students)
Small (1,000-3,999 students)
Medium (4,000-8,999 students)
Large (9,000-19,999 students)
Very large (more than 20,000 students)


Small town


In your hometown
Less than 3 hours from home
More than 3 hours from home


Off-campus apartment
Facilities and services for students with disabilities

Student Body

All male
All female
Minority representation
Primarily one religious denomination
Primarily full-time students
Primarily part-time students
Primarily commuter students
Primarily residential students
Academic Environment

Majors offered
Student-faculty ratio
Faculty teaching reputation
Instruction by professors versus teaching assistants
Facilities (such as classrooms and labs)
Independent study available
International study available
Internships available

Financial Aid

Work-study program
Part-time or full-time jobs

Support Services

Academic counseling
Career/placement counseling
Personal counseling
Student health facilities

Activities/Social Clubs

Clubs, organizations
Greek life
Athletics, intramurals


Division I, II, or III
Sports offered
Scholarships available

Specialized Programs

Honors programs
Services for students with disabilities or special needs

Adult Students-Selecting a Program of Study

Once you have decided whether you want to pursue higher education for personal or professional development, you will be better able to determine what kind of program to follow. One of the most important things for you to understand is that many different types of learning exist, and you need to know your educational goals before you select one to create a plan of action.


Scores of commercials, e-mails, and flyers advertise educational opportunities every day. You may receive some from well-known campuses or from places you've never heard of before. What will help you determine if a program is for real and will be able to help you make progress toward your goal is to determine if the program/school is accredited. Accreditation is a process through which a program or school subjects its courses, faculty, graduation requirements, and (sometimes) facility for review by a national accreditation authority. If they pass the inspection and review, their program/school gains an increased level of respect among the educational community throughout the country. Degrees from accredited schools carry more weight in the professional world.

To find out if a program/school is accredited, check with the admissions office or student advising center.

Certificate or Degree?

Deciding between a degree-granting program and a certificate program may prove confusing. Typically, earning a degree in a field requires more courses and work than a certificate (there may be exceptions). Let's use the field of computers as an example.

Perhaps you would like to work with computers. There is not just one type of program for computers, however, so how do you choose? You have to have a general idea of what you would like to do with computers before you can select a course of study. Perhaps you would like to build computers or repair them. That would probably require a certificate from a technology school or community college. Maybe you want to design software or run your own computer design firm. That would probably require a four-year degree from a college or university with a computer science program. The advisor at the school you're thinking of attending will be better able to help you determine whether their program will meet your goals or not.

Two-year or Four-year Programs?

Two-year institutions typically offer associate degrees or technical certification (Web design, software training, culinary arts, etc.). What you may not realize is that community college also offers you the opportunity to take and transfer many of the introductory classes that would be required for a degree at a four-year institution, allowing you to take advantage of cheaper tuition rates, smaller class sizes, and more personalized instruction.

Four-year institutions typically offer programs leading to either a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree that is gained primarily through a course of study over multiple years at a college or university.

Business, Nursing, or Trade School?

Perhaps your desired career will determine your program. Being a cosmetologist, executive assistant, mechanic, medical technician, computer technician, paralegal, legal secretary, etc. may require that you attend a specific beauty, business, technology, vocational, or trade school. Some nursing programs require attendance at a college or university, while some major hospitals run their own nurses' schools.

What are Distance Learning and Low Residency Programs?

Distance learning refers to courses of study with components that can be completed without attending a school campus. Lecture or course information may come in the form of multimedia presentations (such as VHS cassettes or teleconferencing via the Internet), and lessons may be completed and transmitted online via e-mail.

Low residency programs are a growing trend among many college campuses such as University of New Orleans, Vermont College, Seton Hill University, Rockport College, Spalding University, University of California, Los Angeles, etc. They allow students to attend a brief series of seminars and meetings with faculty on campus for anywhere from a few days to a week, then release them to complete the majority of their course work in a distance learning format. is the place to go to learn about adult education, to plan a transfer to a four-year college, to find the distance learning program that is right for you, or to learn about educational benefits for soldiers and veterans. Online classes, continuing education, finding a school, transferring schools, getting a certificate or degree-we can help you create a plan for any of your higher education needs.

A Final Note

Be as careful as possible to keep your focus on your long-term goal. Invest the research time to make sure the program you've chosen will help even if it means you attend the campus half an hour away instead of the one only a few miles down the street.

Should You Attend a Historically Black College or University?

Choosing which college to attend is usually a difficult decision for anyone to make, but when an African-American student is considering attending a historically black college or university (HBCU), a whole other set of family and cultural issues are raised.

There are many valid reasons that favor one or the other. Some are obvious differences. Parents and their children have to be honest with themselves and take a long, hard look at the needs of the student and how the campus environment can fulfill them. To help you decide, here are some questions to ask:

Do I know what's really important to me?

Look at the reasons why you want a degree and what you want to achieve with it. Is the choice to attend an HBCU yours or you family's? Do you have a particular field of study you want to pursue? Sometimes students can get so caught up in applying to a particular institution, they don't realize it doesn't even offer their major.

How will this campus fit my plans for the future?

There's no substitute for doing your homework about the campuses you're seriously considering. Know the reputation of those campuses in the community and among employers and the general population. Find out about graduation, student retention, and placement rates.

Does this campus have the facilities and living conditions that suit my comfort level?

Finding a campus where you're comfortable is a big factor in choosing a college. What do you want in campus facilities and living conditions? For instance, if you currently attend a small private high school in a suburban setting, perhaps you wouldn't like living on a large urban campus with peers who don't mirror your kind of background.

What level of support will I get on campus?

Students considering institutions where few people are like them should look at the available support systems and organizations that will be available to them. Parents need to feel comfortable with the contact person on campus.

When all the factors that determine the choice of a college are laid out, the bottom line is which institution best meets your needs. For some African-American students, an HBCU is the best choice. For others, it's not. African-American students reflect many backgrounds, and there is no single decision that will be right for everyone.

Choosing a Major

You can choose from hundreds of majors - from accounting to zoology - but which is right for you? Should you choose something traditional or select a major from an emerging area? Perhaps you already know what career you want, so you can work backwards to decide which major will best help you achieve your goals.

If you know what you want to do early, you will have more time to plan your high school curriculum, extracurricular activities, jobs, and community service to coincide with your major. Your selection of a college may also depend upon the college providing a strong academic program in a certain major.

What if I Don't Know What I Want to Do with My Life?

It's okay if you have not decided upon a major yet. In fact, more than half of all college freshman are undecided and prefer to get a feel for what's available at college before making a decision. Most four-year colleges don't require students to formally declare a major until the end of their sophomore year or beginning of their junior year.

Can I Change My Major If I Change My Mind?

Choosing a major does not set your future in stone, nor does it necessarily disrupt your life if you need to change your major. However, there are advantages to choosing a major sooner rather than later. If you wait too long to choose, you may have to take additional classes to satisfy the requirements, which may cost you additional time and money.

Where Do I Begin?

Choosing a major usually begins with an assessment of your career interests. Once you have taken the self-assessment test, you should have a clearer understanding of your interests, talents, values, and goals. Then review possible majors, and try several on for size. Picture yourself taking classes, writing papers, making presentations, conducting research, or working in a related field. Talk to people you know who work in your fields of interest and see if you like what you hear. Also, try reading the classified ads in your local newspaper. What jobs sound interesting to you? Which ones pay the salary that you'd like to make? What level of education is required in the ads you find interesting? Select a few jobs that you think you'd like and then consult the following list of majors to see which major(s) coincide. If your area of interest does not appear here, talk to you counselor or teacher about where to find information that particular subject.

Majors and Related Careers


Many agriculture majors apply their knowledge directly on farms and ranches. Others work in industry (food, farm equipment, and agricultural supply companies), federal agencies (primarily in the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior), and state and local farm and agricultural agencies. Jobs might be in research and lab work, marketing and sales, advertising and public relations, or journalism and radio/TV (for farm communications media).

Agriculture majors also pursue further training in biological sciences, animal health, veterinary medicine, agribusiness, management, vocational agriculture education, nutrition and dietetics, and rural sociology.


Architecture and related design fields focus on the built environment as distinct from the natural environment of the agriculturist or the conservationist.

Career possibilities include drafting, design, and project administration in architectural, engineering, landscape design, interior design, industrial design, planning real estate, and construction firms; government agencies involved in construction, housing, highways, and parks and recreation; and government and nonprofit organizations interested in historic or architectural preservation.

Area/Ethnic Studies

The research, writing, analysis, critical thinking, and cultural awareness skills acquired by Area and ethnic studies majors, combined with the expertise gained in a particular area make this group of majors valuable in a number of professions.

Majors find positions in administration, education, public relations, and communications in such organizations as cultural, government, international, and (ethnic) community agencies; and the communications industry (journalism, radio, and TV). These studies also provide a good background for further training in law, business management, public administration, education, social work, museum and library work, and international relations.


Art majors most often use their training to become practicing artists, though the setting in which they work vary.

Aside from the most obvious art-related career - that of the self-employed artist or craftsperson - many fields require the skills of a visual artist. These include advertising; public relations; publishing; journalism; museum work; television, movies, and theater; community and social service agencies concerned with education, recreation, and entertainment; and teaching.

A background in art is also useful if a student wishes to pursue art therapy, arts or museum administration, or library work.

Biological Sciences

The biological sciences include the study of living organisms from the level of molecules to that of populations. Majors find jobs in industry; government agencies; technical writing, editing, or illustrating; science reporting; secondary school teaching (which usually requires education courses); and research and laboratory analysis and testing.

Biological sciences are also a sound foundation for further study in medicine, psychology, health and hospital administration, and biologically oriented engineering.

Business Business majors comprise all the basic business disciplines. At the undergraduate level, students can major in a general business administration program or specialize in particular area, such as marketing or accounting. These studies lead not only to positions in business and industry but also to management positions in other sectors. Management-related studies include the general management areas (accounting, finance, marketing, and management) as well as special studies related to a particular type of organization or industry. Management-related majors may be offered in a business school or in a department dealing with the area in which the management skills are to be applied. Careers can be found throughout the business world.


Jobs in communication range from reporting (news and special features), copywriting, technical writing, copy edition, and programming to advertising, public relations, media sales, and market research. Such positions can be found at newspapers, radio and TV stations, publishing houses (book and magazine), advertising agencies, corporate communications departments, government agencies, universities, and firms that specialize in educational and training materials.

Computer, Information, and Library Sciences

Computer and information science and systems majors stress the theoretical aspects of the computer and emphasize mathematical and scientific disciplines. Data processing, programming, and computer technology programs tend to be more practical; they are more orientated toward business than to scientific applications and to work directly with the computer or with peripheral equipment.

Career possibilities for computer and information sciences include data processing, programming, and systems development or maintenance in almost any setting: business and industry, banking and finance, government, colleges and universities, libraries, software firms, service bureaus, computer manufacturers, publishing, and communications.

Library science gives preprofessional background in library work and provides valuable knowledge of research sources, indexing, abstracting, computer technology, and media technology, which is useful for further study in any professional field. In most cases, a master's degree in library science is necessary to obtain a job as a librarian.

Library science majors find positions in public, school, college, corporate, and government libraries and research centers; book publishing (especially reference books); database and information retrieval services; and communications (especially audiovisual media).


Positions as teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, private day and boarding schools, religious and parochial schools, vocational schools, and proprietary schools are the jobs most often filled by education majors; however, teaching positions also exist in noneducational institutions, such as museums, historical societies, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes as well as jobs as educators and trainers in government and industry. Administrative (nonteaching) positions in employee relations and personnel, public relations, marketing and sales, educational publishing, TV and film media, test development firms, and government and community social service agencies also tap the skills and interests of education majors.

Engineering and Engineering Technologies

Engineering and science technology majors prepare students for practical design and production work rather than for jobs that require more theoretical, scientific, and mathematical knowledge. Engineers work in a variety of fields, including aeronautics, bioengineering, geology, nuclear engineering, and quality control and safety.

Industry, research labs, and government agencies where technology plays a key role, such as in manufacturing, electronics, construction communications, transportation, and utilities, hire engineering as well as engineering technology and science technology graduates regularly. Work may be in technical activities (research, development, design, production, testing, scientific programming, or systems analysis) or in nontechnical areas where a technical degree is needed, such as marketing, sales, or administration.

Foreign Language and Literature Knowledge of foreign languages and cultures is becoming increasingly recognized as important in today's international world. Language majors possess a skill that is used in organizations with international dealings as well as in career fields and geographical areas where languages other than English are prominent.

Career possibilities include positions with business firms with international subsidiaries; import-export firms; international banking; travel agencies; airlines; tourist services; government and international agencies dealing with international affairs, foreign language teaching, and bilingual education (which usually require education courses); freelance translating and interpreting (high level of skill necessary); foreign language publishing; and computer programming (especially for linguistics majors).

Health Sciences

Health professions majors, while having a scientific core, are more focused on applying the results of scientific investigation than on the scientific disciplines themselves. Allied health majors prepare graduates to assist health professionals in providing diagnostics, therapeutics, and rehabilitation.

Medical science majors, such as optometry, pharmacy, and the premedical profession sequences, are, for the most part, preprofessional studies that include the scientific disciplines necessary for admission to graduate or professional school in the health or medical fields.

Health service and technology majors prepare students for positions in the health fields the primarily involve services to patients or working with complex machinery and materials. Medical technologies cover a wide range of fields, such as cytotechnology, biomedical technologies, and operating room technology.

Administrative, professional, or research assistant positions in health agencies, hospitals, occupational health units in industry, community and school health departments, government agencies (public health, environmental protection), and international health organizations are available to majors in health fields, as are jobs in marketing and sales of health-related products and services, health education (with education courses), advertising and public relations, journalism and publishing, and technical writing.

Home Economics and Social Services

Home economics encompasses many different fields - basic studies in foods and textiles as well as new areas, such as consumer economics and leisure studies, that overlap with aspects of agriculture, social science, and education. Career areas are emerging in which a background in home economics provides the advantage of an interdisciplinary viewpoint.

Jobs for home economics majors can be found in government and community agencies (especially in education, health, housing, or human services), nursing homes, child-care centers, journalism, radio/TV, educational media, and publishing. Types of work also include marketing, sales, and customer service in consumer-related industries, such as food processing and packaging, appliance manufacturing, utilities, textiles, and secondary school home economics teaching (which usually requires education courses).

Majors in social services find administrative aide or assistant positions in government and community health, welfare, and social service agencies, such as hospitals, clinics, YMCAs and YWCAs, recreation commissions, welfare agencies, and employment service see the Law and Legal Studies section for information on more law-related social services.

Home economics and social services studies also provide a good background for further training in business management, hotel and institutional management, public health, food technology, environmental design and urban planning, social work, marriage and family counseling, public administration, and personnel.

Humanities (Miscellaneous)

The majors that constitute the humanities (sometimes called letters) are the most general and widely applicable and the least vocationally oriented of the liberal arts. They are essentially studies of the ideas and concerns of humankind. These include classics, history of philosophy, history of science, linguistics, and medieval studies.

Career possibilities for humanities majors can be found in business firms, government and community agencies, advertising and public relations, marketing and sales, publishing, journalism and radio/TV, secondary school teaching in English and literature (which usually requires educational courses), freelance writing and editing, and computer programming (especially for those with a background in logic or linguistics).

Law and Legal Studies

Students of legal studies can use their knowledge of law and government in fields involving the making, breaking, and enforcement of laws; the crimes, trials, and punishment of law breakers; and the running of all branches of government at local, state, and federal levels.

Graduates find positions of all types in law firms, legal departments of other organizations, the court or prison system, government agencies (such as law enforcement agencies or offices of state and federal attorneys general), and police departments.

Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Mathematics is the science of numbers and the abstract formulation of their operations. Physical sciences involve the study of the laws and structures of physical matter. The quantitative skills acquired through the study of science and mathematics are especially useful for computer-related careers.

Career possibilities include positions in industry (manufacturing and processing companies, electronics firms, defense contractors, consulting firms); government agencies (defense, environment protection, law enforcement); scientific/technical writing, editing, or illustrating; journalism (science reporting); secondary school teaching (usually requiring education courses); research and laboratory analysis and testing; statistical analysis; computer programming; systems analysis; surveying and mapping; weather forecasting; and technical sales.

Natural Resources

A major in the natural resources field prepares students for work in areas as generalized as environmental conservation and as specialized as groundwater contamination.

Jobs are available in industry (food, energy, natural resources, and pulp and paper companies), consulting firms, state and federal government agencies (primarily the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior), and public and private conservation agencies. See also the Agriculture and Biological Sciences sections for more information on natural resources-related fields.


Psychology majors involve the study of behavior and can range from the biological to the sociological. Students can study individual behavior, usually that of humans, or the behavior of crowds. Students of psychology do not always go into the more obvious clinical fields, the fields in which psychologists work with patients. Certain areas of psychology, such as industrial/organizational, experimental, and social, are not clinically orientated.

Psychology and counseling careers can be in government (such as mental health agencies), schools, hospitals, clinics, private practice, industry, test development firms, social work, and personnel. The careers listed in the general Social Sciences section are also pursued by psychology and counseling majors.


Religion majors are usually seen as preprofessional studies for those who are interested in entering the ministry.

Career possibilities for religion include casework, youth counseling, administration in community and social service organizations, teaching in religious educational institutions, and writing for religious and lay publications. Religious studies also prepare students for the kinds of jobs other humanities majors often pursue.

Social Sciences

Social sciences majors study people in relation to their society. Thus, social science majors can apply their education to a wide range of occupations that deal with social issues and activities.

Career opportunities are varied. People with degrees in the social sciences find careers in government, business, community agencies (serving children, youth, and senior citizens), advertising and public relations, marketing and sales, secondary school social studies teaching (with education courses), casework, law enforcement, parks and recreation, museum work (especially for anthropology, archaeology, geography, and history majors), market and survey research, statistical analysis, publishing, fundraising and development, and political campaigning.


Technology majors, along with trade fields, are most often offered as two-year programs. Majors in technology fields prepare students directly for jobs; however, positions are in practical design and production work rather than in areas that require more theoretical, scientific, and mathematical knowledge.

Engineering technologies prepare students with the basic training in specific fields (e.g., electronics, mechanics, or chemistry) that are necessary to become technicians on the support staffs of engineers. Other technology majors center more on maintenance and repair. Work may be in technical activities, such as production or testing, or in nontechnical areas where a technical degree is needed, such as marketing, sales, or administration.

Industries, research labs, and government agencies in which technology plays a key role - such as in manufacturing, electronics, construction, communications, transportation, and utilities - hire technology graduates regularly. Still Unsure?

Relax! You don't have to know your major before you enroll in college. More than half of all freshmen are undecided when they start school and prefer to get a feel for what's available at college before making a decision. Most four-year colleges don't require students to formally declare a major until the end of their sophomore year or beginning of their junior year. Part of the experience of college is being exposed to new subjects and new ideas. Chances are your high school never offered anthropology. Or marine biology. Or applied mathematics. So take these classes and follow your interests. While you're fulfilling your general course requirements, you might stumble upon a major that appeals to you, or maybe you'll discover a new interest while you're volunteering or involved with other extracurricular activities. Talking to other students might lead to other options you'll want to explore.

Can I Change My Major if I Change My Mind?

Choosing a major does not set your future in stone, nor does it necessarily disrupt your life if you need to change your major. However, there are advantages to choosing a major sooner rather than later. If you wait too long to choose, you may have to take additional classes to satisfy the requirements, which may cost you additional time and money.

Campus Visits

You've heard the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Well, a campus visit is worth a thousand brochures. Nothing beats walking around a campus to get a feel for it. Some students report that they could tell if they loved or hated a campus by driving through it. Then there is the true story of the guy who applied to a school because it had a prestigious name. Got accepted. Didn't visit, and when he arrived to move into the dorms, discovered to his horror it was an all-male school. A visit would have taken care of that problem.

The best time to experience the college environment is during the spring of your junior year or the fall of your senior year. Although you may have more time to make college visits during your summer off, your observations will be more accurate when you can see the campus in full swing. Open houses are a good idea and provide you with opportunities to talk to students, faculty members, and administrators. Write or call in advance to take student-conducted campus tours. If possible, stay overnight in a dorm to see what living at the college is really like.

Bring your transcript so that you are prepared to interview with admission officers. Take this opportunity to ask questions about financial aid and other services that are available to students. You can get a good snapshot of campus life by reading a copy of the student newspaper. The final goal of the campus visit is to study the school's personality and decide if it matches yours. Your parents should be involved with the campus visits so that you can share your impressions. Here are some additional campus visit tips:

Read campus literature prior to the visit. Ask for directions, and allow ample travel time.
Make a list of questions before the visit.
Dress in neat, clean, casual clothes and shoes.
Ask to meet one-on-one with a current student.
Ask to meet personally with a professor in your area of interest.
Offer a firm handshake.
Use good posture.
Listen, and take notes.
Speak clearly, and maintain eye contact with people you meet.
Don't interrupt.
Be honest, direct, and polite.
Be aware of factual information so that you can ask questions of comparison and evaluation.
Be prepared to answer questions about yourself. Practice a mock interview with someone.
Don't be shy about explaining your background and why you are interested in the school.
Ask questions about the background and experiences of the people you meet.
Convey your interest in getting involved in campus life.
Be positive and energetic.
Don't feel as though you have to talk the whole time or carry the conversation yourself.
Relax, and enjoy yourself.
Thank those you meet, and send thank-you notes when appropriate.

Checklist for Making Arrangements to Visit Campuses

The college selection process is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Putting time into planning your campus visits can take a lot of tension out of the process. Here are some suggested steps, arranged as a checklist.

Planning Your Visits

Check with your high school about its policy for taking time off to visit campuses. Work within the policy and your parents' time off.

Plan with your parents how many schools you can see in one trip. Visiting no more than five schools in three days is a good rule. If any schools on your list are within an hour or two from home, see those in day trips.

Figure out driving distances between schools and which schools make the most sense to visit on the same day and during the same trip. Work out the logistics, and then make hotel or motel reservations.

Check your research for each college and university to see if you need an interview. Try to schedule your interview with your first choice school after you have had a few other interviews, so you will be familiar with the interview situation and feel more confident.

Check the college's catalog or the college's Web site for directions.

Go over the directions with a map before you set off on your trip. If you are flying, rent a car ahead of time and figure out the driving time from the airport to the school or to where you are staying if you are flying in the night before. Figure in time for getting stalled in traffic and getting lost-regardless of how good the directions are.

Calling to Set up a Tour and an Interview

Call the college or university to set up an appointment at least 3-5 days before you plan to visit. Have your list of two or three possible dates and your questions ready. The sooner you call, the greater the likelihood that you will get the date you want. Depending on the size of the college or university-the bigger the school, the more departments-call the campus visitors' center, information services officer, or the admissions office to set up your tour.

If you make your tour arrangements through the visitors' center or information services office, you will still need to call the admissions office to set up your interview.

In addition to the regular tour, ask if you can visit classes or see the labs or the sports facilities-whatever is important to you.

Ask if you can speak with professors in your major, students who share your same interests, or a coach for your sport-whatever person or group will give you the best information about what is important to you. You may need to make calls to particular departments to arrange appointments with professors and students, to the office that handles student activities to set up meetings with advisers and students from organizations, and the athletic office to contact a coach.

If you are interested, ask if you can stay overnight in a dorm and be paired up with a student who has completed at least one semester at the school.

Ask to be sent a campus map and directions, if you can't find them online or in the college's catalog. If you will need overnight accommodations, ask if the person can suggest any places to stay.

Confirming Your Appointment

The week before your appointment, call to confirm.

Be sure that you have your list of questions-and your directions-when you leave for your visit.

After the Interview

Write thank-you notes to your interviewer and anyone else you met with formally, such as a coach or a professor.

If you spoke with any students and traded e-mail addresses, send an e-mail thank you. If you apply and are accepted to this college or university, this student will be someone you already know when you arrive on campus.

Questions to Ask on a Campus Tour

During your campus tour, you need to ask questions as well as look around. Here are some questions to consider asking. Add your own questions at the end of the list. Go over the questions with your parents before your first campus visit so they can be on the lookout for answers, too. After each visit, review the list to see if there are any other questions you might want to add.

NOTE: Read as much as you can about each college or university before you visit. Don't spend time asking questions that are answered in the school's catalog or brochures. You are visiting campuses to get a feeling for the atmosphere of each place-something you can't get from its Web site or catalog.

Questions for the Admissions Office

1.Are the dorms spread throughout the campus or clustered in one area? Is there any kind of shuttle service between classroom areas, the library, the student union, and dorms? How late does it run?
2.Is there any security system to bar outsiders from entering dorms?
3.How large is the campus security police force? Does it patrol the campus regularly?
4.What services are offered by the campus health center? How large is it?
5.Does the student health center refer students to the local hospital? Is there a nearby hospital? How large is it?

Questions for Students
1.How many of your courses are taught by a big-name professor and how many by a teaching assistant? 2.Is the teaching innovative and project-oriented, or is it mostly lecture-oriented? 3.Do most freshmen class lectures take place in an amphitheater? 4.What are the strong majors? The weak majors? 5.How hard do you have to work for your grades? 6.What's the reputation of the _____________ department? 7.How adequate for your needs is the campus computer network? 8.Do fraternities and sororities dominate the social life of the college? 9.What do students do on weekends? Do most go home? 10.How is the advisement system? Do you feel that your professors really care? 11.There are a lot of organizations on campus. Are they dominated by a few groups or is anyone welcome? 12.How active is the _________ [fill in the activity in which you're interested]? Has _________ won any national awards?

Questions to Ask Yourself About the Campus Atmosphere

1.While you were waiting for your interview in the admissions office, how did the staff members interact with students? Were they friendly, or did the staff approach students-both potential freshmen like you and enrolled students-as if they were interfering with the staff members' jobs?
2.Was the Admissions Office a friendly and inviting place with a great deal of information about the school, or was it cold and sterile with little information to pick up?
3.What did your parents find out about the career planning services offered to graduating seniors and to graduates? What do the services include?

About the Student Body
1.Do most of the students seem to be like you, or are they completely different? 2.Either way, how would you feel being in a classroom full of these students? Sharing a dorm with them? 3.Do the students try to make you feel at home? Are they happy to answer your questions, or do they make you feel like you're intruding? How do they interact with one another?

About the Campus

1.Does the campus seem too big? Or too small?
2.Do freshmen live in their own dorms? How do I feel about living in a single-sex or coed dorm?
3.Are the dorms quiet or noisy? Do they seem crowded?
4.How large are the rooms? Is there adequate space and light to study?
5.Does each room have access to the Internet and the campus LAN?
6.What's advertised on dorm and classroom bulletin boards? What does this tell me about campus life?
7.How good is the lighting around each dorm and around classroom and lab buildings?
8.Do the buildings and grounds look well cared for? Or do they need painting and general repair work?
9.Is the grass cut, and are the grounds landscaped?
10.What's the condition of the playing fields and the sports equipment?
11.How is the quality of the food in the cafeteria or dining hall? How are the sizes of the portions? Is it healthy or fast food? Are there meal plans?

About the Nearby Area

1.Does it look like there is much to do outside of campus?
2.How easy is to get to places off campus? Are there places within walking distance?
3.Do you feel comfortable and safe?
4.Are there places to get extra furniture, like bookcases, for your dorm room?
5.Is there a supermarket nearby to stock up on snacks and soda?
6.If you move out of a dorm after freshman year, what are the options in apartment complexes or buildings?

College Comparison Worksheet

Fill in your top five selection criteria and any others that may be of importance to you. Once you narrow your search of colleges to five, fill in the colleges across the top row. Using a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent, rate each college by your criteria. Total each column to see which college rates the highest based upon your criteria.

Selection Criteria

College 1

College 2

College 3

College 4

College 5































Other Criteria










































Sample criteria: (Use this list as a starting point - there may be other criteria important to you not listed here.) Arts facilities, athletic facilities, audiovisual center, campus setting, class size, classrooms/lecture halls, computer labs, dining hall, dorms, student profile, student union, surrounding community.

College Comparison Worksheet

Adult Students-Selecting a Program of Study

Once you have decided whether you want to pursue higher education for personal or professional development, you will be better able to determine what kind of program to follow. One of the most important things for you to understand is that many different types of learning exist, and you need to know your educational goals before you select one to create a plan of action.

Certificate or Degree?
Two-year or Four-year Programs
Business, Nursing, or Trade School
Distance Learning and Low Residency Programs


Scores of commercials, e-mails, and flyers advertise educational opportunities every day. You may receive some from well-known campuses or from places you've never heard of before. What will help you determine if a program is for real and will be able to help you make progress toward your goal is to determine if the program/school is accredited. Accreditation is a process through which a program or school subjects its courses, faculty, graduation requirements, and (sometimes) facility for review by a national accreditation authority. If they pass the inspection and review, their program/school gains an increased level of respect among the educational community throughout the country. Degrees from accredited schools carry more weight in the professional world.

To find out if a program/school is accredited, check with the admissions office or student advising center.

Certificate or Degree?

Deciding between a degree-granting program and a certificate program may prove confusing. Typically, earning a degree in a field requires more courses and work than a certificate (there may be exceptions). Let's use the field of computers as an example.

Perhaps you would like to work with computers. There is not just one type of program for computers, however, so how do you choose? You have to have a general idea of what you would like to do with computers before you can select a course of study. Perhaps you would like to build computers or repair them. That would probably require a certificate from a technology school or community college. Maybe you want to design software or run your own computer design firm. That would probably require a four-year degree from a college or university with a computer science program. The advisor at the school you're thinking of attending will be better able to help you determine whether their program will meet your goals or not.

Two-year or Four-year Programs?

Two-year institutions typically offer associate degrees or technical certification (Web design, software training, culinary arts, etc.). What you may not realize is that community college also offers you the opportunity to take and transfer many of the introductory classes that would be required for a degree at a four-year institution, allowing you to take advantage of cheaper tuition rates, smaller class sizes, and more personalized instruction.

Four-year institutions typically offer programs leading to either a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree that is gained primarily through a course of study over multiple years at a college or university.

Business, Nursing, or Trade School?

Perhaps your desired career will determine your program. Being a cosmetologist, executive assistant, mechanic, medical technician, computer technician, paralegal, legal secretary, etc. may require that you attend a specific beauty, business, technology, vocational, or trade school. Some nursing programs require attendance at a college or university, while some major hospitals run their own nurses' schools.

What are Distance Learning and Low Residency Programs?

Distance learning refers to courses of study with components that can be completed without attending a school campus. Lecture or course information may come in the form of multimedia presentations (such as VHS cassettes or teleconferencing via the Internet), and lessons may be completed and transmitted online via e-mail.

Low residency programs are a growing trend among many college campuses such as University of New Orleans, Vermont College, Seton Hill University, Rockport College, Spalding University, University of California, Los Angeles, etc. They allow students to attend a brief series of seminars and meetings with faculty on campus for anywhere from a few days to a week, then release them to complete the majority of their course work in a distance learning format. is the place to go to learn about adult education, to plan a transfer to a four-year college, to find the distance learning program that is right for you, or to learn about educational benefits for soldiers and veterans. Online classes, continuing education, finding a school, transferring schools, getting a certificate or degree-we can help you create a plan for any of your higher education needs.

A Final Note

Be as careful as possible to keep your focus on your long-term goal. Invest the research time to make sure the program you've chosen will help even if it means you attend the campus half an hour away instead of the one only a few miles down the street.

Students With Disabilities Go To College

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires educational institutions at all levels, public and private, to provide equal access to programs, services, and facilities. Schools must be accessible to students, as well as to employees and the public, regardless of any disability. To ensure such accessibility, they must follow specific requirements for new construction, alterations or renovations, academic programs, and institutional policies, practices, and procedures. Students with specific disabilities have the right to request and expect accommodations, including auxiliary aids and services that enable them to participate in and benefit from all programs and activities offered by or related to a school.

To comply with ADA requirements, many high schools and universities offer programs and information to answer questions for students with disabilities and to assist them both in selecting appropriate colleges and in attaining full inclusion once they enter college. And most colleges and universities have disabilities services offices to help students negotiate the system. When it comes time to apply to colleges, write to the ones that you're interested in to find out what kinds of programs they have in place. When it comes time to narrow down your choices, make a request for a visit.

What Is Considered a Disability?

A person is considered to have a disability if he or she meets at least one of three conditions. The individual must:

1.have a documented physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as personal self-care, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, or performing manual tasks;
2.have a record of such an impairment; or perceived as having such an impairment

Physical disabilities include impairments of speech, vision, hearing and mobility. Other disabilities, while less obvious, are similarly limiting; they include diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities refer to an array of biological conditions that impede a person's ability to process and disseminate information. A learning disability is commonly recognized as a significant deficiency in one or more of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or problem solving. Individuals with learning disabilities also may have difficulty with sustained attention, time management, or social skills.

If you have a disability, you will take the same steps to choose and apply to a college as other students, but you should also evaluate each college based on your special need(s). Get organized, and meet with campus specialists to discuss your specific requirements. Then, explore whether the programs, policies, procedures, and facilities meet your specific situation.

It is usually best to describe your disability in a letter attached to the application so the proper fit can be made between you and the school. You will probably need to have your psychoeducational evaluation and testing record sent to the school. Some colleges help with schedules and offer transition courses, reduced course loads, extra access to professors, and special study areas to help address your needs.

Remember, admission to college is a realistic goal for any motivated student. If you invest the time and effort, you can make it happen.

Applying 101

The words "applying yourself" have several important meanings in the college application process. One meaning refers to the fact that you need to keep focused during this important time in your life, keep your priorities straight, and know the dates that your applications are due so you can apply on time. The phrase might also refer to the person who is really responsible for your application-you. You are the only person who should compile your college application. You need to take ownership of this process. The intervention of others should be for advisement only. The guidance counselor is not responsible for completing your applications, and your parents shouldn't be typing them. College applications must be completed in addition to your normal workload at school, college visits, and SAT, ACT Assessment, or possibly, TOEFL testing.
Standardized Tests In all likelihood, you will take the SAT I, the ACT Assessment, or both tests sometime during your junior year of high school and, perhaps, again in your senior year if you are trying to improve your scores.If your native language is not English, you may also have to take the TOEFL test.
The Application The application is your way of introducing yourself to a college admissions office. As with any introduction, you should try to make a good first impression. The first thing you should do in presenting your application is to find out what the college or university needs from you. Read the application carefully to find out the application fee and deadline, required standardized tests, number of essays, interview requirements, and anything else you can do or submit to help improve your chances for acceptance. Completing college applications yourself helps you learn more about the schools to which you are applying. The information a college asks for in its application can tell you much about the school. State university applications often tell you how they are going to view their applicants. Usually, they select students based on GPAs and test scores. Colleges that request an interview, ask you to respond to a few open-ended questions, or require an essay are interested in a more personal approach to the application process and may be looking for different types of students than those sought by a state school. In addition to submitting the actual application, there are several other items that are commonly required. You will be responsible for ensuring that your standardized test scores and your high school transcript arrive at the colleges to which you apply. Most colleges will ask that you submit teacher recommendations as well. Select teachers who know you and your abilities well and allow them plenty of time to complete the recommendations. When all portions of the application have been completed and sent in, whether electronically or by mail, make sure you follow up with the college to ensure their receipt.
The Application Essay Some colleges may request one essay or a combination of essays and short-answer topics to learn more about who you are and how well you can communicate your thoughts. Common essay topics cover such simple themes as writing about yourself and your experiences or why you want to attend that particular school. Other colleges will ask that you show your imaginative or creative side by writing about a favorite author, for instance, or commenting on a hypothetical situation. In such cases, they will be looking at your thought processes and your level of creativity. Whereas the other portions of your application-your transcript, test scores, and involvement in extracurricular activities-are a reflection of what you've accomplished up to this point, your application essay is an opportunity to present yourself in the here and now. The essay shows your originality and verbal skills and is very important. Test scores and grades may represent your academic results, but your essay shows how you approach a topic or problem and express your opinion. Admissions officers, particularly those at small or midsize colleges, use the essay to determine how you, as a student, will fit into life at that college. The essay, therefore, is a critical component of the application process. Here are some tips for writing a winning essay:

Colleges are looking for an honest representation of who you are and what you think. Make sure that the tone of the essay reflects enthusiasm, maturity, creativity, the ability to communicate, talent, and your leadership skills.

Be sure you set aside enough time to write the essay, revise it, and revise it again. Running the "spell check" feature on your computer will only detect a fraction of the errors you probably made on your first pass at writing it. Take a break and then come back to it and reread it. You will probably notice other style, content, and grammar problems-and ways that you can improve the essay overall.

Always answer the question that is being asked, making sure that you are specific, clear, and true to your personality.

Enlist the help of reviewers who know you well- friends, parents, teachers-since they are likely to be the most honest and will keep you on track in the presentation of your true self.
Follow These Tips When Filling Out Your Application:

Follow the directions to the letter. You don't want to be in a position to ask an admissions officer for exceptions due to your inattentiveness.

Make a photocopy of the application and work through a rough draft before you actually fill out the application copy to be submitted.

Proofread all parts of your application, including your essay. Again, the final product indicates to the admissions staff how meticulous and careful you are in your work.

Submit your application as early as possible, provided all of the pieces are available. If there is a problem with your application, this will allow you to work through it with the admissions staff in plenty of time. If you wait until the last minute, it not only takes away that cushion but also reflects poorly on your sense of priorities.

The Personal Interview Although it is relatively rare that a personal interview is required, many colleges recommend that you take this opportunity for a face-to-face discussion with a member of the admissions staff. Read through the application materials to determine whether or not a college places great emphasis on the interview. If they strongly recommend that you have one, it may work against you to forego it. In contrast to a group interview and some alumni interviews, which are intended to provide information about a college, the personal interview is viewed both as an information session and as further evaluation of your skills and strengths. You will meet with a member of the admissions staff who will be assessing your personal qualities, high school preparation, and your capacity to contribute to undergraduate life at the institution. On average, these meetings last about 45 minutes-a relatively short amount of time in which together information and leave the desired impression-so here are some suggestions on how to make the most of it.

Scheduling Your Visit. Generally, students choose to visit campuses in the summer or fall of their senior year. Both times have their advantages. A summer visit, when the campus is not in session, generally allows for a less hectic visit and interview. Visiting in the fall, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to see what campus life is like in full swing. If you choose the fall, consider arranging an overnight trip so that you can stay in one of the college dormitories. At the very least, you should make your way around campus to take part in classes, athletic events, and social activities. Always make an appointment and avoid scheduling more than two college interviews on any given day. Multiple interviews in a single day hinder your chances of making a good impression, and your impressions of the colleges will blur into each other as you hurriedly make your way from place to place.

Preparation. Know the basics about the college before going for your interview. Read the college view book or catalog in addition to this guide. You will be better prepared to ask questions that are not answered in the literature and that will give you a better understanding of what the college has to offer. You should also spend some time thinking about your strengths and weaknesses and, in particular, what you are looking for in a college education. You will find that as you get a few interviews under your belt, they will get easier. You might consider starting with a college that is not a top contender on your list, where the stakes are not as high.

Asking Questions. Inevitably, your interviewer will ask you, "Do you have any questions?" Not having one may suggest that you're unprepared or, even worse, not interested. When you do ask questions, make sure that they are ones that matter to you and that have a bearing on your decision about whether or not to attend. The questions that you ask will give the interviewer some insight into your personality and priorities. Avoid asking questions that are answered in the college literature-again, a sign of unpreparedness. Although the interviewer will undoubtedly pose questions to you, the interview should not be viewed merely as a question-and-answer session. If a conversation evolves out of a particular question, so much the better. Your interviewer can learn a great deal about you from how you sustain a conversation. Similarly, you will be able to learn a great deal about the college in a conversational format.

Separate the Interview from the Interviewer. Many students base their feelings about a college solely on their impressions of the interviewer. Try not to characterize a college based only on your personal reaction, however, since your impressions can be skewed by whether you and your interviewer hit it off. Pay lots of attention to everything else that you see, hear, and learn about a college. Once on campus, you may never see your interviewer again. In the end, remember to relax and be yourself. Don't drink jitters-producing caffeinated beverages prior to the interview, and suppress nervous fidgets like leg-wagging, finger-drumming, or bracelet-jangling. Your interviewer will expect you to be somewhat nervous, which will relieve some of the pressure. Consider this an opportunity to put forth your best effort and to enhance everything that the college knows about you up to this point.

The Final Decision Once you have received your acceptance letters, it is time to go back and look at the whole picture. Provided you received more than one acceptance, you are now in a position to compare your options. The best way to do this is to compare your original list of important college ranking criteria with what you've discovered about each college along the way. In addition, you and your family will need to factor in the financial aid component. You will need to look beyond these cost issues and the quantifiable pros and cons of each college, however, and know that you have a good feeling about your final choice. Before sending off your acceptance letter, you need to feel confident that the college will feel like home for the next four years. Once the choice is made, the only hard part will be waiting for an entire summer before heading off to college!

Prepare Your Resume

A student resume can help your guidance counselors and teachers.

GPA (Grade Point Average)

The Honors Courses I Have Taken:








The AP Courses I Have Taken:







Standardized Test Scores:


1st SAT I

2nd SAT I

ACT Assessment

SAT II Subject Tests:

Test 1

Test 2

Test 3




Special Talents:

I have received the following academic awards:

I have performed in these various theatrical productions:

I am lettered in the following sports:

I have played on the following traveling teams:

I am a member of the following musical groups:

Extracurricular Activities:

I participated on a regular basis in the following extracurricular activities:

I have held the following offices:

I have established the following extracurricular organizations:

I have held the following after-school and summer jobs:


I plan to major in the following area in college:

College Admissions

Countdown Calendar
This practical month-by-month calendar is designed to help you stay on top of the process of applying to college. For most students, the process begins in September of the junior year of high school and ends in June of the senior year. You may want to begin considering financial aid options, reviewing your academic schedule, and attending college fairs before your junior year.

Junior Year:

Check with your counselor to make sure your course credits will meet college requirements. Be sure you are involved in one or two extracurricular activities. Begin building your personal list of colleges with our School Search.

Register for and take the PSAT.

Strive to get the best grades you can. A serious effort will provide you with the most options during the application process


Get involved in a community service activity.

Begin to read newspapers and a weekly news magazine.

Buy SAT Success, ACT Assessment Success, or TOEFL CBT Success and begin to study for the tests.


With your school counselor, decide when to take the ACT Assessment, SAT I, and SAT II Subject Tests (and which Subject Tests to take). If English is not your primary language and you are planning on attending a college in North America, decide when to take the TOEFL test.

Keep your grades up!

February Plan a challenging schedule of classes for your senior year.
Think about which teachers you will ask to write recommendations.
Check for schedules and locations of college fairs.

Register for the tests you will take this spring (ACT Assessment, SAT I, SAT II, and the TOEFL test). Meet with your school counselor to discuss college choices.

Review your transcript and test scores with your counselor to determine how competitive your range of choices should be.

Develop a preliminary list of 15 to 20 colleges and universities and search for information on them.
Start scheduling campus visits. When school is in session (but never during final exams) is the best time. Summers are OK, but will not show you what the college is really like. If possible, save your top college choices for the fall. Be aware, however, that fall is the busiest visit season, and you will need advance planning. Don't forget to write thank-you letters to your interviewers.

Take any standardized tests for which you have registered.

Create a list of your potential college choices and begin to record personal and academic information that can later be transferred to your college applications.

Plan college visits and make appointments.

Structure your summer plans to include advanced academic work, travel, volunteer work, or a job. Confirm your academic schedule for the fall.

Begin working on your application essays.

Write to any colleges on your list that do not accept the Common Application to request application forms.

Senior Year

Register for the ACT Assessment, SAT I, SAT II, and TOEFL test, as necessary. Check with your school counselor for the fall visiting schedule of college reps.

Ask appropriate teachers if they would write recommendations for you (don't forget to write thank-you letters when they accept).

Meet with your counselor to compile your final list of colleges.


Mail or send early applications electronically after carefully checking them to be sure they are neat and completely filled out.

Photocopy or print extra copies of your applications to use as a backup.

Take the tests for which you have registered.

Don't be late! Keep track of all deadlines for transcripts, recommendations, etc.

Be sure that you have requested that your ACT Assessment and SAT scores be sent to your colleges of choice. Complete and submit all applications.

Print or photocopy an extra copy for your records.

Take any necessary ACT Assessment, SAT I, SAT II, or TOEFL tests.

Meet with your counselor to verify that all is in order and that transcripts are out to colleges.


Prepare the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available at or through your school counseling office. An estimated income tax statement (which can be corrected later) can be used. The sooner you apply for financial aid, the better your chances.


Send in your FAFSA via the Web or U.S. mail. Be sure your midyear report has gone out to the colleges to which you've applied.

Let your colleges know of any new honors or accomplishments that were not in your original application.

March Register for any Advanced Placement (AP) tests you might take. Be sure you have received a FAFSA acknowledgment. April
Review the acceptances and financial aid offers you receive. Go back to visit one or two of your top-choice colleges.

Notify your college of choice that you have accepted its offer (and send in a deposit by May 1).
Notify the colleges you have chosen not to attend of your decision.

Take AP tests.


Graduate! Congratulations and best of luck.

Alphabet Soup

It's May, the weather is starting to heat up, and so is the college pressure. You are a junior, it is the weekend before the SAT, and you have finally gotten around to studying. On your bed is a pile of paperback review books, your computer screen glows bright with the words SAT Practice, and you have just found the crumpled sample test booklet your guidance counselor gave you in January. So what if it is stained with chocolate from being stuffed in your backpack for five months. You can still make out most of the words! Sweat pours down your forehead and your heart pounds because you have heard that this test will determine whether you find the doors to college open or closed. Why didn't you look at this stuff before now? Your father has been hounding you about it for months! Suddenly, the alarm clock rings, and you breathe a deep sigh of relief. Like Scrooge awakening from a long night, it's just a bad dream. It's really only January.

This is a wake-up call for all of you out there who want college in your future. Begin early to familiarize yourself with the SAT and the other tests you will be taking. Every year, millions of high school students are tested. The College Board and American College Testing, Inc., the masterminds behind the SAT and ACT exams, administer more than 7 million exams annually. These are not the first tests you have taken, and they will not be the last. You have had pop quizzes, classroom tests, unit exams, midterms, and finals. Chances are, you have also taken some form of standardized test administered by your state or school district. Tests are part of your life and will be throughout your educational experience.

A word about taking tests seems in order. All these tests have already given you an idea of the type of test taker you are. Some students take tests in stride: ''Okay, another test. Let me write it down on my calendar next to the other three that day.'' Other students become anxious and worry that they will not do well, thus making it difficult to do well. News flash-not everyone who gets A's on tests is brilliant. A large part of how well one does is based on attitude, but most of what makes the difference is strategy. Many learning centers will tell you, "It's not just how smart you are; it's how smart you take the test."

The PSAT, SAT I, and ACT

The major standardized tests students take in high school are the PSAT, SAT I, and ACT. Colleges across the country use them to get a sense of a student's readiness to enter their ivy-covered halls. These tests or boards as they are sometimes called, have become notorious because of how important they can be. There is a mystique that surrounds them. People talk about the magic number that will get you into the school of your dreams.

Beware! There is a lot of misinformation out there. First and foremost, these are not intelligence tests; they are reasoning tests, designed to evaluate the way you think. These tests assess the basic knowledge and skills you have gained through your classes in school, and they also gauge the knowledge you have gained through outside experiences. The material on these tests is not curriculum-based, but the tests do emphasize those academic experiences that educational institutions feel are good indicators of your probable success in college. There are many fees and deadlines associated with testing. Application fees, late fees, score report fees, rushed score fees, withholding fees, removal fees, duplicate fees-the list goes on and on. This is another instance when it is crucial that you spend time with your counselor to learn how the testing system works. To keep the fees from mounting up, watch your deadlines and plan when and where you want your scores sent. Your guidance department will have the criteria and necessary forms.

Test Scores and College Admissions

How does standardized testing fit into the college entrance equation? Your grades and the level of the courses you take will carry the most weight in the college selection process. If you have not selected a college-preparatory course load and kept up with your grades, good SAT scores are not going to save you at the last minute. On the contrary, putting all your eggs in one basket is a bad idea. Standardized test scores should be a reflection of your cumulative knowledge and academic performance in school. When colleges and universities see scores that are way out of proportion to a student's GPA and the quality of the courses taken, a red flag goes up. (Remember: red flags!) Admissions committees start asking questions like: What was this student doing throughout high school? Was this student choosing not to challenge herself? Are these scores valid or a fluke? Will this student know how to use the opportunities we have available and be successful here?

There needs to be a correlation between what admissions counselors see on your transcript and the scores you earn on standardized tests. These scores will be viewed with the other parts of your application, probably second or third in order of priority. Recently, standardized testing has received less emphasis, especially among highly competitive liberal arts colleges. Even if you are planning to apply to a college that does not require SAT I or ACT scores, it would be prudent for you to have them in your records for the future. You might enter a college that does not require these scores, only to decide halfway through sophomore year that you want to transfer to another school. At that point, are you going to want to sit through a standardized test? Having the test scores will allow you more freedom of movement.

A Few More Words About the SAT

Because the SAT I figures so large in your college selection process, I want to say a few words specifically about the SAT process. First, know your test-taking calendar in advance. Registration for the test is about six weeks before the test date. Don't register late, because late fees can add up. Before you start to fill out the test application, find out where you want to take the test and the codes for the test center and for your school. You can sign up online for the SAT I (and all the College Board tests) at or by phone. Check your application booklet for the correct toll-free telephone number. You will need a credit card to use either method.

Watch your test-taking timetable carefully and revamp it if things change for you. For example, if you take your first SATI and get a 1520, you probably don't need to take the test again. The same is true of your SATII Subject Tests scores and schedule. Your counselor will get a copy of your test results. Discuss with him or her how your test results compare with the range of scores for college entry for previous students from your high school. Your school has a track record of entry statistics with colleges, and your guidance department can make this information available to you. Knowing where you stand in the range can help you decide whether you need to take the test again.

If you feel you have bombed a test, it is possible to cancel your scores within 24 hours by calling the College Board. Be careful about doing this, however. I can't tell you how many times I have had students in my office upset because they were sure they had blown a test only to find out the next day that they had gotten a 90. In your anxiety, you may not be reading your performance correctly.

Remember that SAT score reports are cumulative, meaning that the College Board establishes a history for you of all the SATI tests you take. When you request a score report be sent to colleges, the score for every test you have taken will appear on it. Think carefully about the implications.

When you take the test, be prepared. This score will be seen by your colleges of choice
. Do not sit for an official test for practice. There are other ways to practice.
With multiple test scores, colleges will give you the benefit of the doubt in most cases. If you take two SAT I tests and the first test has a higher math score than the second one, colleges will split the scores from both tests, giving you the higher math and verbal SAT scores in your application records with them. However, if you take the SAT three or four times and have not prepared evenly for each testing situation, your scores will reflect this. This will present a roller-coaster effect to the colleges. Because they cannot get a clear picture of what your real performance is, they will find the average of all of your scores. This will work against you.

A Few More Words About the ACT

Because more than 1 million students now take the ACT each year, I want to provide some additional specific information about that test, too. Like those of you taking the SAT I, know the dates for the administration of the ACT. Registration is five to six weeks before the test date. There is a late fee and a standby fee, so don't procrastinate about registering. You can sign up online at or by phone. You will need either a Visa® or MasterCard® for both online and phone registration.

It is possible to cancel your score by calling ACT by noon on the Thursday following the test. Check the registration booklet for the correct number. But before you cancel, think twice. Did you really do that badly or do you just think you did? There is really nothing to lose by having the test scored. You control the release of your test scores. ACT will send only those score results you tell it to. If you have taken the test more than once, ACT, unlike the SAT, does not automatically report past test results to your list of schools. In other words, if your score is higher for the ACT you took in April of your junior year than for the test you took in October of your senior year, you can have just the April test score sent. If you like all your scores, you can also instruct ACT to send all your scores, past and current.

Is there any advantage to taking the ACT more than once? The ACT folks will tell you that if you had trouble understanding the directions, felt ill during the test, really think that the test scores do not reflect your abilities, or have taken additional course work or a review course, you should think about taking the test again. ACT publishes statistics that show that of students who take the test as juniors and retook it as seniors, 55 percent increased their composite score, 22 percent had no change in the composite score, and 23 percent decreased their composite score. The average ACT score in a recent year was 21 out of a possible 36.

A Word About Coaching

Coaching is a huge issue in standardized testing today, and the pros and cons are still being debated. In many affluent communities, the perceived need for coaching is part of the culture. In other areas, test-prep courses are seen as an unnecessary extra. The short answer is that there are some students who take professional review courses and see a dramatic increase in their scores, while there are others who take the courses and see little change. Two things tend to hold true: a set schedule of self-review and a longer review program seem to produce the greatest gains.

What should you do? First, think about how you can best spend your time and energy. How will you balance reviewing for the test with your academics and present schedule of extracurricular activities? Are you the kind of person who needs to sit in a regularly scheduled class to fully benefit from learning? Is enrolling in a course where you need to commit 6 to 8 hours for eight weeks a good use of your time? These courses review the entire test. What if you only need to spend time on strategies or maybe only the verbal section? The extra time commitment may interfere with your ability to keep up your grades. Remember: grades are your number one priority!

Perhaps study guides, online sites, and CD-ROM programs, where you can dictate your own time and sections for review, will better meet your needs. There are also private tutors available at $60 to $75 an hour to meet with you around your schedule. They will hone in on your specific needs. Every student is different, and there are many options available for test prep. Talk to your counselor about a test study schedule, the best study guides, and whether enrolling in a review course might work for you.


Why Take the Test?

The Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is an early practice test for the SAT I. More than 2 million students take the PSAT each year. The types of questions that appear on this test are identical to the ones you will see on the SAT I. The format of the two tests is also the same. The test is given in October, and you will have your results by December, which allows you plenty of time to set up a study schedule for taking the SAT I in May or June. In 1998, for those who had taken the PSAT/ NMSQT, the mean SAT I score was 129 points higher than those who had not taken the earlier test.

The PSAT reports what are called silent scores. Only you and your guidance counselor see your scores. They are not reported to colleges. This allows you to practice without penalty in a timed setting similar to the testing circumstances you will find for the SAT I. The test results, which are provided in a detailed, easy-to-read form, are an excellent tool to help you determine those areas where you need extra help and study.

Depending on your score on the PSAT, you may be able to enter the national scholarship competition run by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Finally, the PSAT provides schools with the information that you are interested in attending college, which means that colleges and universities will put you on their mailing lists. What to Bring

PSAT entry card or your name on the guidance list for entry.
Several sharpened #2 pencils.
Identification, preferably with a picture, such as a driver's license or school ID. You could also bring a copy of your transcript or a note from the guidance department on school letterhead attesting to your identity. ID will be checked at the test!

Calculator. Any four-function scientific or graphing calculator will do. Do not bring a calculator with the memory the size of a computer or one with a noisy typewriter-like keyboard. Do not bring a laptop, an electronic writing pad, or a pocket organizer. If you bring a calculator with a display screen so big that it can be seen by others, the test supervisor may decide not to seat you. Also, your calculator cannot speak to you, have paper tape, or require an electrical outlet.

Leave the following at home: loud watches, CD players, tape recorders, cell phones, pagers, and school supplies. You will not need scratch paper, notes, books, dictionaries, compasses, protractors, rulers, highlighters, or colored pens or pencils. You might want to bring some fruit juice, tea, or water and a healthy snack for the breaks.


Traditionally, students have taken the PSAT in October of their junior year so that they can use the score for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The NMSQT compares the scores of juniors across the country. Above a certain cutoff, students are able to enter the competition for National Merit scholarships.

In recent years, it has become more common for students to take the PSAT in October of their sophomore year. About 33 percent of test takers choose this route. Taking the PSAT this early allows students and counselors more time to plan schedules to meet students' academic needs and better prepare them for their career choices. However, taking the test in October of your sophomore year does not enter you into the National Merit Scholarship competition.

Know the format and timing of the test. The best way to do this is to practice, practice, and then practice some more. Purchase review books and take the practice tests in them and in the Student Bulletin. Make a schedule and set aside a regular time to practice. Isolate yourself and try to simulate a testing environment when you practice.

Know the directions for each section and type of question. The directions are the same on the PSAT as they are on the SAT I. It will save you time during the real test if you do not have to read the directions.

Learn how to make educated guesses. All but ten questions on the PSAT are multiple-choice. You need to be able to eliminate at least one answer as wrong, however, before making your best guess.

Build a vocabulary bank. Read, read, and read some more. No amount of drills, flash cards, or memorizing words out of context is going to help you own these words. Pick up a Sunday newspaper and read the editorial section every week. Read it with a dictionary next to you. Then do the crossword. These two activities alone will grow your vocabulary about 800 words a year.


Why Take the Test?

The majority of colleges and universities across the country require either the SAT or ACT. In scheduling the date to take the test, be aware that scoring the test can take six to eight weeks. The SAT must be completed and scored and a test report from the College Board sent to the colleges of your choice prior to their application deadlines. Sending test reports to schools not on your original SAT application will cost you $6.50 each.

Most juniors take the test at least once. Fifty percent take it twice, which allows for at least one chance to show improvement.

What to Bring?

See the PSAT for dos and don'ts.


The SAT I and SAT II Subject Tests are given on the same test dates-the first Saturday of each month from October through June. You can use a test date for either the SAT I or SAT II, but not for both.

Most juniors take the test in May or June. This works well because, for the most part, they have completed their course of study for eleventh grade. They can use this knowledge for the test, and it also gives them time to review their PSAT results. The tests are scheduled before final exams, which leaves time to study for both. Take either a May or June test; do not sign up for both. The results of the May test will not be returned to you before you sit for the June exam. You need time to see how you scored on the first test so that you can establish a study schedule to address weak areas and raise your next scores.

No one timetable, however, fits all needs. For example, some juniors might be applying to colleges that require three SAT II Subject Tests. Or they might be taking AP courses as juniors and want to take the AP exams in May. If you are facing decisions like these, you might consider other timing options for the SAT I. Talk to your counselor. You may be ready to take your SAT I earlier in order to leave time for the AP or SAT II exams. Strategies

Know that the detailed personal profile questions in the center of the SAT I application form are optional. The statement of intent is the only area that must be copied and signed in the center. However, the information that you provide on the personal profile will enable colleges to identify your interests. If there is a match, you will receive material from them to help you with your college selection process.

Know that test questions of the same type are grouped together and range from less to more difficult, except for the critical reading section. Start with the easy questions and do not linger over any one question too long. Know that the test is scored differently. Each correct answer is worth one point, and a portion of a point is deducted for incorrect answers except in the grid-in portion of the math test. No points are lost for omitting a question.

Understand that you are not expected to know everything on the test. If you answer half the questions correctly and omit the rest, you can still get an average score.

Grid in carefully and use the correct answer sheets for the right sections. Erase completely and follow the directions for gridding the student-response questions.

Remember that the directions and question types are the same as the PSAT. You are already familiar with them. Each minute you save by not reading the directions is a minute more you can spend taking the test.

Why Take the Test?
There was a time when the ACT was offered as an alternative to the SAT, but more and more it is being used by students in certain parts of the country as their primary-and sometimes only-college entry test. In twenty-five states, more than 50 percent of the students take the ACT as compared to nineteen states for the SAT. This is the result of greater acceptance on the part of admissions offices of the ACT as a predictor of success at their colleges and universities. All the Ivy League institutions accept the ACT.

The ACT, unlike the SAT I, is curriculum-based. It tries to measure what students have learned in their classes, and, by measuring this knowledge base, it tries to predict their success in college. Since knowledge is cumulative, the test is targeted to juniors in high school. Because the ACT is comprised of subject tests, those colleges that require SAT II Subject Tests will often take the scores on the ACT exams in lieu of the SAT II tests.

For students for whom English is their second language, the fact that the ACT is comprehension-based will sometimes offer them a better chance at achieving a high score. For students who are planning to enter a junior college, the ACT is an excellent test to take. It may be used by the colleges for placement into appropriate course levels. If you are interested in a junior college, be sure and check if it is used. The ACT has added an interest inventory section in which students respond to a series of questions about their interests. Along with their test scores, students receive a graphic and descriptive section about particular careers to explore.

What to Bring

See the PSAT for dos and don'ts.


A September testing date is available in some states. This date is not used by the SAT program, so it allows students to focus their attention on this test only. Otherwise, with the exception of no February test date in New York, the test is given five times a year from September until May. Some students will take the test in June of their junior year. If you are using the test for placement purposes or taking the test to have ''one in the bank,'' meaning you are applying to colleges that do not require either the ACT or SAT or are not planning to enter college right after graduation, register for the test in December of your senior year. If you later change your mind about going on to college and find that a standardized test is required, you will have one.

Look at both the SAT I and ACT and the requirements of your colleges to determine which one you should choose.
Review before you take the ACT. Because the test is content oriented recent, participation in the subject and/or thorough review of materials will increase your score.
Know the test format. This test is very different from the SAT, so you will need to become familiar with the ACT's approach and format. For one thing, the ACT does not penalize you for guessing.
Know how the ACT reports scores. ACT scores are reported differently than SAT scores. If you take the test more than once, you may choose which score you want sent to schools. This is different from the SAT, where each time you take the test your score is placed on your score report in a cumulative fashion. ACT will only release those scores that you specifically request. You can probably figure out the strategy here. There is an intricate balance between trying to put your best foot forward and integrity. Many colleges are beginning to request that all scores be reported to them, or they may ask a question on their application addressing this point. If you are asked directly, respond honestly. Approaching this process with integrity is always the best way to enter a college that will be a good match for you.

Why Take the Test?
The SAT II Subject Tests (formerly known as the Achievement Tests) measure a range of knowledge in a broad variety of subject areas and the ability to apply that knowledge. The subject tests are used for two purposes. Some colleges and universities use them to determine whether a student meets their standards for admission, and scores may also be used to determine placement in college courses for entering freshmen.

What to Bring
See the PSAT for dos and don'ts.

Given throughout the school year starting in October, SAT II Subject Tests coincide with SAT I dates, but not all SAT II tests are given on each date. You may register for as many as three SAT II tests on each date.

If the SAT II Subject Tests are to be used for placement purposes, students may elect to take the SAT II Subject Tests in the spring of their senior year, as long as they can stay motivated to do well. If using the tests for entry purposes, students have several options. Juniors might take the SAT II: Writing Test and one other SAT II test in April. They might then repeat the Writing Test in June and take one or two additional SAT II tests. In October and November of senior year, students might take additional SAT II tests or repeat earlier ones to raise their scores. Most students take the Writing Test more than once because there is a component of this exam that is graded subjectively. It is an important test and the one most requested by colleges.

Scoring may require anywhere from six to eight weeks. Consider this when you are calculating your admission deadlines. Your testing should be completed a minimum of nine weeks prior to your deadline. It is sometimes possible to submit a note to the admissions committee to say that you are having scores of a recent testing rushed to the school and to request that it holds its consideration of your application until this last piece arrives. Strategies

Schedule a test as close to completing a course in that subject as possible. If you are presently earning a strong A in a regular course or a B in an honors-level course, consider taking a test in that subject.

Review the content for each test. There is a definite advantage in setting up a study schedule and refreshing your knowledge of the information.

Limit to two the number of tests that you take on any test date. Although you may sign up to take as many as three tests in one sitting, you will need to devote ample time for study in each subject area to ensure that you have covered the materials on the test.

Know that you may change your mind on the day of the test about the number of tests you want to take. If you signed up for three tests and decide at the test center to take only two, you need only to notify the test administrator at the site. There will be no refund.

Know that you can also change your mind on the day of the test about which tests you are going to take. Test centers are given extra exams for this reason.

Know that for the listening tests, students may be required to bring their own cassette players that comply with testing requirements, or cassette players may be supplied by the test center. Check the requirements ahead of time.

Make sure you know which test schools require as you make your final college list.
Know that Score Choice is available for SAT II Subject Tests only. Score Choice allows you to sign up on your application or make the request at the test center to have your scores withheld until you release them. Colleges that require SAT II scores for admission usually request three tests. By implementing Score Choice you can take several different tests or repeat the same test more than once without having any scores reported to the colleges. After receiving your test results, you choose which test(s) on which date(s) you want released to your colleges. You can use several methods to send reports: go on line, call, use Score Sender, or fill in the school codes on the Additional Report Request Form that is mailed back to you with your entry slip. You will be charged a fee for each college if you use Score Choice unless you are sending these scores as part of other SAT test reports.

Use SAT II Subject Tests to highlight your strengths. Supplement your application with the SAT II Subject Tests in those subjects in which you are not taking an AP-level course. Whenever possible, test in your junior year because it is that transcript and test scores that will be reviewed by colleges for entry.

Why Take the Test?
Advanced Placement courses are an excellent opportunity to build your academic skills and knowledge base for success in college. The rigorous curriculum in each subject area mimics the academic demands of college-level work. AP scores are easily interpreted by colleges and universities because they provide comparability among differing curricula in the same subject area across the nation.

AP scores are applied by colleges in different ways. Some schools will grant credit for AP courses if you receive a 4 or 5 on your exam. Often, these scores are used to determine placement in college-level courses for incoming freshmen. The test reports are not meant to influence college admissions decisions, only placement.

The extra credit achieved by applying your AP credits to your required core college courses can make a lighter freshman course load. You could also use the credits to get into advanced-level courses in those subjects and, therefore, concentrate your studies in the areas you find exciting and interesting. Explore the possibility of obtaining a double major or use the credits to accelerate your college graduation. However you apply your AP credits, they are a good investment to hold on to for security.

What to Bring
See the PSAT for dos and don'ts.

AP tests are administered beginning in early May, in morning and afternoon sessions. Students usually take the tests in their junior and senior years as they complete their courses in the subject matter. You may run into a situation where you might be testing in two subjects in the same time period. Notify your test administrator, and arrangements will be made for you to take both tests on the same test date. You sign up for your AP test in the guidance office, and more than likely the tests will be given in your own school.


Check with your high school administration for the school's policies describing the criteria for placement in AP courses, and then talk with your teachers and your counselor for their recommendations. Students are usually enrolled in their junior or senior year as a culminating experience to their high school course work. For instance, a student who has completed four years of Spanish would be enrolled in AP Spanish as a fifth year. There are always exceptions. Students who display a solid foundation and understanding of their subject matter along with good study habits can have excellent success in AP courses in the lower grades.

Before signing up for an AP course, consider the balance between your academics and the other commitments in your life. AP courses place a heavy demand on students to complete homework assignments and prepare adequately for testing. Consider carefully the number of AP-level courses you can realistically fit into your schedule. The thought and dialogue that need to go into the decision should involve your support team, teachers, guidance counselor, and the school administration.

Before signing up for an AP course, find out if the AP test is mandated by your high school as part of the final course grade. Check your colleges' requirements carefully to see if they will accept AP scores posted on your transcript as official. Unless your high school has a policy that automatically reports AP scores on transcripts (and most high schools do), you can choose which colleges will receive your AP scores. You are responsible for generating a score report from the College Board to the college(s) of your choice. But if the colleges accept the scores on the transcript, you can save some money.

Carefully check colleges' policies regarding the number of AP credits they will award as you make your final list of colleges. Each AP score of 4 or 5 will usually be granted 3 credits by most colleges. However, some colleges are writing policies that limit the maximum number of credits granted for AP-level courses to 12.

Don't enroll in an AP course to look good on your transcript and then blow off the test. Colleges like to see that you have challenged yourself by enrolling in AP courses, and they usually weight them in their system. They would rather see a C in an AP-level course than an A in a less challenging one.

Here are some print materials and Web sites that will help you learn more about each of the standardized tests you may need or want to take as part of your college entrance process.

The PSAT/NMSQT Student Bulletin, Taking the SAT I, Taking the SAT II, AP Course Description booklet for each subject area, and Preparing for the ACT Assessment booklet are available from your guidance counselor. These booklets include a complete description of the tests, testing tips, and sample questions with explanations. You will learn more information about their scholarship programs and get mini practice tests for free.

Web Sites offers a full set of sample test questions and answers, strategies, and descriptions of each section on the ACT. You can also register on line for your test dates. ACTive Prep® is the new site for test-prep and college information offered through ACT. Practice on the ACT tests and then use InterACTive University to guide you through a personalized test-preparation program using real ACT questions. offers hints, strategies and practice on line. Download the "Plan for College" and take the PSAT/ NMSQT flyer right off the net. Check out EssayPrep® to practice for the SAT II: Writing Test. Find out about One-on-One with the SAT®, a software program that helps you review for the test. A sample for downloading is available free. You can also register online for all your test dates.

Admission Procedures

Your first task in applying is to get application forms. That's easy. You can get them from your high school's guidance department, at college fairs, or by calling or writing to colleges and requesting applications. The trend, however, is leaning toward online applications, which you can do at the school's Web site. Admission information can also be gathered from college representatives, catalogs, Web sites, and directories; alumni or students attending the college; and campus visits.

Which Admissions Option Is Best for You?

One of the first questions you will be asked on applications for four-year colleges and universities is which admission option you want. What they're talking about is whether you want to apply early action, early decision, deferred admission, etc.

Four-year institutions generally offer the following admissions options:

Early admission: A student of superior ability is admitted into college courses and programs before completing high school.

Early decision: A student declares a first-choice college, requests that the college decide on acceptance early (between November and January), and agrees to enroll if accepted. Students with a strong high school record who are sure they want to attend a certain school should consider early decision admission.

Early action: Similar to early decision, but if a student is accepted, he or she has until the regular admission deadline to decide whether or not to attend.

Early evaluation: A student can apply under early evaluation to find out if the chance of acceptance is good, fair, or poor. Applications are due before the regular admission deadline, and the student is given an opinion between January and March.

Regular admission: This is the most common option offered to students. A deadline is set when all applications must be received, and all notifications are sent out at the same time.

Rolling admission: The college accepts students who meet the academic requirements on a first-come, first-served basis until it fills its freshman class. No strict application deadline is specified. Applications are reviewed and decisions are made immediately (usually within two to three weeks). This method is commonly used at large state universities, so students should apply early for the best chance of acceptance.

Open admission: Virtually all high school graduates are admitted, regardless of academic qualifications.

Deferred admission: An accepted student is allowed to postpone enrollment for a year.
If you're going to a two-year college, these options apply to you. Two-year colleges usually have an "open-door" admission policy, which means that high school graduates may enroll as long as space is available. Sometimes vocational/career colleges are somewhat selective, and competition for admission may be fairly intense for programs that are highly specialized.

More on Early Decision

For good and bad reasons, early decision is a growing trend, so why not just do it? Early decision is an excellent idea that comes with a warning. It's not a good idea unless you have done a thorough college search and know without a shred of doubt that this is the college for you. Don't go for early decision unless you've spent time on the campus, in classes and dorms, and you have a true sense of the academic and social climate of that college.

Early decision can get sticky if you change your mind. Parents of students who have signed agreements and then want to apply elsewhere get angry at high school counselors, saying they've taken away their rights to choose among colleges. They try to force them to send out transcripts even though their children have committed to one college. To guard against this scenario, some colleges ask parents and students to sign a statement signifying their understanding that early decision is a binding plan. Even some high schools now have their own form for students and parents to sign acknowledging that they completely realize the nature of an early decision agreement.

The Financial Reason Against Early Decision

Another common argument against early decision is that if an institution has you locked in, there's no incentive to offer applicants the best financial packages. The consensus seems to be that if you're looking to play the financial game, don't apply for early decision.

However, some folks argue that the best financial aid offers are usually made to attractive applicants. Generally, if a student receives an early decision offer, they fall into that category and so would get the "sweetest" financial aid anyway. That doesn't mean that there aren't colleges out there using financial incentive to get students to enroll. A strong candidate who applies to six or eight schools and gets admitted to them all will look at how much money the colleges throw his or her way before making a decision.

Before You Decide...

If you're thinking about applying for early decision at a college, ask yourself these questions first. You'll be glad you did.
Why am I applying early decision?
Have I thoroughly researched several colleges and know what my options are?
Do I know why I'm going to college and what I want to accomplish there?
Have I visited several schools, spent time in classes, stayed overnight, and talked to professors?
Do the courses that the college offers match my goals?
Am I absolutely convinced that one college clearly stands out above all others?

Admission Procedures

THE GOOD NEWS: Admission decisions aren't made by tossing applications down the stairwell and accepting those students whose folders reach the bottom step. The process is fair and thorough, and admission professionals take this part of their job very seriously.

THE BAD NEWS: So many factors go into these decisions that the results can sometimes seem unpredictable and maybe even off-the-mark.

How are decisions made? Who makes them? What counts and what doesn't? What parents really want to know is, "What looks good on a college application?" The subtext here is, "How can my child get into not just any college, but those popular and picky places where all the applicants seem to be National Merit finalists? What will give my kid a competitive edge?

First, all application materials are collected in a folder. Every scrap of paper which bears your child's name-from supplemental essays to phone message slips and thank you notes-is likely to end up there. Then, each folder is read carefully. (WARNING: Incomplete folders stay on the shelf.)

At small schools, the entire admission staff may evaluate each applicant (and at great length); at larger ones, a single official may be the sole judge (and some prescreening might be done by a computer). At many places, decisions are made by more than one person, including admission officials and often faculty representatives and other administrators. The committee where your child lands may be determined alphabetically, geographically, departmentally (e.g., school of business applicants), or by the date an application is completed. The individual who interviewed your child, visited your local high school, or spoke so reassuringly to you on the phone may-or may not-be Peterson's among the arbiters. Typically, committee members examine each folder independently (and commonly assign it an overall rating) before the committee meets to make decisions.


In evaluating each candidate, the high school transcript is almost always the most important component. (Exception: specialized schools in areas like art, music, and drama look more carefully at portfolios or audition tapes.) Included in nearly every candidate's application folder is a school profile which details the curriculum available at that high school, explains the grading system, and sometimes even lists median grades for each class. Admission officers are skilled at understanding the discrepancies among schools and the ways that grades are awarded, recorded, etc. They know, for example, that at some schools, only those who walk on water will earn "A"s, while at others, anyone who hands in the homework is an honors student. They read between the lines of transcripts and school profiles to ascertain a school's strength. (e.g., What percentage of graduates go on to four year colleges and where? What advanced classes are offered?) They recognize that good students at challenging, competitive high schools (public or private) may have lower grades and class ranks than their counterparts at easier ones (and that some students may not be ranked-or even graded-at all). Admission staff are also seeing a growing number of candidates who have been home-schooled and submit detailed narratives in lieu of transcripts.

What are officials looking for? Parents and students may underestimate the importance of secondary school course choices. Decisions made as early as junior high might have affected what classes a child was eligible to take later on and thus, how a college application will be evaluated, especially by the most selective institutions. Minimum high school graduation requirements vary, but most are less stringent than those expected at the more competitive colleges. Colleges normally have recommended secondary school programs, not imperative ones.

Commonly, high schools grant diplomas to those who have completed a curriculum comparable to this:

English: 4 (full year courses or equivalent)
Social Studies/History: 2
Mathematics: 2
Science: 2 (usually plus physical education, health, and often keyboarding and electives)

While these minimum requirements are sufficient to allow admission to many not-so-selective schools, the more competitive institutions expect a program that looks more like this:

English: 4
Social Studies/History: 3
Mathematics: 3
Science: at least 2, preferably 3
Foreign Language: 3 years of 1 language or at least 2 years of 2

Such suggested preparation will vary from college to college and from school to school within a university. Even different branches within the same university system may have different recommendations.
Predictably, schools with a technology emphasis look more closely at math and science backgrounds. Most entering MIT students have taken calculus before enrolling. If it's not offered at their high schools, they find it elsewhere. Similarly, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, strongly encourages applicants to take physics and chemistry in secondary school, as well as calculus or, at the very least, pre-calculus.
s Here is an example of a strong four year academic program:

English: 4 or more
Social Studies/History: 3 or 4
Mathematics: 4 years through calculus (or at least through pre-calculus)
Science: at least 3 (with 2 or more lab sciences).
Foreign Language: 4 of at least one language

Questions & Answers

Q: My daughter's high school is on a block system. How will college admission officers evaluate her transcript?
A: With so many high schools operating on a block system (where students take fewer, longer classes each term), this is not big news anymore. Admission officials realize that they have to make decisions before they see final grades (or any grades in some cases) in some important senior subjects. However, it's essential that they know which classes are planned. For example, if your daughter submits a first semester transcript that includes English, foreign language, and social studies/history, but expects to start calculus and physics in January, it should be made clear on her application.

Similarly, if your child's school uses a block system, make certain that this is made clear to admission officials so they'll realize that what may look like a single semester of a subject was really the equivalent of a full year course. Admission officers expect to see a minimum of 5 solids or major subjects per term, plus at least one elective or minor subject (e.g., band, art-a "major" in some schools, yearbook, etc.). At schools on block or trimester systems or at some independent schools, fewer solids per term will be the norm. No matter how high your child is aiming, he or she will be well served by pursuing a secondary school program that exceeds the basic requirements.

The most competitive colleges also expect that applicants will select the most challenging courses available. If there is a tracking system at your child's school, where students are grouped by ability, the transcript should indicate if classes have been at the highest level (e.g., Honors, Enriched, Level 1) or at a lower one (Standard, Level 2). While such names vary from school to school, one coast-to-coast constant is the Advanced Placement designation. Schools that list Advanced Placement classes (usually for juniors and seniors, or just for seniors) are participating in a program offered by The College Entrance Examination Board based in Princeton, New Jersey, that enables high school students to take classes which may lead to college credit. Some secondary schools offer Advanced Placement courses in over a dozen subjects; others offer far fewer (or none at all).

International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are increasingly available in secondary schools in the U.S. and abroad. Initially designed for those who might be heading to non-American universities, this system is gaining stateside popularity among high schools interested in providing a widely acclaimed and challenging curriculum for strong students who can also gain college credit through IB participation and testing.

Ordinarily, Advanced Placement and IB classes, if offered, are the top-level courses taught in high schools and are well respected by all college officials. Because of their universal recognition, they jump off a transcript and put a spring in admission counselors' steps.

Questions & Answers

Q: Are "B"s in honors or Advanced Placement classes better than "A"s in less demanding ones?
A: "B"s in first-string classes are more impressive than "A"s in easier ones. Even an occasional "C" won't rule out a career at highly selective college (but tip-top applicants often have all or mostly "A"s in tip-top classes. We're not trying to ruin your day, we just want you to know what your son or daughter may be up against.). Yet, while the most competitive colleges do prefer the most competitive courses, there is room for fluctuation, and a second-level class in one or two weaker areas may work better for your child.

When computing class ranks, most high schools now use a weighted system where extra points are allotted for higher level classes, so the "B+" student in honors courses is likely to be ranked above the straight "A" student in the second tier. Colleges, too, are careful to note those high schools that do not use weighted ranks and take this into consideration when evaluating and comparing candidates. So, if your child attends such a school (and it's a good idea to ask), he won't be penalized for taking a tough load.

Admission professionals know that many high schools don't have Advanced Placement or IB programs and that some don't even have advanced or accelerated classes. Your child will be evaluated in light of what opportunities were available.

Q: My son wants to take part in a dual enrollment program at our local community college. How do admission officers view this?

A: Dual enrollment programs allow students to take some courses on a college campus for credit while they remain enrolled in high school classes. Admission officials are always pleased when students take advantage of challenging opportunities. However, while they will credit your son with making a wise choice, their institution may not necessarily award college credit for his work.

You may have grown up in the sixties, when there weren't as many opportunities to take Advanced Placement or IB classes or to head to a local college for high school credit. But what you might remember from your era is that some schools abandoned courses like Biology II for those with a more "relevant" ring, like The Ecology of the Okefenokee. And while, in some schools, such selections still live on, their jazzy titles may be misleading. A tough and very serious class with a funny name may appear to admission officials to be what some dub "fluffy," "flimsy," or "lightweight. Fear not. Older admission officers understand this and even smile with appreciation or sigh with nostalgia when English turns up on such transcripts as Utopias and Dream Worlds, or science as Were Wilbur and Orville Right?

It may be up to you to point out the difficulties of benign-sounding offerings. Sometimes good guidance counselors will alert colleges to killer classes that masquerade as filler classes, but if Angie's "A" in astrology was her finest hour, let admission officers know-via parent letter or supplementary essay, etc.-just what it took to land it.

More common are cases like Cassandra's. She took a heavy schedule through her junior year and worked hard to knock off graduation requirements in order to "enjoy" her first senior term. She chose long-awaited electives like ceramics and photography in place of math and science. Her top-choice college viewed her transcript with disdain. Many families dwell on the importance of 11th grade without realizing that 12th grade courses are just as crucial.

Although the overall GPA is important, colleges realize that it is calculated on the basis of all four high school years. Class ranks are typically cumulative (based on three- or four year records). Admission officials tend to be believers in what they dub the "rising record," and may be willing to forgive freshman (and even sophomore) foibles when a student has shown impressive improvement as a junior and senior-the two years that get scrutinized most closely. They may be likewise willing to overlook one awful grade (or an entire catastrophic semester) if followed by a strong rebound (and remember, this is also where an explanatory letter or essay can help).

Colleges are also impressed by students who have sought enrichment opportunities outside of their school, both during the academic year or in the summer. Make sure that these are noted on the application.

Questions & Answers

Q: Don't admission officers from highly selective colleges prefer private school applicants?
A: Colleges, even the choosiest ones, do not prefer either private school or public school candidates. Since most students attend public high schools, the vast majority at all colleges are public school graduates. Diversity is now the clarion call, and that means drawing students from all sorts of backgrounds.

Parents sometimes believe that paying for private school is like buying an insurance policy that promises that their child will be admitted to a name college. However, while admission officers recognize that the top independent schools are excellent proving grounds for top colleges, they are also aware that there are some crummy private schools and many outstanding public ones. (Also, there are crummy students at outstanding schools and outstanding students at crummy schools!) Being a preppie can also backfire. Imagine what it's like to be one of 46 in a senior class to apply to Princeton or among 57 to aim for Brown. Of course, if you're at the head of such a list, the odds are with you, but those down the line a bit might have had a better shot from Sheboygan!

Q: My child switched high schools, and the move has meant some transcript irregularities. Will admission officials figure it all out?
A: Be certain that each college will receive a transcript (or several) that covers your child's entire high school career. This may be the perfect time to add an extra statement explaining why moves were made, and what impact they had on course choices. (e.g., "Velma missed biology" or "Louie took math courses out of sequence") Parents who anticipate relocation should look ahead, where possible, and check into curricular differences at the transfer school.

Test Results

Test scores are intentionally listed after transcripts to emphasize that they are less important, but they are also used in conjunction with transcripts. For example, Annie scarcely squeaked by when her first-choice college made its decisions. She had terrific test scores (1,400 SATs) but her record had more than its share of "C"s. Kirsten, on the other hand, would never have been admitted to her favorite college on her sorry scores alone, but admission officials were impressed with her "A" average and interesting choice of activities. In general, admission officials prefer students like Kirsten who have demonstrated their ability to perform well in school.
Additional considerations that admission officers keep in mind when reviewing test scores include:

Is the testing pattern consistent? Did a student clearly have an off day?
Are scores compatible with academic achievement. If not, why not?
Are there strengths in one area (e.g., language, math, etc.) while others are weaker?
Were tests taken under special conditions (e.g., extended time)? Does the student have a diagnosed disability? Does the student come from a disadvantaged background?
Is English spoken at home?

Were SAT II tests taken close to course completion or a year or more later? If language test scores were low, how many years of study has this student had?

Essays/Personal Statements
Remember, a great essay can really make an admission official sit up and take notice. However, subjectivity prevails here. Some readers are biased toward content; some toward writing style and mechanics. One applicant submitted an ambitious essay that compared the works of three Eastern European writers. Two of her evaluators were impressed by her literary sophistication and the insight of her analysis; a third couldn't get beyond the errors in spelling and sentence structure.


Quality and depth vary tremendously. Colleges don't penalize students when the recommendation is not well written or offers only superficial information. However, a clear and comprehensive letter of recommendation can make a difference. Specifics that admission professionals seek from recommendations include:

Comparisons to others in the class; to those whom the teacher or counselor has worked with in past years; or with students who have enrolled at the college in question ("In twenty years of teaching, I have encountered few students as determined as Evan" or "Jamie reminds me of Susannah Leone whose test scores were equally dismal but who went on to graduate with honors from your college.")
Information about grading and/or competition ("Mr. Jones rarely gives above a 'B'" or "This year's Advanced Placement English class was the most able this school has ever seen" or "Julie's 'C+' was the third highest grade in a class of 30.")
Illustrative examples or anecdotes ("Jennifer is the swim team captain and a state record holder in the backstroke. However, her sensitivity is another special strength. She stays late after every practice to help a far weaker swimmer, to keep her from being cut from the team.")
Personal information ("Ian struggled with his mother's drinking and finally caused an 'intervention' which led to her enrollment in a treatment program.")
Other personal traits or study habits (e.g., maturity, response to criticism, acceptance by peers, timely completion of assignments, willingness to go beyond what is expected, participation in class discussions) The law entitles students to see completed recommendations. However, reference forms include a clause that most students sign to waive this right. This enables counselors and teachers to be candid, which is what admission officials prefer. (Recommendations normally do become part of a student's permanent file.)

Extracurricular Activities

THE GOOD NEWS: Colleges aren't terribly picky about how your child spends non-class time, as long as it's doing something meaningful. It isn't necessary to have a long list of activities, either. Commitment, some level of accomplishment, initiative, and leadership are far more important.
THE BAD NEWS: With so many high school students doing so much; with so many programs and organizations, teams and clubs and causes, it's hard to predict what will make a splash anymore. However, some activities do stand out more than others, and proper presentation can help admission officers look more closely at Davina's debate awards or Roger's rock-climbing.
When evaluating an applicant's extras, these are considerations that crop up during committee meetings:

How much time does this student devote to an activity? How significant is the contribution? Admission professionals often favor depth over breadth. Phillip, for instance, attends most weekly chess club meetings. Coral, on the other hand, organized a chess clinic and tournament at a nearby junior high. It was such a success that she ran a second one at a homeless shelter, persuading local merchants to donate prizes.
"Evidence of leadership" is a phrase that comes up often at admission committee meetings, and it can be what separates an accepted student from one who ends up on the wait list. There's a world of difference between the student who joined the Geography Club and the one who founded it. The more selective a college is, the more carefully this leadership role is examined. Some colleges are impressed by French Club presidents and yearbook business managers, while it takes a student council president or editor-in-chief to make a mark at others.
Some balance is best. While there may not be as much talk of "wellroundedness" these days as there was back when Dobie Gillis and Ricky Nelson (and maybe you) went to college, varied ventures appeal to admission officers. The student who participates in the Science Club, the Drama Club, and is also on the tennis team usually stands out more than the one who only chooses athletics as extras. The good, yet not exceptional, player should also have other, different activities on the roster. Similarly, a balance of school related activities (clubs, teams, choirs, etc.) and those which take place elsewhere (volunteering, scouting, church groups, community theater, etc.) suggests that your child's horizons extend beyond the schoolyard.
Volunteerism is very important, and the key here is real hands on involvement. Admission people are usually able to differentiate between the candidate who spends every Saturday tutoring at a storefront literacy center and the classmate who spent an hour on the Students Against Styrofoam Dance Decoration Committee.
Specialists are exceptional. As Lee Coffin, dean of admissions at Connecticut College, points out, "The ideal of the well rounded student is important, but so is the well rounded class. So, within a class of 450 students, we have those who aren't the least bit well rounded but will bring something unique to the community." A few collegiate candidates will up their stock in admission officers' eyes by being extraordinarily talented in some area or with a truly off-the-wall interest or experience.

This may be the prima ballerina who dances six hours a day, pirouetting all the way to Prague with a national company, or the downhill skier, just one run away from a gold medal. Admission annals, too, are filled with stories about adolescent entrepreneurs who started home-baked cookie companies or computer software services and prodigies who published their own novels or built fighter jets in the garage.

Colleges appreciate uncommon undertakings: hand-bell ringers and Morris Dancers, magicians, skydivers, or dog trainers. Says one admission official, "It's exciting to see unusual activities on an application-not always the student council, the newspaper, or the yearbook."

A final note: You recognize how much effort went into planning the Booster Club barbecue; how tough it was to sacrifice a season of soccer for a semester in Sweden; how many lines your son had to learn for King Lear. But admission officers have heard it all before. Be sure that your child presents extracurricular activities and accomplishments well, and differentiates between meaningful and minimal contributions.

Interview evaluations often confirm the impression made by other credentials in a folder. However, as you read earlier, an interview may also help a committee to see another side of a student, to understand why certain choices were made, to appreciate the extent of a commitment. Interview write-ups may even contain comments like "TAKE HER!!!" or "a solid student but I'd hate to have to room with him." In some cases, even a favorably impressed interviewer who isn't on a candidate's committee may go out of the way to lobby those who are for a "yes" verdict.
But remember, sometimes interviews are not weighed heavily in the decision- making process.


A hook, in admission parlance, is any additional advantage that makes a candidate attractive to a particular college. This will vary from school to school and from year to year. Some candidates may try to hide their hooks, preferring to be admitted on only merit (parents tend to discourage this) while others will fight furiously to exploit even the most inconsequential connections. Such hooks may include athletic ability, minority status, veteran status, alumni connections, special talent (e.g., art, music, theater, writing, etc.), underrepresented socioeconomic background (e.g., first-generation college), geography, gender, VIP status, ability to pay full tuition, or miscellaneous institutional needs.

Having a hook can give a candidate a higher rating from the get-go or can pull an application from the deny pile and put it into the admit (or wait list) stack. Hooks come into play most often when judging equally qualified candidates. For example, if a college has to select one of two students who look the same on paper, and one is the daughter of an alumnus and the other is not, the daughter is probably going to get in over the non-connected student.

However, no matter how well connected or how gifted a student is outside of the classroom, if he doesn't have the grades or the ability, he won't-or shouldn't-be admitted. And, if he does get admitted for special reasons, those connections won't guarantee that he will succeed. One college even had to turn down its own president's son!
The hooks below are the ones discussed most often-and most passionately -in admission committee meetings:

Alumni Connections
While you shouldn't assume that your child is a shoo-in just because you went to the target school, you can assume that the folder will be reviewed very carefully and, if denied for any reason, the decision will be painful for the college. Smith, a college with an extensive alumnae admission effort, takes about 70 percent of its alumnae-connected applicants, as compared with only about 50 percent of its regular pool. If there is a particularly well-connected marginal applicant, the folder gets extra special attention.

THE GOOD NEWS: Playing a sport can be an excellent way to give your child a boost at decision-making time. A superstar can earn a full scholarship; a less exceptional enthusiast can still up the odds of an acceptance.

THE BAD NEWS: Some students (and parents) overestimate the weight that athletic ability carries in the admission process-and they overestimate their ability period. Dave Shelbourne, a football coach and guidance counselor in Indiana, affirms that the "absolute first thing that I am asked by college recruiters is 'What about his grades?' 'Who are your best players who qualify academically?' When I worked in admissions at Wabash College, lots of parents weren't objective about their children's academic and athletic talent."

Some college coaches have a lot of clout in the admission office; others have far less. While many coaches will give a realistic assessment of how much a child's athletic prowess will count at decision time, never forget that it's the office of admission that gets the final say.

Students of Color
Colleges normally give students the option of describing themselves as members of these groups: American Indian or Alaskan Native; Black or African- American; Mexican-American or Chicano; Puerto Rican; Other Hispanic-American or Latin American; Asian American or Pacific Islander; or multiracial. Colleges aggressively recruit students from underrepresented minority populations, and financial aid opportunities are great. Some even set aside funds to pay travel expenses for these students to visit campus. Most admission offices have a counselor who is in charge of this effort, and this person can serve as a good source of information as well as an advocate in the process. While all admission counselors work together to attract a diverse student body, one may be charged with reading all folders of minority students- or at least have a major say in who gets admitted.

If your child has checked one of the categories above, he or she will probably get special consideration by admission committees-just how much consideration depends on the institution in question and your child's racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background. For example, Spelman College in Atlanta is a predominantly Black college for women that is eager to encourage Latina applicants.

Some families, especially Asians, are concerned that they have become an overrepresented minority on many campuses and that their cultural background may actually work against them. This is not true. What is true, however, is that while they are never discriminated against, they may lose their hook. They have essentially melted into the American melting pot. When a minority student (or any student) is from a disadvantaged family or community, credentials such as test scores, writing samples, and course selection are evaluated with that in mind.

Talent in the Arts
Being a painter or a poet, a musician, dancer, and so on, can really make an application stand out. A conservatory or art school will carefully examine each applicant's ability. For instance, Rhode Island School of Design requires a portfolio, in addition to three drawings (a bicycle, an interior or exterior environment, and a subject of the applicant's choice). Instructions are specific about what to draw, what size the paper must be, and how it should be folded, so students need to follow directions carefully.

In contrast, more generalized institutions may use such strengths to counterbalance weaker areas but don't necessarily have tapes, slides, or other submissions reviewed by professionals in the arts. But consider your child's artistic ability a hook only when it is exceptional (and not just by your standards!).

Geography At a public college or university, being an in-state resident is obviously a hook. However, at many institutions, coming from an underrepresented region can also be an advantage. Southeastern colleges love to see North Dakota and Montana zip codes on applications, while southwestern schools welcome candidates from Vermont and Maine. Parents, however, often worry when it seems as if too many of their child's classmates are aiming for the same colleges. They wonder if admission offices set quotas and ask how their child's decision might be affected when stronger cohorts have also applied.

Some high schools are known as "feeder schools" for certain colleges which means that many students typically apply and many, too, may be accepted. In such cases, your guidance counselor is familiar with the college in question and can help predict how your child will stack up. On the other hand, the more competitive colleges often want to cast a net broadly and include many different high schools in each entering class. In such cases, it may be a liability if your child is not as impressive a candidate as the others from her school-although just what impresses a college will vary. Decisions can likewise depend on which program within an institution your child desires. She may be turned down from the School of Engineering while her less able beau will be accepted by the School of Education.

Gerry Carnes, long-time guidance counselor at Brockton High School in Massachusetts, which graduates over 600 seniors a year, is no stranger to this dilemma. "If a student from BHS is applying to nearby Bridgewater State College, being one of 20 applicants is not a hindrance. However, if a student is one of only three or four applying to Brown, then having multiple applications from Brockton High could be a factor in who gets in. But students shouldn't shy away from applying-even someone who is #10 in a class where #5 is also a candidate. Depending on major and extracurricular activities, the college would not necessarily take the student with the higher rank."

The Invisible Hook-Institutional Needs

One reason that an applicant is admitted to a particular college while a similar- seeming (or even less able) applicant is not can be due to a fuzzy factor known as "institutional needs." These needs, explains Amherst College's Katharine Fretwell, are likely to vary from college to college, and-even within a single school-from year to year. One season, says Fretwell, an institution may be after more women, Midwesterners, or hockey goalies; the next time around it could be scientists or string musicians. "Applicants do not have control over these needs and are rarely aware of them," she notes. "And, according to outside observers (candidates, their counselors, parents, or classmates), the influence of these priorities may create some mysterious admission decisions."

Questions & Answers

Q: We've heard that some colleges admit students largely (or even entirely) based on an admission formula. Is this true and, if so, how often does it happen and how does it work? Who benefits most-or least-from this approach?
A: According to counselor Dave Berry, many large public universities get inundated with applications every year, and thus class rank, GPA, and standardized test scores determine a student's fate, not character, extracurricular commitments, writing skills, etc. "Stated too simply," he explains, "they just enter the numbers into a computer and let the software do the selecting." (An important exception, notes Berry, are the more competitive honors programs within a large university, where broader factors are considered.) Go-getters with the right statistics clearly benefit most from a formulaic approach, he maintains. Underachievers, late-bloomers, or even good students with unbalanced strengths may lose out.

Smaller schools, says Berry, rarely go on numbers alone and tend to be more willing to take risks on those whose potential seems to surpass past performance, and some large institutions frown on formulas as well.
"It's probably a bad rule of thumb," admits Berry, "but a guideline I've always carried around is that, if a college application doesn't require an essay (or at least ask for some shorter open-ended responses), students can probably expect to be competing with a numbers-oriented applicant database. The best way to find out whether an institution uses admission formulas is, of course, to ask."

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

If you were a fly on the wall while an admission committee was meeting, this is what you would likely hear:
Readers begin by sharing the ratings they have given an applicant independently.
Commonly, there is consensus. If not, the bickering begins, as one committee member exclaims, "Look how well she plays the harp!" while another is pointing to a 390 math SAT.

At the most competitive colleges, candidates are not even discussed in committee unless they are firing on all cylinders, and excellent grades and scores must be a given. Then, explains Patricia Wei of Yale, "In committee, we say, 'This is a good student. Now what is special?' A lot of times we call an applicant 'solid.' It translates into 'fine, but nothing distinctive.' At other colleges where I've worked, 'solid' meant admissible, but here it's the kiss of death." The goal is to assign an overall rating that every reader can live with. Contrary to what you might suspect, committees often give numerical or letter grades, rather than voting In or Out; Accept or Reject. For example, where an "A" to "F" scale is used, while readers may realize that "A" and "B" applicants are likely to be admitted and that "C" applicants stand a good chance as well, they won't know for sure until all folders have been rated and compared as a group. Since competition and space availability are not constant from year to year, cut-off points likewise vary. It's a serious and sensitive undertaking, but hardly an exact science.

Decisions are more clear-cut at the top and bottom of the pool. The toughest to make are about those students who fall in the middle. Here is where hooks-and each college's particular needs and priorities-really come into play. Moreover, colleges don't always go by the book when finalizing choices. There is room to make adjustments for "wild cards"- those candidates who, on the basis of statistics or in the light of tight competition, might be far from the top of the pile, yet have that special something that really knocked the socks off the readers.

There are also other fine-tuning issues such as shaping the overall composition of the class. Says Dean Lee Stetson of the University of Pennsylvania, "Eighty-five percent of those who apply would thrive here, but we have to choose among them. We're not looking for only the best numbers, but also for those who will make each freshman class the most interesting, the most 'yeasty,' the most representative of the broad-based society we live in ...and there is some element of crap shoot in the whole process."

Each institution must determine how many offers of admission to make in order to yield the desired number of entering students. For example, while one college must accept 1,000 candidates so that 500 will enroll, another may need to make only 750 offers to net the same total. In any case, colleges always admit more students than they expect to actually enroll. Although colleges are pretty good at making such estimates based on experience, it's impossible to always be right on the mark. Thus, your child may receive a letter of acceptance, a letter denying admission, or one that explains that he or she has been put on a wait list. Other specific admit decisions can include: Peterson's admission to the institution but not to the program of choice within it (programs, majors, and departments also use wait lists)

admission without housing and/or financial aid

conditional acceptance such as "contingent on receipt of SAT II scores" or "on completion of summer physics course" admission to a later term (e.g., acceptance for second semester)

While most decisions are announced in a form letter, special personal deny letters may be sent to offer counsel or to soften the blow. For instance, an applicant from a disadvantaged background may be encouraged to reapply after strengthening the academic record elsewhere.
Lest you think that admission officers are hardened and cold-hearted adjudicators, impervious to the feelings of applicants and their families, consider the words of William H. Peck, a former college admission dean and current director of college counseling at Santa Catalina School in California, "Remember that however disappointed you may be about an adverse decision on your child, the admission staff has experienced even more disappointments -those legions of wonderful students who looked at the college and never applied; who applied but were regretfully denied; who were admitted but chose to go elsewhere. We call them 'admissions' offices instead of 'rejections' offices for a reason-admitting students is, after all, the real goal and is a pleasure; denying them is a necessary element of the process, but an unpleasant task."

Glossary of Admission Terms

Academic adviser - This is a senior faculty member in your area of concentration who is assigned to advise you on course selections and requirements. Before you declare your major, you will be assigned a temporary faculty adviser.

Accelerated study - This program allows you to graduate in less time than is usually required. For instance, by taking summer terms and extra courses during the academic year, you could finish a bachelor's degree in three years instead of four. Admissions decisions

Admit - You're in! You are being offered admissions to the college to which you applied. Your high school will receive notification, too.

Admit/deny - You have been admitted but denied any financial aid. It is up to you to figure out how you are going to pay for school.

Deny - You are not in. The decision is made by the college or university admissions committee and is forwarded to you and your high school.

Wait list - You are not in yet but have been placed on a waiting list in case and opening becomes available. Schools rank their wait list in order of priority, and unfortunately, the more competitive schools have years when they never draw from their wait lists. After a certain time, a rejection notice is sent.

Advanced Placement (AP) courses - High-level, quality courses in any of twenty subjects. The program is administered through the College Board to offer high school course descriptions equated to college courses and correlated to AP examinations in those subjects. High schools provide the courses as part of their curriculum to eligible students. Based on the composite score on an AP test, which ranges from 0 to 5, a college may award college credit or advanced placement to a participating student. A score of a 4 or 5 on the AP test is usually required by colleges for credit or advanced placement in college courses. A 3 is sometimes acceptable in foreign languages and some other subject areas. Some colleges limit the number of AP credits that they will recognize. Check schools' policies on AP credits.

Alternative assessment - This method personalizes the admissions process and offers students an opportunity to be viewed more individually and holistically. Less emphasis is placed on standardized test scores and more on the interview, portfolio, recommendations, and essay.

American College Testing (ACT) Program Assessment - An alternative to the SAT, this test has gained wide acceptance by a broad range of institutions in recent years and is given during the school year at test centers. The ACT tests English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. These subject test scores can be used in lieu of SAT II subject tests, which are required for admission to some of the more competitive colleges. The score is the average of all four tests; the maximum score is 36.

Associate degree - A degree granted by a college or university after the satisfactory completion of a two-year full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent. Types of degrees include the Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.), usually granted after the equivalent of the first two years of a four-year college curriculum, and the Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.), awarded upon completion of a technical or vocational program of study. Award package - This is the way colleges and universities deliver their news about student eligibility for financial aid or grants. The most common packages include Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Work Study (see below). Bachelor's or baccalaureate degree - The degree received after the satisfactory completion of a full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent at a college or university. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A) and the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) are the most common baccalaureates.

Branch campus - A campus connected to, or part of, a large institution. Generally, a student spends the first two years at a branch campus and then transfers to the main campus to complete the baccalaureate degree. A branch campus provides a smaller and more persona environment that may help a student mature personally and academically before moving to a larger and more impersonal environment. A branch campus experience may be a good idea for a student who wants to remain close to home or for an adult learner who wishes to work and attend college classes on a part-time basis.

Candidates Reply Date Agreement (CRDA) - If admitted to a college, a student does not have to reply until May 1. This allows time to hear from all the colleges to which the student applied before having to make a commitment to any of them. This is especially important because financial aid packages vary from one school to another, and the CRDA allows time to compare packages before deciding.

College-preparatory subjects - Courses taken in high school that are viewed by colleges and universities as a strong preparation for college work. The specific courses are usually in the five majors area of English, history, world languages, mathematics, and science. The courses may be regular, honors-level, or AP offerings, and the latter two categories are often weighted when calculated in the GPA.

College Scholarship Service (CSS) - When the federal government changed the FAFSA form several years ago, the College Board created this program to assist postsecondary institutions, state scholarship programs, and other organizations in measuring a family's financial strength and analyzing its ability to contribute to college costs. CSS processes the PROFILE financial form that students may use to apply for nonfederal aid. This form is submitted to some 300 private colleges and universities along with the FAFSA when seeking financial aid from these institutions. Participating colleges and universities indicate whether they require this form.

Common and Universal Applications - These college application forms can save students hours of work. The Common Application is presently accepted by about 190 independent colleges, while the Universal is used by about 1,000 schools. The colleges and universities that accept these standardized forms give them equal weight with their own application forms. Students complete the information on the standardized form and then submit it to any of the schools listed as accepting it. Some schools will return a supplementary form to be completed by the applicant, but most schools base their decisions on these documents alone. The Common Application is available on disk or as a hard copy and can be obtained from your guidance department. The Universal Application is available on the Web.

Control - A college or university can be under public or private control. Publicly controlled universities are dependent on state legislatures for their funding, and their policies are set by the agencies that govern them. Private colleges and universities are responsible to a board of directors or trustees. They usually have higher tuition and fees to protect the institutions' endowment.

Cooperative education - A college program that alternates between periods of full-time study and full-time employment in a related field. Students are paid for their work and gain practical experience in their major, which helps them apply for positions after graduation. It can take five years to obtain a baccalaureate degree through a co-op program.

Cost of education - This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses. A student's financial aid eligibility is the difference between the cost of education and the Expected Family Contribution as computed by the federal government using the FAFSA.

Course load - The number of course credit hours a student takes in each semester. Twelve credit hours is the minimum to be considered a full-time student. The average course load per semester is 16 credit hours.

Credit hours - The number of hours per week that courses meet are counted as equivalent credits for financial aid and used to determine you status as a full- or part-time student.

Cross-registration - The practice, through agreements between colleges, of permitting students enrolled at one college or university to enroll in courses at another institution without formally applying for admission to the second institution. This can be an advantage for students in a smaller college who might like to expand options or experience another learning environment.

Deferred acceptance - the admissions decision is being moved to a later date.

Double major - Available at most schools, the double major allows a student to complete all the requirements to simultaneously earn a major in two fields.

Dual enrollment - This policy allows a student to earn college credit while still in high school. Many of these course credits can be transferred to a degree-granting institution, especially if the student maintains a minimum B average. A college, however, may disallow courses taken in the major field of concentration at another institution because its policy dictates that all courses in the major must be taken at the college. When considering dual enrollment, students should talk with admissions offices at the colleges they are considering enrolling in to make sure that they will accept credit transfers.

Early Action (EA) - A student applies to a school early in the senior year, between October 30 and January 15, and requests an early application review and notification of admission. The answer usually takes three to four weeks after application. If accepted, the student is not obligated to attend that institution but can bank this admission and still apply to other colleges during the regular admission cycle.

Early admission - Some colleges will admit certain students who have not completed high school, usually exceptional juniors. The students are enrolled full-time and do not complete their senior year of high school. Colleges usually award high school diplomas to these students after they have completed a certain number of college-level courses.

Early Decision (ED) - Sometimes confused with Early Action, the Early Decision plan allows students to apply to an institution early in the senior year, also between October 30 and January 15, and request an early notification of admission. The student and guidance counselor sign a contract with the school at the time of application that indicates that if accepted, the student is obligated to attend that institution. Some colleges and universities offer both ED and EA options.

Emphasis - An area of concentration within a major or minor; for example, an English major may have an emphasis in creative writing.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) - The amount of financial support a family is expected to contribute toward a child's college education. This amount is part of the formula used by the federal government to determine financial aid eligibility using the FAFSA form.

External degree program - A program of study whereby a student can earn credit through independent study, college courses, proficiency examinations, distance learning, or personal experience. External degree colleges generally have no campus or classroom facilities. They are sometimes referred to as "colleges without walls."

Federal Pell Grant Program - This is a federally sponsored and administered program that provides grants based on need to undergraduate students. Congress annually sets the appropriation; amounts range from $400 to $3,000 annually. This is "free" money because it does not need to be repaid.

Federal Perkins Loan Program - This is a federally run program based on need and administered by a college's financial aid office. This program offers low-interest loans for undergraduate study. Repayment does not begin until a student graduates. The maximum loan amount is $3,000 per year.

Federal Stafford Loan - Another federal program based on need that allows a student to borrow money for educational expenses directly from banks and other lending institutions (sometimes from the colleges themselves). These loans may be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Repayment begins six months after a student's course load drops to less than halftime. Currently the interest rate is 0 percent while in school and then is variable up to 8.25 percent. The loan must be repaid within ten years.

Federal Work-Study Program (FSW) - A federally financed program that arranges for students to combine employment and college study; the employment may be an integral part of the academic program (as in cooperative education or internships) or simply a means of paying for college.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - This is the federal government's instrument for calculating need-based aid. It is available from high school guidance departments, college financial aid offices, and the Internet ( The form should be completed and mailed as soon after January 2 as possible.

Gap - The difference between the amount of a financial aid package and the cost of attending a college or university. The student and his/her family are expected to fill the gap.

Grants/scholarships - These are financial awards that are usually dispensed by the financial aid offices of colleges and universities. The awards may be need- or merit-based. Most are need-based. Merit-based awards may be awarded on the basis of excellence in academics, leadership, volunteerism, athletic ability, or special talent.

Greek life - This phrase refers to sororities and fraternities. These organizations often have great impact on the campus social life of a college or university.

Honors program - Honors programs offer an enriched, top-quality educational experience that often includes small class size, custom-designed courses, mentoring, enriched individualized learning, hands-on research, and publishing opportunities. A handpicked faculty guides students through the program. Honors programs are a great way to attend a large school that offers enhanced social and recreational opportunities while receiving an Ivy League-like education at a reduced cost.

Independent study - This option allows students to complete some of their credit requirements by studying on their own. A student and his or her faculty adviser agree in advance on the topic and approach of the study program and meet periodically to discuss the student's progress. A final report is handed in for a grade at the end of the term.

Interdisciplinary - Faculty members from several disciplines contribute to the development of the course of study and may co-teach the course.

Internship - This is an experience-based opportunity, most often scheduled during breaks in the academic calendar, whereby a student receives credit for a supervised work experience related to his or her major.

Major - The concentration of a number of credit hours in a specific subject. Colleges and universities often specify the number of credits needed to receive a major, the sequence of courses, and the level of course necessary to complete the requirements.

Merit awards, merit-based scholarships - More "free" money, these awards are based on excellence in academics, leadership, volunteerism, athletic ability, and other areas determined by the granting organization, which can be a college or university, an organization, or an individual. They are not based on financial need.

Minor - An area of concentration with fewer credits than a major. The minor can be related to the major area of concentration or not; for example, an English major may have a minor in theater.

Need blind - Admissions decisions made without reference to a student's financial aid request, that is, an applicant's financial need is not known to the committee at the time of decision.

Nonmatriculated - A student who has either not been admitted yet but is taking classes or has been academically dismissed. Under this category, a student may neither receive financial aid nor participate in an athletic program at that school.

Open admissions - A policy of admission that does not subject applicants to a review of their academic qualifications. Many public junior/community colleges admit students under this guideline, that is, any student with a high school diploma or its equivalent is admitted.

Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT)/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test - This test, given in October, duplicates the kinds of questions asked on the SAT but is shorter and takes less time. Usually taken in the junior year, the test also acts as a qualifying instrument for the National Merit Scholarship Awards Program and is helpful for early college guidance.

Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) - Each branch of the military sponsors an ROTC program. In exchange for a certain number of years on active duty, students can have their college education paid for up to a certain amount by the armed forces.

Residency requirement - The term has more than one meaning. It can refer to the fact that a college may require a specific number of course to be taken on campus to receive a degree from the school, or the phrase can mean the time, by law, that is required for a person to reside in the state to be considered eligible for in-state tuition at one of its public colleges or universities.

Retention rate - The number and percentage of students returning for the sophomore year. Rolling admissions - There is no deadline for filing a college application. This concept is used most often by state universities. Responses are received within three to four weeks. If admitted, a student is not required to confirm, in most cases, until May 1. Out-of-state residents applying to state universities should apply as early as possible. Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) I: Reasoning Test - Also known as "board scores" because the test was developed by the College Board. This test concentrates on verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities and is given throughout the academic year at test centers. The maximum combined score for both sections is 1600.

SAT II Subject Tests - These subject-specific exams are given on the same test dates and in the same centers as the SAT I. More emphasis has been placed on these tests in recent years, not only because they are used for admission purposes, but also for placement and exemption decisions.

Seminar - A class that has a group discussion format rather than a lecture format. Silent scores - The term is applied to PSAT scores because only the student and his or her guidance counselor see the scores. They are not reported to colleges. It is the "practice without penalty" feature of the test.

Standby - If a student registers for an SAT or ACT testing date and there are no seats available, the student may accept a standby position; that is, if a seat becomes available the day of the test, the student will take the test. The student must go to the testing center and wait to see if there is an open seat. A fee is attached to standby.

Student Aid Report (SAR) - Report of the government's review of a student's FAFSA. The SAR is sent to the student and released electronically to the schools that the student listed. The SAR does not supply a real money figure for aid but indicates whether the student is eligible.

Student-designed major - Students design their own majors under this policy. It offers students the opportunity to develop nontraditional options not available in the existing catalog of majors.

Transfer program - This program is usually found in a two-year college or in a four-year college that offers associate degrees. It allows a student to continue his or her studies in a four-year college by maintaining designated criteria set down at acceptance to the two-year program. It is not necessary to earn an associate degree to transfer.

Transfer student - A student who transfers from one college or university to another. Credits applied toward the transfer will be evaluated by the receiving school to determine the number it will accept. Each school sets different policies for transfers, so anyone considering this option should seek guidance.

Upper division - This term refers to the junior and senior years of study. Some colleges offer only upper-division study. The lower divisions must be completed at another institution before entering these programs to earn a bachelor's degree.

Virtual visit - This is the use of the Internet to investigate various colleges by looking at their home pages. A student can "tour" the college, ask questions vie e-mail, read school newspapers, and explore course offerings and major requirements on line. It is not a substitute for a live visit.

Waiver to view recommendations - The form many high schools ask their students to sign by which they agree not to review their teachers' recommendation letters before they are sent to the colleges or universities to which they are applying.

Yield - The percentage of accepted students who will enter a college or university in the freshman class; these students have received formal acceptance notices and must respond by May 1 with their intention to enroll. The more competitive the school, the higher the yield percentage.

12 Ways Not to Choose a College

You have received your envelopes, and it's time to make that final decision about where you will enroll in college. How do you decide? Here are some ways not to choose your college.

Don't Choose a College or University Because:
1. Your boyfriend or girlfriend is going there.
2. Your friends are going there.
3. The tuition is low.
4. Because of its party-hearty reputation.
5. The college brochure or university guidebook showed all these fun students sitting under trees.
6. A computer college matching program said this was your best choice. (Although these can be very helpful in narrowing your choices, you need to make the final decision.)
7. You visited just that campus and didn't want to look elsewhere.
8. It's located in your city or state and you didn't consider other locations, even though you could have.
9. It's the one college you and your parents have heard of.
10. You know you'll be accepted there.
11. Because of its prestige.
12. It has the academic program you're looking for, so the campus atmosphere doesn't really matter.

What's Important

If you're going away to school you will be living in new surroundings for as many years as it takes to get your education. Depending on the kind of degree or certificate you seek, that may be 1 year, 2 years, 4-5 years or more. If you attend graduate or professional school...more time yet. So it isn't just a decision of "where do you want to go to school," but also, "Where would you like to live?" Consider these and some other points while you think about your choice(s).

Location: How far from home would you like to be? Do you want to live in a large city, a small town, or the country, in-state or out-of-state? Do you like to be surrounded by people (large college or university) or have more privacy (smaller private college or vocational school)? In what kind of setting would you feel comfortable? Does the school have its own on or off-campus housing, or are apartments available close by? What about living at home and commuting? It saves money, but for some the "college experience" becomes less exciting.

Affordability: Have you received the schools' financial aid award letters yet? Hopefully you will receive them shortly after your letter of acceptance. We will discuss comparing them in another section, but an honest comparison will help determine the most affordable school. Have you been accepted at only one school? If so, is that school affordable? Please don't be misled. "Affordable" doesn't always mean least expensive. It means getting the most for your dollars invested at a cost that is within your means. Strive to spend no more than is necessary to reach your goal by choosing wisely. And consider ways to lower your costs, like buying used books, living at home and commuting, attending an in-state school, taking more than the minimum number of required credits, and earning money through work-study.

Academics: Does the school have the academic programs that interest you? Certainly it has the major you want or you wouldn't have applied there unless you're going "undeclared," but that's another story (see "Selecting") and often a bad idea. College is too expensive a setting to take general courses for the purpose of "finding" yourself. Have a major in mind before enrolling, and remember that the courses in your major are not the only courses you will take. You will take some basic courses and some elective courses. Is there a variety of courses outside your major that interest you?

Activities: Do you play sports? Are you going to school on an athletic scholarship? If so, your decision has probably been made. However, do you like to play intramural sports, or participate in sports that don't offer scholarships? Are you a fan who just loves to watch? What about extracurricular activities outside of sports, like clubs, organizations, fraternities and sororities, or social life in general? These are things that can make your college experience more fun.

Size: Usually, the larger the school, the more courses, activities, and sporting events they have to offer. In addition, the larger schools are often state universities. Is the school so large you will feel lost? Actually, this is quite common at first on any campus. Will you have trouble navigating a large campus? Does this also mean large classes, especially for freshmen? Will you be able to get individualized attention if you need it? Will you be able to speak with your professors if necessary? Does the school have the facilities you desire, like labs, fitness equipment, personal trainers, access to computers, etc.?

Time: How long will it take to complete your program? Be aware that most students take more than 4 years to complete a 4-year program. What about alternatives? Are the shorter vocational programs or community college programs right for you? You should know that the shorter programs usually focus on intensive training which gives you the skills you need to compete in today's technological information-based society. You will be wise to consider all the options and not rule out any because they are "shorter" than others. Longer doesn't necessarily mean better in educational programs.

As you can see, there are many factors which must be considered, many of which you probably looked at when you submitted your application for admission. When you think about the "big picture" by considering all these and any other factors that contribute to the personality of a school, you have to decide if your personality and the school's will "fit." If you have boiled it down to a couple of schools but your decision is still up in the air, a second visit may be what's needed to make that final decision. What you're looking for is a learning environment where you will be comfortable, secure, and productive while you complete your program and gain the necessary tools for a successful and fulfilling career. Good luck!

Admissions and Acceptance Letters

Congratulations! You have spent a vast amount of time searching the Web, pouring over books, catalogs, and brochures, visiting campuses, preparing for and taking standardized tests, gathering recommendations from teachers, writing and rewriting your application essay, and keeping up your grades-all in the name of going to college. Now you get to wait for that envelope that will one day arrive in the mail and begin to set your course for the future.

While sometimes "good" news arrives in a big envelope and "bad" news arrives in a small envelope, you just don't know until you open it! So, on the day that envelope arrives, go ahead, take a deep breath, and rip into it with confidence! Here's what you'll find.

The first sentence usually tells it all-either the school is happy to extend an offer of admission or the school regrettably is unable to extend that offer at this time. Although at that moment that's all you really want to know, keep reading! An acceptance letter from a college often has some instructions you'll need to follow, should you choose to enroll at that school.

Look for deadlines for acceptance. Look for additional forms to fill out and return. Most likely, your final high school transcript will need to be sent to your new college-look for a due date for this and work with your high school guidance counselor to ensure it happens. Deposits may be required-make sure you parents are aware of deadlines. The acceptance letter may also include information about housing, meal plans and freshmen orientation. While all this information may be included with your acceptance letter, it may not; in that case, the school will usually follow up after receiving confirmation of your intention to attend. Financial aid information usually comes in a separate from the acceptance letter.

Hopefully your envelope contains exciting news. Just be sure to take some time to calm down and read and reread, especially with your parents, all the material your college has provided. You certainly do not want to miss a deadline or overlook a requirement that will jeopardize your enrollment! Remember too that should you have any questions, your college will be happy to answer them, after all, you're part of the family now! Congratulations!

College Cost Comparison Worksheet

Chart your course to see which college or university best fits your financial resources. Your total in Funds Available should be at least the same amount as your total for Expenses. If not, you have a funding gap, meaning that you have more expenses than funds available and will need to take out a loan or seek other sources of funds.


College 1

College 2

College 3

College 4

   Tuition and fees





   Books and supplies





   Room and board




















Funds Available





   Student and parent contributions

























Funding gap





Grants and Scholarships

A common misconception about grants and scholarships is that only "poor" students can get them. We want to make sure you understand that not all grants and scholarships are based on financial need. Some scholarship programs award funds to students in a particular major; others may award money based on athletic ability, scholastic ability, religious affiliation, race (of the student or parent), or social activities.

State and Campus Grants/Scholarships
While state grant programs or individual, campus-based programs for financial aid may have different deadlines or may need information other than what appears on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), many of these programs often use the FAFSA as the first step.

Please contact your state agency or your campus' Financial Aid Office to determine if they have alternative deadlines or form submission requirements for their programs.
Two of the most common government grant programs are:

Pell Grants
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
Federal Pell Grant

Pell grants are a form of financial aid from the federal government. Pell grants go to undergraduate students with financial need who have not yet earned a Bachelor's or professional degree. It is a form of aid that does not have to be repaid.

You find out if you qualify for the Pell grant by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once the Department of Education processes your FAFSA, they will send you a report that notifies you of the types of financial aid for which you qualify.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

FSEOGs are a form of financial aid from the federal government. Undergraduate students with exceptional financial need (i.e. the lowest Expected Family Contribution scores) qualify for the FSEOG. It is a form of aid that does not have to be repaid.

You find out if you qualify for the Pell grant by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once the Department of Education processes your FAFSA, they will send you a report that notifies you of the types of financial aid for which you qualify.

Educational Loans

The majority of educational loan programs break down into two categories: student loans and parent loans. Within each category are two more types of loans: federal loan programs (government money), and private loan programs.

The Department of Education administers the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) which delegates government monies to students and their parents. Private or alternative loan programs exist through many other sources. Choose from the loan programs below to find out which is most likely to help you.

Student Loans

Federal:     Perkins Loans     ,      Stafford Loans     ,      Graduate PLUS Loans
Private:      EducationGain

Parent Loans
Federal:     Parent PLUS Loan
Private:     EducationGain

ou need to understand that educational lenders may offer incentives to encourage you to secure your loan funds through them. These incentives may affect the repayment terms of your loan or may reduce some of the administrative costs you are expected to pay for taking out a loan. We'll explain the how and why of choosing a lender to help you understand the importance of this choice.

Perkins Loans

The Perkins loan is a low-interest federal student loan program that is based on the student's financial need. The government provides a set amount of funds; your school contributes an additional amount of money then serves as the administrator of the loan program. When the times comes for you to repay this loan, you actually repay it to your school.

Under current guidelines, the loan has a 9-month grace period and a 10-year repayment term (this means you have 9 months after you drop below half-time enrollment before you have to begin repaying it, and you have up to 10 years to pay the loan in full).

The Federal Student Aid Information Center has a toll-free number for additional information about this program: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Stafford Loans

The Stafford Loan program is by far the most popular form of financial aid offered in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). It is available to both undergraduate and graduate students.

This is a form of financial aid that must be repaid and is a serious financial commitment. Currently Stafford loans are experiencing historically low interest rates, but this program has a cap so that the interest rate can never exceed 8.25%.
Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans

There are two categories of Stafford loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. The difference between the two is the amount of interest you pay on the loan.

Subsidized loans are those loans for which the government pays the daily interest your loan builds while you are enrolled on a half-time or greater basis and during any approved periods of deferment or forbearance. The government distributes subsidized loan amounts based on financial need.

Unsubsidized loans are those loans for which you, the borrower, have to pay all accrued interest. The government does not offer any assistance relating to interest payments for unsubsidized loans.

How do I Apply?

1. The first step to finding out whether your qualify for a Stafford loan or not is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The results of your application will tell you whether you qualify for a Stafford and what your loan limits are. View the Stafford loan limits.

2. Once you know that you qualify for a Stafford, the next step is to apply for one. Luckily you can apply for a Stafford loan online, and if you have your Personal Identification Number (PIN) from the Department of Education, you can sign your application electronically as well, speeding up the processing time even more.

Stafford Loan Limits


Dependent Undergraduate

Independent Undergraduate

Graduate or Professional Student

1st Year


$7,500-No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

$20,500-No more than $8,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

2nd Year


$8,500-No more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

3rd Year
(and higher)


$10,500-No more than $5,500 of this amount must be in subsidized loans.

Maximum Total Debt from Stafford Loans When You Graduate


$46,000-No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

$138,000-No more than $65,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

The graduate debt limit includes Stafford Loans received for undergraduate study.

These annual loan limits apply to loans disbursed on/after July 1, 2007.

Graduate PLUS Loans

The Graduate PLUS loan program is part of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and allows you to borrow up to the difference between your post-graduate educational costs and your financial aid award package. If you're ready, you can apply for a Graduate PLUS loan now, or review the eligibility requirements and other information below.
To be eligible for a Graduate PLUS loan, the graduate student must:

Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
Be accepted for enrollment in a participating institution of higher learning; or, if enrolled, be making satisfactory progress
Be classified as at least a half-time student and working toward a degree or certificate
Not be in default on an education loan or owe any education grant refunds
Be registered with Selective Service, if required
Be creditworthy

Student Loan Rebates:
This free service helps student loan borrowers save on their AES-serviced student loans just by shopping. Sign up with one or more rewards program partners and earn rebates by shopping online and in stores. Then, these rebates are applied automatically to your student loan account shortening your repayment period.

And, you don't even need to be a current AES loan holder to begin earning rebates. You can sign up now and then have the rebates applied to your loan when it becomes active. Even your friends and family can join.

Private Loans

Many students and families believe that if they do not qualify for loans from the federal government, then there are no other programs to help. That simply isn't true.

American Education Services (AES) offers the EducationGain loan, a private or alternative loan to help you pay for every level of education. With the cost of quality education increasing every year, the EducationGain loan can help bridge the gap when government loans, scholarships, and grant programs do not meet your needs. The EducationGain loan differs in many ways from traditional or government education loan programs:

no school certification or financial aid forms required
funds can be used for any education-related expenses
no application deadlines; apply at anytime
fast online, preliminary approval
funds sent directly to the borrower
competitive interest rates
flexible in-school deferment for undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students ability to save on your AES-serviced education loans with the Student Loan Rebates program top-quality customer service with account access 24/7 availability to international students with an eligible U.S. cosigner

Parent PLUS Loans

The Parent PLUS loan program is part of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and allows you to borrow up to the difference between your child's educational costs and your child's financial aid award package. If you're ready, you can apply for a PLUS loan now, or review the eligibility requirements and other information below.
To receive a Parent PLUS loan, the parent(s) and student must meet certain requirements.
Student Eligibility
To be eligible for a Parent PLUS loan, the undergraduate student must:

Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
Be accepted for enrollment in a participating institution of higher learning; or, if enrolled, be making satisfactory progress
Be classified as at least a half-time student and working toward a degree or certificate
Not be in default on and education loan or owe any education grant refunds
Be registered with Selective Service, if required

Parent Eligibility
To be eligible for a Parent PLUS loan, the parent(s) must:

Be the student's natural parent, adoptive parent, or in some cases, stepparent
Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
Not be in default on an education loan or owe any education grant refunds
Be creditworthy

Student Loan Rebates:
This free service helps student loan borrowers save on their AES-serviced student loans just by shopping. Sign up with one or more rewards program partners and earn rebates by shopping online and in stores. Then, these rebates are applied automatically to your student loan account shortening your repayment period.

And, you don't even need to be a current AES loan holder to begin earning rebates. You can sign up now and then have the rebates applied to your loan when it becomes active. Even your friends and family can join.

Paying For Graduate School

Before we discuss the types of aid available to advanced-degree students and the best strategies for obtaining that aid, let's first briefly cover such topics as "what is a graduate student," "why people go to graduate school" and "what are people studying in graduate school.

So, what, exactly, IS a Graduate Student?
A "Graduate Student" is any student who is looking to continue his/her education beyond the Bachelor Degree level of education. There were 2.7 million students enrolled in Graduate School in the year 20001, and of these almost 60% were enrolled at the Master's Degree level1 with another 13% enrolled in Doctoral programs and 12% in "first-professional" programs of study1. The other 16% were enrolled in programs such as post-baccalaureate certificate programs and non-degree-granting programs1.
First-Professional students are those enrolled in advanced degree programs in the fields of law, medicine and related fields, and theological professions.

The rationale for Graduate School:
An estimated 364,000 students took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) each year from 2000-20042. This means that almost 30% of students who received a Bachelor's Degree in those years were at least contemplating the possibility of continuing their education, despite the significant costs associated with Graduate School. So, what would motivate this many of your peers to incur this expense? Perhaps one factor would be that all but one of the fifty highest-paying occupations requires a college degree or better3. In fact, the median household income is $65,922 for people who hold a Bachelor's degree, while that figure rises to $77,935 for households in which a person possesses an advanced degree4.

So, what are people studying in Graduate School?
At the Master's Degree level of study, about one half of all student's are working on either a MBA (master's degree in Business Administration, 20%) or a master's degree in education (28%). Master's degrees in Social Work, Public Administration and the Fine Arts are also popular choices1.
While some students proceed immediately to an advanced degree after achieving a Bachelor's degree, about 67% of MBA students waited three or more years before enrolling in a program, and 75% of them worked full-time while pursing their MBA. Of those student's pursuing a master's in education, 83% wait at least one year before enrolling in a program, and nine out of every ten students combine work with school.
As for Doctoral degree students, 18% enroll in either an Education programs (either Ed.D or Ph.D), while 62% enroll in non-education related disciplines. The other 21% enroll in programs such as Business Administration, Public Finance, etc.

Types of Aid Available for Graduate School
The vast majority of graduate students, 82% of full-time students and 60% of students overall, receive some type of financial aid1. In the 2003-2004 academic year, the average amount of aid received by Graduate and First Professional students was $15,1001. The most common forms of aid received by graduate students are grants, loans, assistantships, aid from employers and work study. We will now explore each of these aid types, and then present some statistics that will provide you with an idea of what the typical graduate aid package encompasses.

1.    Grants, Scholarships and Fellowships Grants and Fellowships are commonly grouped under the heading of "grants" where advanced degrees are concerned. Fellowships are monies that may be provided by many different types of entities, to include educational institutions, which do not need to be paid back. An excellent source of Fellowship information is located at:

Just as EducationPlanner has an extensive database of undergraduate scholarships which our visitors may use for free, coming in the Fall of 2005 will be a similar database of Graduate scholarships and Fellowships. There will be 650 Fellowships in this database with a total value of 200 million dollars!

There are many types of grants available to graduate students, with most being sponsored by the federal government to encourage study in certain disciplines. The Department of Education's Website has extensive information concerning these grants, and you will find a high concentration of health field related grants to be available.

2.    Assistantships
Assistantships provide students with a stipend to help them cover the expense of their education, while in return providing their institution with a source of labor for teaching and performing research. Each college or university administers its own Assistantship program. While 32% of full-time graduate and professional students received Assistantships in 1999-20001, the availability of this type of aid was divided sharply by educational level and legal status of the student.

For example, 54% of all foreign students received Assistantships that year while 17% of US citizens and resident aliens received this type of aid1 This is due primarily to visiting students not being eligible for most other forms of aid. Almost half of all Doctoral students (47%) received Assistantships, while this was received by 16% of Master's students and 11% of first professional students1.

The average value of Assistantships awarded in 2003-2004 was $10,000 for Graduate and First Professional students1. The average for Doctoral candidates was $13,3001.

While Assistantships may sound like "easy money", the reality is that nearly one half (46%) have full teaching responsibility for one or more courses, while also carrying a full course load.

3.    Tuition Payments from Employers
In 2003, 72% of all U.S. companies offered some form of a tuition reimbursement program, with 69% offering compensation for Graduate studies5. Of those companies categorized as "large companies," fully 86% offer this benefit. This is a truly free benefit to most employees, given that a law passed in 1997 makes this benefit tax-free up to $5,250 per year. This benefit is a classic win-win situation for employers, as they are essentially investing in the competency of their employees while their employees enjoy a free benefit.

Many employers attach certain terms to this benefit, such as requiring passing grades or obligating employees to work for the company for a certain period of time for each course provided.

4.    Federal and "Private" Student Loans
The amount of Federal student loan money available to Graduate, Professional and Doctoral students through the Stafford loan program is significantly higher than for Undergraduate students. Students enrolled in Graduate or Professional programs of study may borrow up to $20,500 for each year of study. The total Stafford loan limit for these students is $138,500.

Graduate students can also apply for a Federal Graduate PLUS loan to borrow up to the difference between your post-graduate educational costs and your financial aid award package.

"Private" student loans, also called "alternative loans," are student loans that work more like common types of debt. These loans are not borrowed from the government, but rather directly from a lender and without certain benefits offered through federal student loan programs. Generally speaking, these loans carry larger upfront fees, higher interest rates, and more stringent repayment terms than federal student loans. Many graduate (and even undergraduate) students nonetheless find that supplementing their aid package with this loan type is necessary to "close the gap" between their cost of attendance and available resources.

For those students who have this need, a good solution is the Graduate EducationGain Loan. This loan program allows students to borrow up to $30,000 per year, and all loan payments are deferred for six months after graduation (just like the unsubsidized federal student loans). This loan program can even be used to pay past-due amounts at your institution.

Please visit the following Website for more information on this program:

5.    Early Withdrawals from IRA's
You may make early withdrawals from IRA's for qualified postsecondary educational expenses. These withdrawals are not subject to the 10% penalty. Qualified expenses include tuition and fees as well as books and supplies.

6.    Work-Study
Work-study is a government-sponsored form of financial aid which encourages students to become involved in the community. Each work study program is campus-based, and you should check on availability of these positions with the financial aid office of the institution which you intend to attend.

FAFSA Deadlines

Application Deadlines
The FAFSA is the federal application for financial aid, but it is also used to apply for aid from other sources, such as your state or school.
TIP: The deadlines for your state or schools may be different from the federal deadlines and you may be required to complete additional forms.

Federal Student Financial Aid Deadlines (see below)
State Student Financial Aid Deadlines (see chart)

Check with your high school guidance counselor or a financial aid administrator at your school about state and school sources of student aid.
The 2008-2009 School Year (July 1st, 2008 - June 30th, 2009):

FAFSA on the Web applications must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight time, June 30, 2009. Corrections on the Web forms must be submitted by midnight Central Daylight time, September 15, 2009. Note: Your school must have your complete and correct information by your last day of enrollment in the 2008-2009 school year.

You can start your application here:
State Student Financial Aid Deadlines
State deadlines may be earlier than the federal deadline. Remember to apply early before funds run out. Don't worry, you can find additional funds for your education using scholarship finder.




Check with your financial aid administrator


April 15, 2008 - date received@

American Samoa

Check with your financial aid administrator*


June 30, 2009 - date received@


For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2008 - date received@
For Workforce Grant - check with your financial aid administrator
For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2008 (fall term); November 1, 2008 (spring term) - date received@


For initial awards - March 2, 2008
For additional community college awards - September 2, 2008 - date postmarked^


Check with your financial aid administrator


February 15, 2008-date received#


April 15, 2008 - date received@

District of Columbia

June 30, 2008 - date received by state*

Federated States of Micronesia

Check with your financial aid administrator*


May 15, 2008 - date processed


Check with your financial aid administrator


Check with your financial aid administrator*


Check with you financial aid administrator*


March 1, 2008 - date received#


First-time applicants - September 30, 2008
Continuing applicants - August 15, 2008 - date received#@


March 10, 2008 date received&


July 1, 2008 - date received@


April 1, 2008 - date received#@


March 15, 2008 - date received#&


July 1, 2008 (date received)


May 1, 2008 - date received@

Marshall Islands

Check with your financial aid administrator *


March 1, 2008 - date received&


May 1, 2008 - date received#@


March 1, 2008 - date received&


30 days after term starts - date received


MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2008
HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2008 - date processed


April 1, 2008 - date received@


March 1, 2008 - date received#&


Check with your financial aid administrator*


Check with your financial aid administrator*

New Hampshire

May 1, 2008 - date received@

New Jersey

June 1, 2008 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2007-2008
All other applications - October 1, 2008, for fall and spring terms;
March 1, 2009, for spring term only - date received&

New Mexico

Check with your financial aid administrator*

New York

May 1, 2009 - date received@

North Carolina

March 15, 2008 - date received&

North Dakota

March 15, 2008 - date received&

Northern Mariana Islands

Check with your financial aid administrator


October 1, 2008 - date received@


April 15, 2008 (date received)# for best consideration


Check with your financial aid administrator


Check with your financial aid administrator*


All 2007-2008 State Grant recipients and all non-2007-2008 State Grant recipients in degree programs - May 1, 2008
All other applicants - August 1, 2008 -
date received@

Puerto Rico

Check with your financial aid administrator

Rhode Island

March 1, 2008 - date received#&

South Carolina

Tuition Grants - June 30, 2008 - date received@

South Dakota

Check with your financial aid administrator


For State Grant - March 1, 2008#
For State Lottery - September 1, 2008 - date received@


Check with your financial aid administrator*

U.S. Virgin Islands

Check with your financial aid administrator*


Check with your financial aid administrator


Check with your financial aid administrator*


Check with your financial aid administrator*


Check with your financial aid administrator

West Virginia

March 1, 2008 - date received&


Check with your financial aid administrator


Check with your financial aid administrator

**Additional form may be required. Contact your financial aid administrator or your state agency.
^ Applicants encouraged to obtain proof of mailing.

For priority consideration, submit application by date specified.
@ Deadline by midnight, Central Daylight Time.
& Deadline by midnight, Central Standard Time.

Tax Benefits for college

"Text Coming Soon"

Military Service

Since September 11, 2001, a tremendous amount of Americans' focus has been on our Armed Forces. Many citizens have felt a call to respond the hostilities and aggression displayed toward our country and have enlisted; others have been lured by a combination of civic duty as well as educational benefits.

Military service provides some of the greatest financial aid and educational benefits packages available to students. For many students, trading 3-4 years of service for a "free ride" to college, cutting-edge technological training, and a chance to see parts of their country/world they wouldn't see otherwise is an easy choice to make.

If you have an interest in enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces we strongly encourage you to talk to a recruiter, but we would like to make you aware of the some of the benefits awaiting veterans.

Depending on the branch you serve, the length of your tour of duty, and the type of discharge you receive, educational/professional benefits for military service may include:

Military Operational Specialty (MOS) to Civilian Careers to help you turn your military experience into a functional civilian job/profession
Money for school expenses after service (via the Montgomery GI Bill)
Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) program through which civilian employers provide job opportunities for Army veterans who successfully complete their enlistment and training requirements
Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarships for a college education prior to service
Troops-to-Teachers program to help veterans interested in teaching become certified to teach on the elementary or secondary levels
Tuition Assistance during service
Tuition "Top-up" for sailors to cover course-related expenses not covered in other programs

Perhaps you do not have the ability to talk to a recruiter yet or you want to do more research before you approach one. The Web site has a special section devoted exclusively to those serving in the military and can give you greater detail on the benefits and challenges unique to military members.

Loan Forgiveness

Many times individual states, the federal government, or specific industries themselves attempt to recruit for professions or fields of employment that may experience a sudden surge in job openings due to circumstances such as unexpected industry growth or a large percentage of retirements.

Loan forgiveness programs encourage up and coming professionals to pursue study in a certain field by offsetting their incurred student loan debt with payments for certain work-related requirements the student-borrower fulfills.

Nursing, teaching, providing child care, serving in the Armed Forces-these are all categories for loan forgiveness programs offered either by the federal government or state agencies. Once a student meets education and work-related requirements (such a service in a low-income area, service for a specific duration of time, etc.), the state or government agency then makes payments toward the student-borrower's loan balance.

Many types of loan forgiveness programs exist, and you should contact your state agency to determine if a program exists for your particular profession and what the exact requirements are for the program.

Network systems and data communications analyst
What they do: Assemble networks from the bottom up, from data to email and voicemail systems.
Why it's hot: More companies are building networks to speed office communications and create better access to data.

• Telecommuting is often an option.
• The skills qualify for other technology work.
• Many small and medium-sized businesses are adding heavily to networking groups.
• Jobs are very task-based, so a network problem could mean evening or weekend work.
• Job tasks can change quickly with new technology.
• Long hours at the computer.

Education: Bachelor's degree required; computer science, computer engineering or information science major helpful
Certifications: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Average salary: $60,600

Professional organizations:
Association for Computing Machinery (
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics



Physician assistant
What they do: Juggle all the tasks that busy doctors don't have time to handle, like taking medical histories. May work independently at clinics.
Why it's hot: The health care industry is exploding thanks to an aging population. An increasing emphasis on cost containment is also increasing the demand for physician assistants.

• The position is paid well for one requiring only a 2-year degree.
• Employers often pick up associated insurance and licensing fees.
• PA's can put in long hours, particularly in surgery.
• Working on call can be required.
• It can be boring: Assistants are frequently assigned the most mundane of doctors' tasks.

Education: B.A. and a 2-year physician assistant program
Certifications: Must attend a nationally accredited education program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination
Average salary: $69, 410

Professional organizations:
American Academy of Physicians Assistants (
National Commission on Certification of Physicians Assistants (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Computer software engineer, applications
What they do: Assemble the applications that drive PCs -- both consumer software and custom-developed programs for business.
Why it's hot: Businesses are constantly bringing in new technologies in order to stay efficient, and customized software is an exploding market.

• Independent consulting work is a possibility.
• There's intense competition between businesses for the best software developers, which creates more opportunities and higher pay.
• The project-oriented nature of the work can mean evening and weekend work.
• Software development work is increasingly being outsourced overseas.

Education: B.A. with a concentration in computer science or software engineering
Average salary: $79,930

Professional organizations:
Association for Computing Machinery (
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Computer software engineer, systems software
What they do: Install the core operating systems that software runs on top of, and may handle security.
Why it's hot: Businesses are adding more and more core features to their technology systems.

• Engineers learn a broad range of tech skills as demands change.
• Independent consulting work can provide an alternative career path.
• Project-oriented nature means a lot of on-site work and long hours.
• Systems software engineers may have to fulfill sales and support roles as well.

Education: B.A. with a concentration in computer science or software engineering
Average salary: $76,910

Professional organizations: Association for Computing Machinery (
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer (
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Network and computer systems administrator
What they do: Run the network help desk.
Why it's hot: More and more organizations - among them nonprofits and community groups - are adding networks. Increasing security needs are another big driver.

• This tech role doesn't require as much training as others.
• Exposure to a variety of advanced computer tasks.
• The systems administrator doesn't get noticed until something goes wrong.
• Must handle a huge variety of problems.
• Depending on size of network, working on call may be required.

Education: Bachelor's, preferably but not necessarily computer-related
Average salary: $40,430

Professional organizations:
Association of Computer Support Specialists (
Systems Administrators Guild (
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Database administrator
What they do: Handle database setup and security to ensure that information is delivered smoothly around a company's network.
Why it's hot: More and more information needs to be shared across computer networks, and the database administrator is at the center of that process.

• They work closely with a company's most valuable data.
• Databases use different technologies, so flexible tech skills are required.
• This role has expanded to include major security demands.
• Unexpected problems can cause weekend work.
• The administrator also needs a strong understanding of the company's general computer systems.

Education: Bachelor's degree a minumum; possibly a masters in Management Information Systems (MIS)
Average salary: $60,650

Professional organizations:
Association for Computing Machinery (
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society (
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Physical therapist
What they do: Guide people suffering from injuries or disease through physical treatments and exercises.
Why it's hot: As the population ages, the number of individuals with limited physical limitations or disabilities keeps growing.

• Work closely with other medical professionals.
• Helping victims of accidents and ailments on their way to recovery.
• Occasional evening work to fit patient schedules
• The work can be physically demanding.

Education: B.A. and an accredited physical therapist educational program
Certifications: State licensing required.
Average salary: $60,180

Professional organizations:
American Physical Therapy Association (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Medical scientist
What they do: Conducts biomedical research.
Why it's hot: Though the budget increases at the National Institutes of Health that have fueled research have come to a stop, there's no shortage of new biotechnology ventures.

• Medical scientists put in very regular hours.
• They often get to work in different environments, splitting work between the lab, clinics and hospitals.
• They have to follow strict safety procedures to avoid exposure to dangerous organisms or toxic substances.
• Some medical scientists are heavily dependent on grant money.

Education: Ph.D in biological science
Average salary: $61,320

Professional organizations:
American Society for Microbiology (
Infectious Diseases Society of America (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Occupational therapist
What they do: Help people with mental or physical handicaps learn to perform daily tasks like bathing and dressing.
Why it's hot: In an aging society, more people need this type of assistance.

• Excellent compensation.
• Occupational therapists are increasingly taking on supervisory roles in medical environments.
• Develop long-term relationships with patients.
• The work can be physically demanding, with therapists on their feet for most of the day.

Education: Currently a bachelor's degree, but beginning in 2007, a masters will be the minimum.
Certifications: National certification and state licensing required.
Average salary: $54,660

Professional organizations:
American Occupational Therapy Association (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


College instructor
What they do: Teach classes across a wide range of academic and vocational topics.
Why it's hot: An expected increase in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds will boost college enrollment.

• There are a wide variety of subjects to teach.
• Teachers have very flexible work schedules.
• They can teach part-time, for instance in the evenings after another job.
• Professors are frequently required to balance teaching and publishing (especially in research universities).
• Work can pile up at the end of the semester.

Education: Ph.D required for tenure-track positions.
Average salary: $51,800

Professional organizations:
Council of Graduate Schools (

Note: Fastest-growing occupations for college-educated workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics



Median wages, 2006








Chief Executives




Family and General Practitioners




Internists, General




Obstetricians and Gynecologists




Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons








Physicians and Surgeons, All Other
















Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers




Pediatricians, General




Dentists, General




Air Traffic Controllers








Engineering Managers








Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates




Computer and Information Systems Managers




Natural Sciences Managers




Marketing Managers




Petroleum Engineers
















Computer and Information Scientists, Research




Sales Managers




Dentists, All Other Specialists








Financial Managers




Nuclear Engineers




Political Scientists




Human Resources Managers, All Other




Computer Hardware Engineers




Aerospace Engineers




Law Teachers, Postsecondary








Industrial-Organizational Psychologists




Computer Software Engineers, Systems Software




General and Operations Managers




Physical Scientists, All Other








Managers, All Other




Public Relations Managers




Engineers, All Other




Purchasing Managers




Electronics Engineers, Except Computer




Training and Development Managers




Computer Software Engineers, Applications



Las Vegas

Projected job growth: 35.5%
Median household income: $59,050
Median housing cost: $319,000
Employers to watch:
MGM Mirage
US Airways
Wynn Resorts



Projected job growth: 28.3%
Median household income: $55,100
Median housing cost: $257,000
Employers to watch:
Darden Restaurants
Hughes Supply
Walt Disney
NBC Universal
Lockheed Martin



Projected job growth: 26.7%
Median household income: $55,650
Median housing cost: $400,000
Employers to watch:
Kaiser Permanente
Southern California Gas
The Press Enterprise



Projected job growth: 24.7%
Median household income: $68,600
Median housing cost: $167,000
Employers to watch:
Whole Foods Market



Projected job growth: 24.3%
Median household income: $58,300
Median housing cost: $259,000
Employers to watch:
Apollo Group
Phelps Dodge
Wells Fargo



Projected job growth: 20.8%
Median household income: $57,700
Median housing cost: $200,000
Employers to watch:
Bank of America
Fidelity Financial
Winn-Dixie Stores



Projected job growth: 19.7%
Median household income: $52,150
Median housing cost: $214,000
Employers to watch:
Bank of America
U.S. Central Command
Outback Steakhouse
Raymond James Financial
Verizon Communications


Dallas/Fort Worth

Projected job growth: 19.4%
Median household income: $65,000
Median housing cost: $137,300
Employers to watch:
Affiliated Computer Services
Electronic Data Systems
JC Penney
Southwest Airlines
Texas Instruments



Projected job growth: 19.0%
Median household income: $62,500
Median housing cost: $184,000
Employers to watch:
Bank of America
Duke Energy



Projected job growth: 18.8%
Median household income: $69,300
Median housing cost: $184,000
Employers to watch:
Cox Communications
Home Depot
SunTrust Banks


Sources: Global Insight; state and regional government agencies
U.S. Department of Housing and Development, Fiserv CSW, National Association of Realtors


Unemployment rate for college grads Unemployment for knowledge workers is lower than it has been in years.


Productivity growth (%) Employers have squeezed extra productivity out of workers, but those gains are coming to an end.


Number of people quitting their jobs (in millions) Increasingly, overworked employees are sensing a turn in the job market and are heading for the exits.


Job openings (in millions) And job-hoppers are finding plenty of places to land as the number of job openings has been surging.