Q. When should I begin planning for college?
A. While there is no set date when college planning and preparation must begin, earlier is generally better. College admission staff base their decisions on a student's coursework, grades, and extracurricular activities during high school, so that's where the main emphasis in preparing for college should occur.
However, the courses students take in middle school often determines what they take in high school, so you can see how starting the planning earlier can be helpful. (Check out the Middle School section of Knowhow2go.org/ for tips.) College is Yours by Patrick O’Connor is a great guidebook to begin or glean some wisdom during the process.
However, it is never too late to begin planning or to go to college. You can find College Planning Calendars for grades 12, 11, and 9-10 on our Resources & Presentations page. to help you plan and organize. Utilize the college admission and financial aid programs and information that ASFA makes available each year. Additionally, ASFA hosts dozens of colleges visits annually, which students and parents are welcome to attend. Then, you may wish to make an appointment with Mrs. Rutsky, ASFA College & Career Advisor, or with an admissions representative at the college(s) of your choice.
Q. Where can I search for colleges?
A. Recommended resources include:
Q. How and when should I apply to college?
A. Generally students may begin applying to college after they have completed their junior year of high school. A good rule of thumb to help make sure that you meet deadlines is to apply by Halloween of senior year (although note that some Early Decision/Early Action deadlines may be sooner.) Each university/college has its own application and scholarship deadlines, so always check with the college directly to know what is due and when. Carefully read and follow instructions on ASFA’s How to Apply to College web page.
Q. Do I need to decide on my major and career before I apply to college?
A. No. The average college student changes his or her major three times, and it is projected that most teens will have over a dozen jobs during a lifetime. Many ASFA students do have specific plans because we’re a specialty school, but not all. If you are sure about a career field, it can help narrow down your college choices. (A good place to start is talking with your Specialty faculty and exploring the Career Advising Resources page.) Otherwise, find a school that feels like a good match for you academically and personally, and that offers a range of majors and programs. Mrs. Rutsky enjoys helping students develop prospective college lists.
Q. Should I apply only to "prestigious" colleges?
A. Warning: Mrs. Rutsky really hates this question. She also hates it when students say, “I want to apply to a good college.” Prestige is a difficult factor to measure. The reputation and prestige of colleges change over time due to any number of factors. Sometimes prestige is derived from a winning football or basketball team, for example, rather than the quality of the education at an institution, or the strength of an individual program within the school. Keep in mind also that numerous recent scandals involving colleges manipulating and misrepresenting their data call into question the legitimacy of well-known college rankings, such as U.S. News & World Report. Another article on this topic from the New York Times: “The College Rankings Racket.”
ASFA strongly suggests that students and families redefine the question “What’s a good college” to “What college would be a good fit for me as an individual?” Look for a college that fits you best academically and personally. (A self-assessment such as College Match by Steven Antonoff may be a good place to begin.) You are likely to be happy and successful at a place that is a good match for you rather than what some magazine or some so-called “expert” claims.
Q. If I attend a certain summer program or enroll in this program that was mailed to me, will I gain an advantage in admission to selective colleges? How do I find a summer or enrichment program?
College Admissions Testing
Q. If I don't "ace" the SATs or ACTs, am I doomed?
A. No! The strength of your curriculum, your grades, and your commitment to activities or special talents are all more important than your standardizes test scores. Test scores do count, but they are only one part of the application process. In addition, you might be happy to learn that more and more colleges are choosing to become test optional, meaning that students may provide other materials to be considered in lieu of standardized test scores. For a list of test-optional colleges, see FairTest.org.
Q. What is a good test score? Should I do test prep?
A. This is such an individual decision. A “good” test score varies college by college, so it depends on your specific goals. Usually you want to aim to be in the middle 50% (between the 25th and 75th percentile) of the most recently admitted class at whatever college you are looking. (This statistical information is available on SCOIR under the Overview link on individual college listings.) For merit academic scholarship consideration or special programs that use test scores as one of their criteria, the bar may be significantly higher.
We at ASFA share test prep resources as well as background information on standardized testing. Each student has to decide how she or he learns best (in a class, with an individual tutor, on his/her own) and what will fit into his or her schedule and budget, and these are so widely varied at ASFA that it’s difficult to make generalizations. There are plenty of free options as well and online courses, and if you’d prefer a class or tutor for a particular section of the test, feel free to contact Mrs. Rutsky for suggestions.
Q. What is the equivalent ACT composite score for the SAT?
A. This concordance allows you to compare ACT and SAT scores.
Cost of College & Financial Aid
Please see Paying for College: Scholarships and Financial Aid.
Deciding on Which College to Attend (or Alternatives to College)
Q. I have been accepted by one of the colleges where I applied! When do I need to make a decision about whether or not I will attend?
A. Most colleges in this country adhere to the candidate's reply deadline of May 1, and all colleges that are members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) are required to abide by this May 1 deadline. If a college has requested that you reply earlier, and you feel that you need more time to make up your mind, you should write a letter requesting an extension until May 1. See NACAC's Statement of Students' Rights and Responsibilities in the College Admission Process.
Q. What if I’m not ready to go to college right away, or not sure college is right for me at all? What about a gap year?
A. College isn’t for everyone. Look, ASFA isn’t a cookie cutter school, and you wouldn’t be here if you were like everyone else. There are many different forms of postsecondary education and other nontraditional paths that people take. Mrs. Rutsky and her husband have six degrees between them both, but write checks to plumbers, electricians, contractors, and mechanics that clearly show that these skilled tradesmen make more per hour than even a fabulous collee counselor.
A good place to start is a book called The UnCollege Alternative: Your Guide to Incredible Careers and Amazing Adventures Outside College by Danielle Wood. (Student Services has a copy that may be checked out.) Also, you might try But What If I Don't Want to Go to College?: A Guide to Success Through Alternative Education by Harlow G. Unger. Moreover, some people enter certain arts careers, such as dance, through professional companies.
Now, that said, we can cite all sorts of studies that indicate that, in general, people with Bachelor’s degrees or higher earn more and have a lower incidence of unemployment than those who don’t. Plus, there are all sorts of news stories that tell us that America has a shortage of skilled, well-educated workers. So, there are many compelling reasons why earning a college degree makes sense. The bottom line: this isn’t a “one size fits all” situation, so you need to think about what’s right for you beyond ASFA. Ms. Rutsky has plenty of resources and is available to discuss options.
For students who do plan to go to college, but just not right away, a gap or bridge year may be an option. While the time period may vary from a few months to a few years, “gap year” or "bridge year" is the term applied to a period of transition between high school and higher education. Although a common practice in Europe and Australia, gap years are just beginning to gain popularity in the U.S. If this seems like an interesting option for you, check out these resources:
Keep in mind that its’ easier to handle all of the college admission paperwork during the senior year while the students is still physically at ASFA, so we recommend going ahead and applying to college as a senior, then requesting a deferral of a semester or year from the college of your choice.
Have a question that's not covered here?
Contact ASFA’s College and Career Advisor. Ask a good question, and she may even add it here!