College Planning for GEAR UP Students

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Interview with a College Coach 

As a senior in high school, you’re probably feeling pretty excited about graduating and moving onto your next chapter. But if you’re like many of the GEAR UP students we talk to, you may also be overwhelmed by everything you have to do between now and graduation, and we don’t blame you. From arranging campus visits to figuring out financial aid options, and ultimately deciding where to go for college, there’s a lot to think about! Especially in a year that has presented so many additional challenges with remote learning, we want to make sure you know we have your back. We chatted with one of our College Coaches, Sarah Adcock, to get the lowdown on all the resources available to you through GEAR UP so you can navigate this transition and rock your college experience.

Hi, Sarah! Thanks for chatting with us today. Let’s jump right in. What should students be doing right now to prepare for college, and when does it all need to be done?

Thanks for having me! First off, I want students to know that if they haven’t yet started this process, it’s not too late! Here’s a general list of what needs to get done and when:

  • Fall/spring of senior year
    • Complete the FAFSA
    • Apply to colleges
    • Once admitted, review award letter
  • Spring of senior year:
    • Plan how you’ll pay for college. There are many options to consider, including:
      • Federal aid
      • Scholarships
      • Grants
      • Endowments
      • Student loans
    • Choose an enrollment date
      • Some colleges will allow you to enroll in person, while others are fully online. Pick a date to enroll so you can get the courses and class times you want.
    • Register for freshman orientation
      • Orientation typically takes place in the summer, and trust us, you’ll want to attend! It’s a fun and exciting way to get to know your college better and start your first year on the right foot.
      • Don’t forget: GEAR UP will cover the costs of your orientation! Be sure to register for reimbursement.
  • Late spring of senior year
    • Placement testing
      • Check to see if the college you’re attending requires placement tests. If you do have to take placement tests, be sure to study for them and take them seriously! By passing these tests, you can avoid taking remedial classes that won’t count toward graduation, saving you time and money. You can also potentially avoid having to take placement tests in the first place by improving your ACT score.
  • Summer before college
    • Shop around for the books you’ll need – prices vary and campus bookstores will often price match with sites like Amazon. Also remember that renting books or buying them used is a great way to save money!
  • First week of class
    • Attend “welcome week” activities and get to know people by joining clubs or intramural sports teams. Making a network of friends is a great way to feel comfortable on campus and make the most of this special experience.
Let’s say a student has already applied to colleges, but they’re having a hard time choosing one. How should they make their decision?

Right now, high school seniors need to be reviewing their award letters from the colleges that have admitted them. This is the best way to get a realistic grasp of how much it will cost to attend a certain school. Then, they should ask themselves, “Can I afford to go here? Do I need to attend a less expensive school? Do I need to find more scholarships, grants, or endowments to help me pay for school?” A lot goes into figuring out whether is a college is a good fit, but the most important factor is whether you can afford to attend.

Many scholarship deadlines are approaching, so it’s important to stay on top of when those applications are due. Don’t forget that your GEAR UP College Coach and School Specialists are here to help you find scholarships and answer any questions you might have, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Speaking of reaching out, how is that process working right now with everyone working and learning remotely?

I think it’s safe to say we’re all “Zoomed out,” so we’ve tried to find quick and effective ways to communicate important information and deadlines. You can sign up to receive text messages for key reminders, and you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates. We’re also available to answer your questions via email or phone! Just reach out to your College Coach or call our hotline at 800-858-1840.

As many students have discovered this year, remote learning definitely has its challenges. What advice would you give to a student to help them prepare for college in a virtual world?

The main thing I want students to know before going to college in a virtual world is that even if you are learning remotely, you still have access to all student services, including free tutoring, counseling and the student health clinic. Also, if you’re struggling in a class, know that your professor is an actual person you can call. Professors love to hear from students and are always willing to help when you put in the effort.

I also want to remind students to join their school’s community. Colleges are making an effort to host tons of virtual events right now, so find some you’re interested in and make plans to attend. Making friends plays a vital role in your college experience and even if you’re attending college fully online, there are others doing the same thing, so branch out and get to know them!

Those are great reminders! What would you encourage students to do in the summer between high school graduation and starting college? How should they prepare?

One thing we definitely want to help students avoid is “summer melt,” which is when students have committed to college but lose the motivation to go during the summer and ultimately end up not attending. A lot of students feel lost in the period between high school graduation and the first day of college – “What should I be doing?!” is something I hear a lot from students. I typically respond with a checklist:

  • Are you living on campus?
  • Have you chosen a date to enroll?
  • Are you attending your school’s freshman orientation camp?
  • Is your financial aid 100% figured out?

Staying engaged in the period between high school and college is crucial and checking these items off can help you stay on track and feel more prepared for what’s to come. Take it one step at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be ready for your first day of college classes. And don’t forget: your College Coach is here to help, so never hesitate to reach out if you ever feel unsure or overwhelmed.

That is excellent advice. Any final words of wisdom for the high school seniors reading this?

At the end of the day, I want students to be aware that there is a campus full of people who want them to succeed and have a great college experience. My biggest piece of advice is do not be afraid to ask for help.

Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us, Sarah!

Thank you!

Still have questions about navigating the college application process? We’re here to help. For more information and resources, head to GEAR UP’s website.