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Why do you want to go to college?

Continued from previous page

Live in the present, plan for the future

You're only a teenager for a short time. You'll only be in high school for four years. Therefore, you want to enjoy the unique opportunities that this time in your life brings…'cause you can't go back!

BUT, you've got to take the time to consider your goals for the future, otherwise, at some point you're going to step off a pier into deep water and you're going to have to swim real fast—or you'll sink real fast.

Find a balance between living today and preparing for tomorrow. You can do this with the four principles:

  1. Do your best work.
  2. Know yourself well.
  3. Utilize your resources and opportunities.
  4. Keep your options open.

The four factors actually are all interrelated. At the end, though, it's all about keeping your options open.

Do your best work — Taking the most challenging college prep courses you can handle while earning the best grades you can will increase the number of colleges and universities that are likely to accept you when you apply. Thus, you have more choices.

On the flip side, if you goof around, take the easiest courses and squeak by on grades, most colleges will NOT want you, so your chances of getting into any college are greatly limited. (Most community colleges, though, will accept you with a high school diploma, so you are not out of options - just severely limited in your choices.)

Your guidance counselor should be able to steer you in the right direction—toward four years of English and sciences and math instead of fashion design and woodworking, for example.

Know yourself well is about keeping in touch with your own values, interests, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses while you are being pulled in different directions by various friends, media influences and new experiences.

Having a good awareness of your unique characteristics, strengths and weaknesses will help you chart a life course in line with your strengths while making efforts to shore up weaknesses. In terms of college planning, this awareness will help you set goals, select a college that's a good fit for you and present yourself well in application essays and interviews.

Gathering the Facts will tell you more.

Utilize your resources and opportunities — Who do you know who is knowledgeable about college? Guidance counselors; older siblings, friends or parents who have gone to college; faculty and staff at colleges—especially the admissions reps themselves—all have good information. Seek them out. Ask questions.

If, even in your freshman and sophomore years in high school, you're considering the possibility of going to college, start getting acquainted with what college is all about. Look up college web sites on the Internet. For a list, click here.

Visit a college, any college. Colleges are much more open than high schools. You can freely walk around in most buildings on most campuses. It's fun! Stroll the campus, watch and listen to the students, sit in a classroom or the library, buy a snack at the union or student center, go to the bookstore and buy something with the school name on it.

The point is to become comfortable with the college setting. That way, college doesn't seem so intimidating. Keep in mind, though, that a commuter-oriented community college environment will feel a lot different than a residential four-year school, and a small college environment will be much different than a large university. If you have the opportunity to visit different types of campuses casually at this point in time, you'll be moving in the direction of identifying what type of school will be a good fit for you.

Other opportunities may present themselves in terms of jobs or learning opportunities that may expand your horizons as a person (and also look good on your college application). If a teacher or a local scientific facility is offering an in-depth research internship, look into it. If there's a skills development camp in your sport being offered over the summer, look into it. If your uncle's wife's best friend can offer you a part-time job in a field you're considering as a major, look into it.

There are many opportunities if you watch for them. Lying on the couch with the game controller in your hands every day will mean lots of opportunities lost.

Keep your options open is about not closing doors.

If you take too many classes that aren't considered "college prep" or blow too many grades in any of your classes, which lowers your GPA and class rank, your options narrow (you've closed some doors).

If you spend the better part of your free time during high school in front of the TV instead of more actively pursuing an interest or building a skill (through clubs, sports, music or debate practices and performances, community service projects, a paying job, political involvement, etc.), your options narrow.

If you don't take the time to explore various colleges and explore what you specifically want out of college until it's senior year and time to start filling out the applications under deadline pressure, your options narrow.

Thinking ahead, planning and using resources and opportunities will deliver all kinds of college choices when it comes time to choose. With more choices, you're in the driver's seat. That's because the more selective colleges have increasingly higher standards that you can meet, if you have done your best work, know yourself well (and can articulate that to a college) and have taken advantage of opportunities.

So, you've created lots of options for yourself and you're concerned about too many choices? See "Making a Choice"

Move on to "Gathering the facts"