Planning ahead prepares college-bound students for a successful undergraduate experience. Underprepared students may encounter many challenges. Only 58 percent of students who first enrolled in college in 2004 graduated from the same institution by 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Financial problems, academic difficulties and uncertain career goals can cause students to drop out before finishing their college degree.

Academic Readiness

College-level courses are designed to be faster paced and more rigorous than high school classes, and students who do not score well on entrance examinations may be denied admission or required to take remedial classes. The Center for Academic Progress reported in 2009 that the degree completion rate for college students who needed remedial coursework was 31 percent compared to 78 percent for well-prepared students. To prepare for college, high school students should take difficult classes to become proficient in math, English, writing, science, critical thinking and time management. Advanced Placement classes can also be particularly useful.

Paying for College

Rising tuition is a concern for many families. It is never too late to start saving. A part-time job enables a student to gain work experience and reduce the amount of student loans needed. Students are encouraged to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for grants, low-interest loans and work-study jobs, which will be sent to schools chosen by the student. Staff in college financial aid offices are happy to answer questions about scholarships, estimated costs and expected family contribution.

Career Focus

Choosing a career path is a major decision that requires self-reflection and research. Many factors must be considered, especially the student’s personal interests and aptitudes. Job prospects after graduation are another important consideration. The ACT suggests that students should talk to their high school counselor and explore volunteer opportunities to gain a realistic awareness of the different jobs that interest them. Having a career focus increases motivation and determination in college.

Gaining Admittance

Selective colleges look for high academic achievement along with student engagement and community service in the admission process. Peterson’s, a company which provides guides to college information, strongly recommends involvement in student activities to acquire interpersonal skills, self-confidence and an ability to work with others. Extracurriculars, such as sports, choir and service clubs, shows that a student is well-rounded and an asset to the school. Having a personal passion and a sense of self is important when writing college admission essays or pursuing scholarships.

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