Whether you’ve always known you were going to go to college, or you’ve only recently decided, and whether you’re the first in your family to pursue higher education or one of many, in your final years of high school, there is a lot you can do to get ready for the next stage in your education. The guide below can help you prepare to make the most of your last year or two of high school. And if you’ve already graduated and are only now considering going to college, most of the advice below still applies.

Consider Your Goals

The good news is that you don’t have to have your entire future mapped out in order to make decisions as you research and apply to college. Some have known since they were children that they wanted to be marine biologists or teachers. Others will head off to college with one goal in mind and find that they change their minds once they are exposed to other options while still others don’t find a path until they are a year or two into their degree. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to decide where to go to school, but don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

There’s always time to change your mind and even to transfer if you end up at a school that doesn’t suit you. However, if you are feeling a little lost when you contemplate your future, it can help to do some research into possible career fields. Think about both what you are interested in and what kind of lifestyle you want. Maybe you are interested in healthcare and helping people, but you find the long hours of residency required to become a doctor off-putting. If this is the case, you might want to think about becoming a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant. If you still really have no idea what you want to do, a large university with many different programs might be the right choice for you.

Plan Your Finances

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The cost of going to college can be a barrier for some people, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several different ways that you can pay for your education and other costs even if you don’t have any savings. One of the main ways is by taking out federal and private student loans, but many often underestimate what they could get from scholarships, partly because they do not know how to look for them. You can search and apply online by creating a profile that will match you with scholarships if you visit here.

This also allows you to upload documents and essays that you can use for multiple applications if necessary. Keep in mind that your expenses will be more than just books and tuition, and working part-time will not be enough to cover all your living expenses. Find out as much as you can about the cost of living in the place you are going to school so that you can make a budget and get an idea of how much money you will need.

Choose Your School

There are many different things to consider when it comes to choosing the college you’ll attend. If you are going into a niche field, there may only be a few places for you to apply, but for most students, the choices are vast if you’re only looking at the programs offered. Other things to consider are the size of the school, where it is located, and the general culture on campus.

You may want to start out at a community college and transfer to a four-year school. This can be particularly helpful if you need to save money or improve your academic standing before applying to the college of your choice. Applying can be both expensive and time-consuming, but you should choose at least a couple of colleges to apply to, one dream choice and one safe one.

Complete Your Applications

You’ll need to get prepared for a college application and that means staying organized in order to get your applications done in time. Note that it’s not just about completing the application itself. You’ll need to take the SAT and talk to the people writing your letters of recommendation well ahead of time. It’s courteous to give your recommenders a few weeks to write letters for you.

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Don’t leave things to the last minute and rush through the application process, especially if there is also a component that involves writing an essay or personal statement. If you are accepted to several different schools, note the deadlines for deciding about which one you will be attending and when you need to pay a deposit. Note other deadlines as well, including whether there is an orientation and when you need to register for classes and on-campus housing.

The Big Transition

Going from living with your parents and attending high school to living on or near campus is a big change. You can talk with your parents about various housing options and the advantages and disadvantages of them. Staying on campus for at least your first semester may help you ease into independent living better. Working on some life skills before heading off to college will make the transition easier for you. This should include budgeting and learning how to do your laundry, cook, and clean. Even if you start out on your school’s meal plan, it will be helpful to know how to prepare a few simple meals.

You might want to talk to your parents about expectations for communication and visiting. It’s important to start establishing your independence and working out problems on your own while you’re in college, but at the same time, you also need to touch base with people back home sometimes. You could always plan a weekly video chat with your family. Make an effort to try to join some of the clubs and other activities on campus to get to know other people, even if a lot of your friends from high school are also going to your college. You should use this time to get to know more people and expand your horizons.