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Part One - THE ULTIMATE HIGH SCHOOL TO COLLEGE TRANSITION GUIDE | RESOURCES | TIPS
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(This post was last modified: 05-15-2017, 10:44 AM by Serpius)
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THE ULTIMATE HIGH SCHOOL --> COLLEGE TRANSITION GUIDE | RESOURCES | TIPS | SAVE MONEY

Table of Contents
  • Introduction
    • Disclaimer
    Advanced Placement Classes
    • Importance
    • Pace Yourself
    • Prep
    • Other College Credit Opportunities
    ACT
    • Content
    • Prep
    Searching for Colleges
    • Tuition
    • Campus Visits
    • Clubs/Organizations
    • Sports
    • AP Credit Policy
    • Prestige
    • Niche
    Applying for College
    • Clubs and Organizations
    • Personal Statement
    Financial Aid
    • FAFSA
    • Personal Loans: Subsidized or Unsubsidized?
    • Grants/Scholarships
    • FastWeb
    Choosing Classes
    • Meeting Requirements
    • Cross-listed Courses
    • Course Grade Distributions
    • Rate My Professors
    BA vs BSConclusionResourcesCredits


Introduction

As a regular browser of Education Lounge, I’ve seen a lot of people asking questions about anything from ACT/AP prep to which major they should choose. While a lot of this depends on your own goals and interests, I can give you general advice from a hindsight perspective, as well as resources, which will hopefully give you a much more clear idea of how to approach college and how the decisions you make now will affect your future.

Disclaimer
I’ve prepared this guide because, considering the demographic of Hack Rally users, I believe the community can greatly benefit from it. That being said, the content of this guide will be most applicable to those in the United States.

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Advanced Placement

Importance
Prior to entering college, there are plenty of things you should do to make your college life much easier and save money. The first I’m going to emphasize is to take Advanced Placement classes! Take as many as you possibly think that you can pass - I cannot stress this enough. It is hard to foresee the precise benefits of passing AP tests before you get to college, but to put it simply: You are getting college credits for little to no cost.

To put this in perspective, a somewhat cheap university near me charges $330 per credit, and gives you 10 credits for scoring a 3 or better on the AP Calculus BC exam (5 credits for Calculus I and 5 credits for Calculus II). This means (at this particular university) you literally just saved at least $3300, assuming you can apply those credits toward your degree. AP Calculus BC is a special one because it counts for 2 classes, so most AP courses will only net you 3 or 4 credits, but that’s still potentially thousands saved.

Even if you don’t think an AP class could apply to your major, remember that every college program has General Education requirements, so nearly any AP exam you pass can potentially give you credit toward your degree. Every college and university will have an “AP credit policy” on their website that will show you exactly how each score for every exam you take will transfer into their system. Be sure to cross reference this with their general education and degree requirements to see exactly which requirements they will satisfy! All you have to do is google any school’s AP credit policy and degree requirements to find these.


Pace Yourself
While you’ll want to take as many AP courses as possible, you do not want to overwhelm your schedule with them. Try to spread them throughout your high school career. The way I did this was I doubled up on math courses (took two in one year) freshman year and doubled up on science sophomore year so that I was able to take AP Calculus BC and AP Physics B as a junior, along with AP US Government and Politics. Then I took AP English Language, AP Psychology, and AP US History as a senior. You could even try to take an easier AP course (like psychology) as a sophomore. The point is to spread out the courses so that you can take as many as possible while having ample time to do well in each. Also, if taking a summer course means that you’ll be able to take another AP class in high school, I would highly recommend that you do it.

Preparation
These courses can be tough and it all comes down to a single exam at the end of the year, so you want to make sure you’re prepared. This might sound cliche, but be sure to show up to class and do all of your homework. As you near the exam your teachers will hopefully be giving you problems from actual previous AP exams. If you do not feel that your teacher is preparing you well enough, there are numerous resources outside the classroom that you can use to help yourself. College Board is an amazing resource to use because they are actually the ones that administer the AP exams. They have a complete list of each AP course that you can delve into and view actual questions and solutions from previous exams. You can find this amazing resource here.

You can also ask your teacher for or order a study book that accompanies your textbook. My AP Psychology teacher was complete garbage and literally didn’t do anything, however, he provided us with a studybook that went along with our textbook. I studied alone using that book and managed to get a 4 on the exam, while only one other person in the class managed to score above 2 (3 is passing for any AP exam). Sometimes the classes can be challenging, but don’t get discouraged. The more courses you take the more time and money you save. Some colleges place a limit on how much AP credit they allow you to transfer in, but this limit is usually as high as two semesters worth of courses. It is possible for you to skip a whole year of college and graduate early if you do well enough in high school. That will save you more time and money than you realize now.


Other College Credit Opportunities
In addition to AP courses, my school district offered a “Youth Options” program that allowed the high school students to sign up for literal college courses at one of our three local colleges (assuming you met the prerequisites for the course you want to take), paid for by the school district. Students would take these classes at the college and have to commute back and forth from the college and their high school since they were taking courses at both schools. I would argue that this is even better than AP courses because you are actually in a legitimate college course. You getting credit does not depend solely on a single exam in May, but rather your performance in the course throughout the semester. This was advantageous for me especially because after junior year I had credit for Calculus I and II based on my performance on the AP Calculus BC exam, so I was able to take Calculus III as a senior in high school, which fast tracked me to finish my math degree entirely in 3 years (even though I decided not to graduate). I strongly recommend you see if your district has a program comparable to this, as it is just more free college credit. If not, just focus on your AP courses.

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ACT

Content
The next test you need to focus on is the ACT. Unlike the Advanced Placement Program, you won’t be taking a course in school to help you do well on the ACT, but it is just as important as any other exam. Not only do colleges use this exam to help determine if they will accept you or not, but also sometimes how much scholarship money they will give you, so it is important that you do as well as possible. This test will include Math, Science, Reading, and English sections, each of which is scored from 1-36. The average of these 4 scores will determine your overall ACT score. You can also choose to take the optional Writing portion, which most colleges will want to see. The Writing portion is scored separately from the other 4. You can see an excellent breakdown of exactly the types of questions you will encounter as well as how much time you will have on each section here.

Preparation
To help you study for this exam, ask a counselor or teacher if your school or district ever hosts a practice ACT or SAT exam. If so, these should mimic the real exams and give you a good feel for what the test is like. If you are unable to take an official practice exam proctored by your district, you can employ similar independent study tactics as I described for the AP exams. For practice exams, you can go here. Be sure to time yourself and abide by the time limits. Furthermore, numerous prep books can be found online or at your local public library (yes those exist). I highly recommend getting one to accompany your studies.

You’ll also want to register on act.org so you can see the schedule of tests for the entire upcoming schoolyear as well as their registration deadlines. Through this site, you can register for tests, view your scores, and send them to colleges. You can take the ACT as many times as you need until you are satisfied with your score. Take it for the first time no later than spring of your junior year so that if you need to retake it you can do it again your senior year. You can take it earlier if you want, but the further along you are in your high school career the better you should do, so there isn’t much advantage in taking it your freshman year. The test is offered at least every other month during the school year, so if you take it early junior year you will have plenty of opportunities to do better.

When sending scores to colleges, you can choose to send your best overall ACT score. Keep in mind that you cannot send individual subject scores to colleges. For example, if you took the ACT twice and got an overall score of 28 the first time and 30 the second time, but scored a 33 in math on your first one but only a 30 in math on your second, you will have to choose whether you want to send the lower overall score with the higher math score or the higher overall score with the lower math score.


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Searching for Colleges

After tackling the ACT as well as numerous AP exams, you’re probably at the point where you’re looking for colleges. There are many factors that go into finding a college that fits you, and most of those are dependent upon your own interests, financial situation, etc. Despite this, I can still give you general tips that can hopefully help narrow your search.

Tuition
In the United States, public colleges will have “in-state” and “out-of-state” tuition rates. Consider looking for a school in your state of residence, as tuition can be up to 3x more expensive for non-residents.

Campus Visits
One of the best things that you can do is go on as many campus visits/tours as you can. No matter how good a school looks on paper, if you visit it and it doesn’t feel right, you may want to reconsider. When taking tours, you will find campuses that will make you look around in awe of how amazing they are. It’s an exciting and motivating feeling. I did not take a single tour of any campuses while in high school and did not experience this until after visiting my friends’ schools. This is a mistake that you do not want to make.

Clubs/Organizations
In my opinion, this is one of the more important aspects. Especially at larger schools like mine, joining clubs is an amazing way to meet people with similar interests and will shape your college experience for the better. Many colleges have very unique clubs that you would never find at any high school. Most also have sport clubs that offer a less committing, recreational version of sports if you want to continue your high school sport without all the commitment and practices. These can range from Water Polo to Disk Golf to Wrestling. You can find complete lists of clubs, organizations, and sport clubs at any school by searching the school website.

Sports
If you are athletically inclined enough to compete for a starting position, find a school whose athletic program you click with or one that will give you an athletic scholarship to attend.

AP Credit Policy
Don’t let all of your hard work in those AP classes go to waste. If you are torn between schools, how these schools accept your AP credits could help you make a decision. Just Google “[school name] AP Credit Policy”.

Prestige
Not everyone does, but some care about the prestige of their school or program. This isn’t something I wouldn’t worry about too much.

Niche
Aside from the ones I’ve outlined, there are so many more categories to take into consideration when choosing a school. To explore these, I would absolutely recommend making an account on Niche. On Niche, you can search for any college or university you’re interested in and it will give you an extremely informative page that will include letter grades for each of ~20 categories. Here is an example:
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You can click each category for countless reviews from students as to why that category earned whatever grade it got. As you can see in the sidebar on the left, the ‘grades’ are just the school home page. The column on the left extends down several page-lengths with options that will tell you everything you ever need to know about that school. At the top, you can also see that school’s national ranking (if it has one), location, number of students, out-of/in-state tuition, and acceptance rate.

Note: As you can see there is a grade for “Drug Safety”. If you are into illicit drugs, this is one consideration to be aware of when applying to a college or university.

If there were only one resource out of this entire guide that you used, I would say use Niche. This will hopefully drastically narrow your search. Niche also offers services like “Find Scholarships” and “Find Colleges”, but Niche specializes in comprehensive college rankings/reviews.

If you’re having trouble getting to this point and don’t even know of any colleges you’re interested in, you can try using Niche’s or College Board’s college match service. Here you can fill in a lot of info about yourself, your interests, and what you want your ideal college to be like (location, sports, diversity, etc.) and it will match you to schools. I have never tried this before and would only do this if you are absolutely lost, but it is College Board (remember they administer the AP tests) so I’d assume it’s reliable.

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