College Planning Resource Guide

College Planning Resource Guide

Planning for college can be stressful, but it beats the stress you would have if no plans were made. Here are some resources to help you with some of the bigger decisions points you’ll cross.

Many students and families find the process of college planning overwhelming. Families in which no one has ever gone to college can find it especially challenging: College planning is a process with lots of interconnected pieces, so it can seem like an absolute maze. Another stumbling block can be the fact that although many people think the process begins during a student’s senior year in college, college planning actually needs to start much earlier. For instance, the ACT and SAT exams, the two most popular college admission tests, should be taken during junior year, though they can also be taken in 12th grade. The PSAT, which helps students acclimate to the format of the SAT, is often taken even earlier, during sophomore year.

The first step of the college planning process is having conversations with the potential student. What are their thoughts about going to college, and what sort of college experience do they picture for themselves? Of course, going to college isn’t the end goal: It’s a stepping stone to a financially and personally rewarding career. That’s why one important piece of the college planning puzzle is helping the student determine what careers interest them and how college will help them achieve their goals. Once a student has an idea about which majors interest them, it will be easier for families to begin searching for a college that will fit the student’s needs and their budget. Once a list of schools is made, start researching them. The emergence of virtual tours has made it much easier to get a good idea of a campus and a school’s culture from home. Once a final list is made, start planning out in-person visits.

Paying for college is a big source of anxiety for many families. Every family should complete the FAFSA, the federal student aid form. The data from the form is sent to each college or university where the student has applied. Completing the FAFSA makes a student eligible to be given federal aid along with institutional aid from their chosen college. However, other forms of aid also exist, such as scholarships. There are multiple searchable databases of scholarships. These typically require the student to do individualized applications for each, but considering the potential financial benefit, spending the time applying is a great investment.


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Career Interest

  • Career Information for High Schoolers: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that high schoolers explore their interests, research careers that match those interests, and get experience through internships and after-school jobs to help them start deciding on a career.
  • Career Interest Survey: Taking this survey can assist students in understanding what sorts of careers fits their talents and interests.
  • Career Aptitude Test: This free online assessment tool can provide students with information about careers that would be a good fit.
  • NSHSS Career Interest Survey: The National Society of High School Scholars surveyed around 14,000 members to understand what careers members of Generation Z are interested in pursuing.
  • Explore Career Interest Clusters: Clusters are broad areas of interest that cover many different career types. For example, the Arts and Communication cluster focuses on careers that require creativity and well-developed interpersonal skills.
  • 14 Career Sites for High School Students: It’s important to understand how to start researching what careers would be a good fit. Learn how to narrow down your options, then explore the possibilities.
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College Information

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College Searches

  • College Navigator: The National Center for Educational Statistics maintains this searchable database that can help you pare down your options.
  • College Collections: College Confidential has a huge variety of collections in which all colleges have something in common, like schools with horseback riding offered on campus, good undergraduate schools for future medical students, and so on.
  • 50 Best Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities: Looking at college rankings can help you find great schools to apply to.
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Campus Tours

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Financial Aid

  • Complete the FAFSA: All students should complete the FAFSA because it is the basis for almost all college financial aid.
  • Financial Aid for Students: The federal government oversees and administers different financial aid programs, which are explained here.
  • Financial Aid 101: The financial aid process often feels bewildering to students and families.
  • How Do Student Loans Work? Student loans are a part of many financial aid packages. It’s important that students and families understand the different types of loans and how each works.
  • How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter: Sometimes, the information reported in the FAFSA doesn’t accurately represent the student or family’s ability to pay for school. In these cases, you can write an appeal letter stating why an offered aid package doesn’t meet the needs of the student.
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Online Scholarship Searches

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Or jump to our student resource library for tips on everything from studying to starting on your career path.

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