A college education does not have to cost so much if parents and students develop a high school plan to maximize relevant scholarships & extra-curriculars.
Parents enrolling students as high school freshman – particularly if the enrollment is in a non-public school must develop and follow a long term plan designed to:
- Maximize college scholarships upon high school graduation
- Minimize post college debts in the form of loans
- Begin these processes at the time of high school enrollment
Planning Extra-Curricular Activities
Students may exhibit a tendency to gravitate to school clubs that are popular or that are attended by their friends. This is wasted strategy. If the ultimate goal is to obtain acceptance to the college of one’s choice, student and parent strategies must focus on that goal.
What benefit can be tied between participation in a school drama production and a college major gravitating toward pre-law or international business? Other high school activities tie more directly to such college goals and maximize time more wisely:
- Leadership based on a four-year tier whereby the student consistently achieves a higher leadership post each year as with student government of specific club officers
- Participation in debate programs like the Mock Trial competition, the National Forensics League, a Model United Nations or a Model Congress program
- One or more summer trips abroad either with family or escorted through the high school
- Language participation in relevant classes that include Chinese, Russian, and Japanese; Spanish is still relevant but French, German, and Latin serve a minimal purpose (although it can be argued that Latin encourages critical thinking and higher level organizational skills)
- Editorship of school publications as the yearbook or newspaper
Clubs to Avoid and Clubs to Join
A top student’s time is forever rationed. Once relevant activities have been selected, students – based on their future goals, must avoid clubs and organizations that simply do not help much in either the college application process or an intended major:
- Language clubs
- Intramural sports as a supplement to an existing athletic program
- Cooking clubs
- Politically oriented clubs
- Book clubs
A student/parent committee can evaluate the merits of all existing student organizations in terms of their contribution toward the college admissions process.
This list can be easily expanded. Some schools deliberately pack club periods with useless activities to entice students into participation. In most cases, these clubs do not impact college applications. Why not join clubs and organizations that do? Science fairs are good for students seeking science degrees, but add nothing to an education major or a political science major.
Becoming Familiar with the Prospective College
It is also beneficial to arrange student visits to prospective colleges as early as the high school sophomore year. If the prospective college is not far, students should arrange to take one or more summer courses during the summer after the junior year. This helps to familiarize the student with the school but also allows the college faculty to know the student. Such experiences come in handy when applying.
College recommendation letters should include one letter from a faculty member met during the summer class visitation. Also helpful are recommendation letters written by alumni of the school applied to.
“Giving Back” and Participation in Sports
Every high school has service-oriented projects. College-bound students should select programs that fit into their schedules but ones that are popular and create an impact. Among such projects might be:
- Building a Habitat House
- Developing a program to help stock the local community food bank
- Working with Special Olympics
- Helping to revitalize a blighted neighborhood
Some students participate in a variety of sports throughout the school year both at school and within the community. Parents must decide how much participation will detract from other academic and activities-based programs that should be part of the equation for success.
Unnecessary Required Classes
Many non-public schools affiliated with a church organization force students to take religion or Bible classes. School personnel should be encouraged to change the names of such classes to reflect ethics and philosophy. As electives on a high school transcript, they sound more academic. Some of these classes can be incorporated into history classes.
Student college costs can be dramatically cut if high school preparation is more closely tied to college requirements by giving students a head start. The same is true of scholarships. Parents, students, and school counselors should never wait until the senior year to address scholarships. To be effective, this must be done when the very first freshman schedules are printed.
Planning for college must begin early. Proper planning and realistic follow-through may lessen the financial burden and keep students from taking the wrong courses. In high school, every class, every activity, every scholarship and award directly impacts the quality of the college experience.