On The Right Track

When planning for life after high school, consider the benefits of a career within the U.S. military.

When planning for life after high school, consider the benefits of a career within the U.S. military.

A few months ago, you were probably stocking up on school supplies, but before you know it, the time will come to don your cap for high school graduation.

Knowing graduation is on the horizon gives you time to prepare for what’s next – college. It’s never too soon to start preparing, even as early as middle school.

In Washington, students are required to complete a High School and Beyond plan in order to graduate. The process helps students think about their futures and prepares them for their after-high-school goals, beginning in sixth grade.

“If students aren’t engaged in what they want to do, there’s a risk,” says Mike Hubert, director of guidance and counseling for the State of Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The High School and Beyond plan gives them a direction, so the school can adapt requirements to what’s right for the student.”

See our timeline of tips to keep you on track for a great college education beginning in middle school:

Career path

Middle School

Sixth, seventh and eighth grades are great for learning more about yourself and your interests, and developing solid study skills. Work on being a good student, so by the time you get to high school (where grades DO matter), you’ll be good to go. Seek extra help now on subjects you find difficult.

Find out what you like to do. Try different extracurricular activities like sports, music, drama or government and develop these interests in high school. Start saving for college. Even putting away a little each month will help. Ask your parents to help you look into college savings plans through your bank.

Career path

Freshman/Sophomore Year

Focus on the bigger picture your first few years of high school. Set up a meeting with your guidance counselor to get an idea of your college plans and what courses can help you achieve your goals. If you have schools in mind, now is a good time to find out their requirements needed for admission.

Focus on grades. You may have just started, but getting off on the wrong foot can set you up for failure. Take a foreign language, if possible, to get ahead on the college requirements.

Put effort into your extracurriculars. Take a leadership role and make them meaningful for valuable experiences and personal growth.

Browse the web. Start getting an idea of what type of college you want to attend. Big or small school? Are athletics important? Answering these questions now will help you have better visits junior year.

Career path

Junior Year

Sign up to take the PSAT in October. This is great practice for the SAT and also serves as the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarships.

Register to take the SAT or ACT in the spring, depending on which tests the colleges you want to apply to use. Usually, they will convert one score to the other if needed. If you don’t do as well as you hoped, you have time to study and retake it in the fall.

Keep your grades up and take challenging courses. Senior-year grades usually come too late to play a role in applications, so junior year is critical.

Visit colleges and draft a list of your top and safety (backup) schools. You’ll want to have a set list by summer, so make your visits junior year.

Career path

Senior Year

Senior year is your last chance to take the ACT or SAT to get the scores you want, and you should have your list of colleges narrowed down between five and 10 schools. Perfect your college essays, line up letters of recommendation, and research and apply for financial aid.

Check deadlines for college applications. Some schools offer “early decision” or “early action” deadlines, which means if you’re accepted, you commit to that school.Most regular admissions deadlines fall in December and January.

Submit your application for FAFSA (federal financial aid) and keep copies of everything you send to and receive from colleges.

Keep your grades high, avoid senioritis and take a breath while waiting for acceptance letters, which usually arrive around April.

Congratulations! Once you’ve received your acceptance letter, send in your enrollment deposit by May 1, or the date specified.

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Recent Graduate

The hard part is over. You’ve graduated high school and are ready to take the next step to a great college education. Before heading off, check important dates for freshman open house and move-in. Prepare for the year ahead by keeping up with your time management skills, reading as much as possible and investigating career options to set you on the right track.

College courses often include hands-on laboratory work, depending on your major.

College courses often include hands-on laboratory work, depending on your major.

– Rachel Bertone