Charting the Right Course to College Starts Early in High School

Advice from Class 101

August is filled with optimism as we begin a new school year: it is our academic “new year”! Anything feels possible. That excitement is multiplied for first-time college freshmen. With graduation parties in the rearview mirror and minivans packed with dorm essentials, college feels like a destination. 

But there’s a problem. College students may be in the wrong place. Our culture is too familiar with the national statistic reported by U.S. News & World Report that one-third of college freshmen will not return to the same school as a sophomore. Outcome data from the Ohio Department of Education reports that the six-year college completion rate for Ohio high school graduates ranges from 15 percent (from urban high schools) to 46 percent (from suburban schools).  The loss of time and money is measurable. The loss of confidence is collateral damage. 

The map to college can take many routes, and the key to charting the best course is planning throughout high school. 

Know the colleges

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment fell by 6.8 percent in 2020. Even before the pandemic, the population of students applying from Southwest Ohio was decreasing. Class of 2021 applications through The Common App rose 11% nationally, but dropped one percent in Ohio. Informed and prepared students are at an advantage to find the right college fit. Freshman year is not too early to tour a college or visit college fairs, and all students can learn from online admissions events.

Know the dates and deadlines

On August 1, the Common Application, a free portal with more than 900 colleges and universities, opens for the 2021-2022 application cycle. The majority of colleges open their application window by August 1.

FAFSA filing season kicks off October 1. Many colleges have early financial aid deadlines, so we recommend that families begin working on the FAFSA in October. In addition, colleges may have institutional financial aid forms, and some will require The CSS Profile through The College Board. To get started, create separate FSA IDs for both the student and one parent. 

Students need to know a variety of other dates and application deadlines, including Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, and Restrictive Early Action. Students also may need to track deadlines for academic programs, scholarships, and more. Consider creating a calendar of deadlines, and then work to be ahead of them. Most high schools ask students to be ready to apply two weeks before college deadlines. Talk with your high school counselor to know what to expect. 

Know your high school 

South Dayton is home to some of Ohio’s best high schools, and students have options to prove themselves in a challenging course of study. We know that the rigor and grades on a student’s high school transcript can be important factors in admissions. Students can start exploring available courses early to find the best fit for their interests and high school schedule. 

In addition, many high schools employ an online system such as Naviance or Scoir to assist with college applications. Become familiar with your high school's system before starting applications. 

College Prep Checklist 

There's a lot to know. Our advice? Focus on one step at a time throughout high school.

  • Create a list of colleges and visit at least ten schools. General tours are nice but request department visits and spend time in the community around the school too. 

  • Define interests. Finding areas of study can help develop the college list. Consider volunteering, job shadows and pre-college programs to help define goals. 

  • Make a test prep plan. Despite the test-optional trend, Ohio high school students still take at least one ACT or SAT in school. Start early to establish a baseline score and work to optimize admissions and scholarship opportunities. 

  • Create a resume and set goals for each year of high school. Think about a “separator” such as a service project or a pre-college camp or program. 

Early engagement is a game changer

There’s a lot to do, but it does not have to feel overwhelming. The bottom line is to start early: students should take time to define interests, build a large list of schools, and develop a resume reflecting their individual activities. 

Karen Lane DeRosa and Tony DeRosa

Owners of Class 101 Dayton

kderosa@class101.com and tderosa@class101.com


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