College Preparation

Well, now that we’re back to the consulting part of the blog, I thought I’d let you in on a little secret. I want to teach you how to save thousands of dollars on your college education. Sound fun?

The truth is that most schools, especially state schools, have a lot of money to give out. Every year, there’s a whole batch of incoming freshmen who receive millions of dollars in scholarships. Why not make yourself one of them?

I don’t believe there’s an easy answer to finding free money, but I do believe there are a few decisions you can make, which will make you a very competitive contender when it comes time to award scholarships. If I could sum it all into one word, it would be: Preparation.

  1. Schedule hard classes in High School

I promised to save you “thousands of dollars” and this is where it starts. The more classes you can get under your belt in high school, the better prepared you’ll be for college. I could blabber on for a couple more sentences, but I think I’ll just give you a couple examples of real world savings.

First, take the classes that will prepare you for your major. My chosen major is heavy in the technical studies and scheduling requirements for a 4 year degree place first semester freshmen in Calculus I –ready or not here we come. The bottom line, if you show up to college for a technical degree and you’re not ready for Calc I, then you’re already behind. This means extra semesters of study and bookoo bucks. Pre-requisites for Calc I are listed below. The cool thing is, you can either take these classes for free in high school or for cash in college. (Costs based on 3 hr classes and $150/credit hour)

  • Algebra I ($450)
  • Algebra II ($450)
  • Geometry ($450)
  • Trigonometry ($450)
  • Total = $1800: Now I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if you made it through 4 years of high school without passing your Algebras, then a technical degree probably isn’t your strong suit. But I think it adequately illustrates the serious savings that are available through preparation and hard work. You can take this “Math” illustration and apply it to whatever your chosen degree and area of expertise is–although I do pity you if your chosen degree requires 15 semesters of English.

Here’s the Catch-22: If you don’t know your future major, then you don’t know which classes to take, and the only way to be fully prepared is to take every class you can get your hands on . . . . And that’s not a bad idea.

Second, consider taking AP (Advanced Placement) classes. When I was in school, AP classes cost about $90 to take a test at the end of the class. If you passed the test, then most colleges would honor that as 3-5 hours college credit. That’s a savings of $400-800. My only caution is not to get carried away with the AP courses, make sure that the classes have something in common with your intended area of study. Also, don’t overbook. I found that the AP tests were super hard in high school, but the corresponding college classes were some of the easiest you’ll take. Consider other ways of spending your time that may be more beneficial than studying for 9,000 AP tests (insert point #2).

  1. Build the Resume

It’s simple, every scholarship you apply for is going to ask you for your resume. Your resume is how other people (aka. people who possess free money) get to know YOU! It’s a little disheartening that someone is going to take your whole life and reduce it down to one sheet of paper–“front side only, please”–but this is also your opportunity to really shine. This is your opportunity to sell yourself and tell the world why you deserve their investment of … free money!

 Here’s the things you need to make your resume stand out among the rest.

  • Leadership & Organization: Invest time in quality leadership opportunities, whether it be sports, student organizations, or job experience. Good leaders aren’t built overnight, you’re gonna have to work you way from the ground up, start early (like freshman year), invest time, and learn to wear every hat on the way up the ladder.
  • Teamwork: Play sports, and lot’s of them. Don’t focus on making it to the pro’s (unless you’re 7 foot tall and run like a gazelle), but, instead, focus on the teamwork that is required to make your team successful. Learn how to apply those lessons to other parts of life.
  • Gain Experience that Compliments Your Degree: This may mean that you have to quit the chess club to join the science club. Or you may have to hang out with those forensics nerds. But the experience you gain will be quite impressive when it comes time to decide who’s gonna receive the scholarships. And, let’s be honest, who ever made a dime playing chess? 
  1. Take a College Class

As soon as your junior year, you’ll have opportunities to take classes on college campuses as “guest students”. This is how colleges lure people to their school. In my case (which I believe is common) the class was offered to me completely free by a local school–which is now my Alma Mater; we’ll call it a win-win for everyone. I highly recommend taking a college class on a local campus to get a feel for what college is all about. Show up to all the classes, be engaged in class, ask a lot of questions, and try not to flunk–remember, that’s a real class and its the first grade on you college transcript 🙂

  1. Visit Colleges

This is by far the best part about “college preparation”. First, it’s an excused absence from the high school nazis. Second, when you visit a college, they will treat you like royalty–at least, if the want your money, they will. I once visited  a college that fed me 4 times in one night–good food too. But it’s not all fun and games. You need to be searching for a college that meets your needs, that understands your dreams and that makes you feel comfortable and at home–its gonna be your home for the next 4 years.

For me, that meant choosing a smaller school, because I’m not a fan of lecture halls filled with a thousand students. I’d much rather enroll in a smaller class where my questions can be heard and the professor has a fighting chance of knowing my name. Also important was the school’s reputation with industry. I chose a school that works closely with local industry, providing internship opportunities during school, which turn into job opportunities after school.

What’s important to you in a school?

  1. Apply for Scholarships

Preparation for scholarship applications starts August of your Senior year–if not sooner. I’ll give you three places you can look for free money. The rest of the game is up to you and whether our not you can outshine your competition.

  • Look Local: Check with your high school counselor about scholarship opportunities in the community. It’s common for local organizations, businesses and philanthropists to offer scholarships to students in the community–small towns seem to be really good about supporting their graduates. Often, these opportunities are poorly advertised, meaning less competition. In order to find the opportunities, you have to keep you eyes open and be involved in the community.
  • Look Online: There are whole websites devoted to finding and apply for scholarships. Check them out and apply for a few. My suggestion is that you pick a few scholarships for which you are truly a competitive candidate and you spend your time crafting a competitive application.
  • Look In the Universities: This is probably your best chance of earning the BIG MONEY. Most big universities have scholarship competitions each year in which they give away millions of dollars in scholarships to high school seniors. Be in contact with your schools of interest. Find out what scholarship opportunities they have. And don’t miss the deadlines. These competitions happen in October and November, and all the money is gone by April. Don’t wait!



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