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The decision of whether to go to college or start a career directly after graduation from high school can be difficult. There are so many opportunities available, the choice can feel overwhelming, especially to a high school senior dealing with the culmination of their secondary education. There is much to consider, but thankfully there are steps that can be taken to ensure that students and families are prepared to make the right decision for the future.

Who Needs to Prep for College and Career Readiness?

Ideally, college prep should begin in middle school, with students taking career assessments. As a student progresses through high school the need for college prep and career readiness intensifies with a greater focus on grades and narrowing down on the path a student will choose after school. In short, every student from middle school through high school should be focusing on either preparation for college to ensure their future success. Preparing early for the transition can relieve some of the stress for students and their parents and can help ensure that the right choice is made.

Here are 7 vital steps towards college and career readiness:

Step 1: Choose your Career Path

Preparing for a career is essential, as it will help you chalk out a plan to reach your career goals. This in turn will help you determine if college education is necessary to reach those goals. The first step to choosing a career path is taking a skill-evaluation test that’ll help you determine your career preferences and identify your strengths and weaknesses. These career assessments will help you explore several career paths, the requirements (such as education and experience) to pursue that career and the jobs or positions they offer.

Step 2: Shortlist names of Colleges/Universities

After determining a career path, you need to determine which college or university you will want to attend. Trade schools tend to be shorter-termed, cost-effective, specific to a particular field and certification can be obtained in 18-24 months. If you choose to attend university and are seeking higher degrees (baccalaureate, graduation, masters or a doctorate) and you’ll need to spend anywhere from 4 to 10 years before you can land your dream job.

Step 3: Tour College Campuses

After determining the school(s) you’d like to go to, you should visit these school(s) to determine whether or not a school is truly right for you. Students will want to make a note of things like location, access to resources, housing, reputation and more, on the basis of which, then decide to attend that school.

Step 4: Understand Testing Requirements for College Admission

Every college and university has its own requirements regarding admission tests that must be completed prior to a decision on admission. Generally, either the American College Test (ACT) or the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) are required. You can take either or both the tests during your junior or senior year of high school. It is best to take them as early as possible. It should be noted that both tests can be taken again until the desired score is achieved.

Step 5: Understand Score Requirements for Admission to Top Colleges and Universities

While every college and university has its own admission requirements for test scores. Many elite colleges or those with a higher ratio of applicants to available admissions openings have higher expectations. The best way to know what score a college or university requires for admissions is by obtaining an application packet, speaking with an admissions counselor or researching the college or university webpage.

Step 6: Preparing for College and University Admission Exams

Many standardized tests offer test prep courses which can be taken in person or online. Tutoring is also an option to prep for testing and is highly recommended, especially for subjects in which you are struggling. Practice with SAT practice tests to help you identify your strengths and areas for improvement. It has been proved that having a mentor goes a long way in improving academic scores. So, look out for your mentor who can help you achieve your dreams!

Step 7: Applying for Financial Aid

Many schools offer financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans to help students cover the costs associated with continuing education. The first step to obtaining financial aid is to apply for it using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Applications begin October 1st for the following school year. It is also wise to ask the financial aid office at a chosen school if there are additional scholarships available which are not covered through FAFSA.

So getting ready for a fulfilling college education and career is no rocket science. All you need to do is plan it all out step by step.

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