PREPARING FOR EDUCATION AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
There are many options for higher education in Texas. Higher education can include a 4-year university, a 2-year college, or a trade school. As a parent, it is important to set expectations for your child early. By setting the expectation that your child will attend some type of schooling or earn a certification after high school, they are much more likely to enroll in a higher education program.
WHEN TO START THINKING ABOUT HIGHER EDUCATION
It’s never too early! It is helpful to know about the different opportunities for higher education early in your child’s school career. By knowing early, you can make sure that you do not miss:
- Important application deadlines.
- Required middle and high school courses for particular college or career programs.
- Other steps that must be taken prior to admission to a program.
- Anything you can do to help your child prepare for the high cost of tuition, such as encouraging your child to save money from a part-time job.
If your child wants to attend a college or university, you may want to look at different characteristics of the middle and high school he or she attends. High schools that provide good preparation for college should offer an academically challenging curriculum, create a college-bound culture, and have a support system for navigating college admissions.
Indicators of these characteristics can include:
- Wide offering of advanced courses like Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and/or Honors courses.
- High percentage of students taking the SAT or ACT exams.
- Available and knowledgeable college and career counselors.
Most higher education programs require some kind of application. Community colleges have an open admissions policy, which means that students are admitted regardless of their grades in high school. However, families should be advised that students in Texas entering a public institution, including community colleges, must meet the minimum score on the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Assessment unless they are otherwise exempt. If students do not meet this score, they may be required to enroll in developmental education or Adult Basic Education classes, which do not count towards a degree and are fee-based, before they are eligible to enroll in college coursework. You can learn more about this requirement at www.thecb.state.tx.us.
The Common App and Apply Texas are two widely used application processes for four-year colleges and universities. The Common App is used by hundreds of colleges throughout the United States. Apply Texas allows students to apply for admission to any Texas public university, as well as to participating community and private colleges. To learn more about which schools accept these applications, application deadlines, and other information visit the individual sites:
- Common App: www.commonapp.org.
- Apply Texas: www.applytexas.org.
- The website for the higher education program in which your child interested.
The costs to attend higher education programs can seem overwhelming for parents, families, and students. However, there are many financial aid opportunities available. Each university or college has their own financial aid program, which may include grant and scholarship opportunities. There are also opportunities to get financial aid through the state and federal government, nonprofits, and private organizations.
You won’t know just how much money a college or university is able to offer you in financial aid until you apply to the university and apply for government financial aid. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses such as tuition, dorm fees, meal plans, books, supplies, or other college fees.
You should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as it is will make your student eligible for the largest source of financial aid available. The application becomes available in early January, but deadlines are different for each program. You will want to submit the FAFSA as early as possible to make sure that you can take advantage of as many aid opportunities as possible.
If your child is undocumented, he or she will need to use the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA). Visit www.aie.org/state/tasfa/ for more information. Students file their first FAFSA or TASFA form beginning their senior year of high school and will re-file every year they intend to enroll in college courses.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE FAFSA?
- The FAFSA asks for financial information, including balances of savings and checking accounts and information from tax forms.
- Filing your 2016 income taxes early and electronically enables you to use the IRS Data Retrieval
- System when completing the 2017-2018 FAFSA. Using the IRS Data Retrieval System helps make sure your FAFSA information is correct. Errors in the FAFSA could delay your application.
- If you haven’t done your taxes, it’s okay to estimate the amounts.
- You can base your estimates on your last pay check for the 2016 calendar year. After you file your taxes you must update your FAFSA. You can update your FAFSA with actual 2016 information by using the IRS Data Retrieval System or the information from your tax return.
- Before your student’s senior year, he or she can use the FAFSA4caster to get a sense of how much federal aid may be available when he or she applies. Visit www.studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/estimate for more information.
HOW CAN I FILE FOR FAFSA?
- Online at www.fafsa.gov.
- You can download or order a paper FAFSA application.
- Ask the financial aid office at your student’s college or career school if it can be filed there.
It is important to plan ahead for higher education. In order to apply to a four-year university or college, your child will need to take the SAT and/or ACT exam, typically during his or her junior year of high school.
You also should be aware of the admissions requirements for the program(s) your child may wish to attend, so that they can be sure to fulfill all requirements during high school. For example, some universities may require more science or math course credits than your child’s high school requires as the minimum. Your child may also need to take elective courses to be adequately prepared for college.
Here is an example of a timeline that can help students stay on track to obtaining an advanced degree or certification:
- Middle School Years (Grades 6 – 8)
- Take challenging classes–If possible, enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) Courses, upper level math, science, and language classes. Pre-algebra and English classes that are also college prep classes are good examples.
- Talk with school counselors about which classes to take for acceptance into certain colleges or career paths.
- Explore extracurricular activities. Get actively involved in extracurricular and volunteer activities. Be sure to keep track of the number of hours spent on these activities.
- Figure out options for high school, including charter schools and magnet programs.
- Freshman and Sophomore Years (Grades 9 – 10)
- Talk with an assigned guidance counselor about taking college preparatory classes and exploring higher education options.
- Continue getting involved in extracurricular and volunteer activities. Keep track of the number of hours spent on those activities.
- Register and take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT).
- Schedule a tour of a local college to get a feel for what college might be like. These tours are free, and you can call the admissions office to schedule a tour at a time that works best for you.
- Register for classes that will challenge you. Look at admissions requirements for various colleges to understand what high school classes they may require applicants to have completed. Not all high school graduation plans will meet admissions standards set by the college.
- Junior Year (Grade 11)
- Continue to be involved in volunteer and extra-curricular activities. This can help you try out different careers you might want to pursue after high school. It is also good to include on college applications.
- Continue to take classes that challenge you.
- Work with your guidance counselor to make a list of the higher education options that you are interested in.
- Begin researching scholarship and financial aid opportunities for your higher education options.
- Register and take the SAT and/or ACT exams.
- If possible, visit the individual college or career training campuses that you will be applying to.
- Start working on your college application essays the summer before your senior year. Essay topics typically stay the same year to year. Check the higher education program’s application website for the essay prompt.
- Senior Year (Grade 12)
- August – September
- Narrow down school options, and create a list of application deadlines and required materials. This should include scholarship and financial aid deadlines, essays, letters of recommendation, and transcripts.
- Register for or retake SAT and/or ACT exam if necessary.
- Begin thinking about whom to request your letters of recommendation from.
- Request transcripts from your high school.
- October – November
- Draft any required college admissions or scholarship essays.
- Gather your letters of recommendation, if required. Try to ask for letters of recommendation at least one or two months before the application is due. This gives the recommender time to write a quality letter.
- Make sure that your transcripts are correct.
- December – January
- Final application dates for many schools. However, early decision applications are typically due in November.
- February – March
- College acceptance letters begin to arrive.
- Parents need to file taxes to prepare for filling out the FAFSA or TASFA. Remember to complete the FAFSA or TASFA by your intended college’s priority deadline.
- April – May
- Review your admissions information and submit any required materials to the college or program of your choice. This may include housing information, final transcripts, a tuition deposit, etc.
- Check your email regularly and register for the college’s online portal, if they have one, to make sure you receive all information in a timely manner.
- August – September