College planning can start as early as middle school, and the sooner you start thinking about your future, the better off you’ll be. If you’re currently in high school, now is the perfect time to begin developing a college plan. That plan means getting a handle on your timeline to graduation, as well as envisioning your first day as a college student. Below are five tips to help you make the right college plan for you. Everyone’s journey looks a little different, and that’s okay. Following these tips will help you decide what path to take and how to get there with less stress and anxiety.

Learn About Loan Options

Planning for college costs is one of the most overwhelming tasks faced by incoming students and their families. The average cost of education, as well as the average student debt, is rising each year. Currently, the typical graduate has around $37,000 in student debt when they finish their bachelor’s degree. Student loan calculators are the best way to project future costs and repayments. By inputting figures ahead of time, you can get a good idea about what your finances will look like in the future. Using a student loan calculator can help you figure out payments after graduation and budget your income accordingly. This also makes it easier to build savings and plan around your financial obligations.

Talk to Your School Counselor

Counselors aren’t just there to help you with personal problems. They help students plan for their futures by setting goals and taking the right steps to achieve them. Even if you’re only a freshman in high school, you can talk to your counselor about creating a college timeline and how to prepare for college. During the first two years of high school, it’s good to focus on your grades and extracurricular activities that can become a part of your college application. By 11th and 12th grade, you’ll be studying and taking the ACT and SAT exams as well as applying to different schools. It would be wise to meet with your counselor about your planned curriculum. Taking college-level and advanced placements (AP) courses can get you a head start on earning college credits. 

Consider Career Interests and Research Degree Programs

When you’re not even 18, it’s hard to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Thinking this far ahead can freak anyone out, so don’t pressure yourself too much. It’s okay to focus on the next five years and decide what areas of interest you might enjoy. For example, if your best subjects are math and science, consider careers in fields that involve those like engineering and medicine. You are able to complete the first two years of an undergraduate degree as an undeclared major. This gives you time to try different types of classes before settling on a program that you are more certain of. It’s also a good idea to consider degree options that open up more than one career pathway. This will give you more employment opportunities after graduation as well as later in your career.

Take a Practice Test

You can prepare for the SATs by taking the PSATs during your sophomore year. These scores don’t affect your GPA or applications, but they’re a good way to identify areas you need to study more. You can also reduce some SAT anxiety by taking the PSATs. This way you know what to expect when you take the official exam. The PSAT lasts two hours and 45 minutes and tests two areas: math evidence-based reading & writing. Each section is broken into individual segments. Consider asking your teachers for advice, studying with friends, and even asking your parents to help you find a professional tutor. There are also PSAT prep classes to sign up for that can prepare you for the exam and the SATs later.

Start Touring Schools

In addition to program offerings, you also need to decide what you want most out of a college. Everyone’s interests are different, and the type of environment you thrive in may be different from what a particular school has to offer. Keep your options open. Don’t base your decision on the first campus that you tour. While you’re there, make sure you try to talk to some of the students already attending. Ask questions about the on-campus dorms. Ask them about all the dos and don’ts of college living. By the end of junior year, you should have narrowed down your college options to a maximum of five schools. You should be prepared to apply to them in the fall and spring.

Final Thoughts

There is a great deal of stress placed on students today. College preparation and planning is just one of the many balls they must juggle in their lives. Providing our youth with tools and tactics they can utilize to alleviate unnecessary anxiety. Whether you’re a parent or an educator, take an active interest in helping the student(s) in your life! The 5 tips above will provide a framework for that next inevitable step in your life.