High school is an opportunity to get ready for college, and there are several steps you can take to not only improve your chances of getting in, but lower the amount you'll have to pay for it. I'm not going to tell you much that your teachers haven't told you, but I'm not going to appeal to moral responsibility or a love of learning like they do. Instead, we'll talk about it in terms of cold, hard cash. Follow these three keys - take AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, get a decent GPA, and take standardized tests - and you'll see it pay off in your pocket when it comes time for college.
1. Take AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment Classes The great thing is that all of these count as college credit, and they're all free. And let me tell you, once you get to college they're not cheap. At USF's Lakeland campus, for example, you have to pay $169.70 for each credit hour you take. There are three credit hours in the average class, four in some. So for a single class you'd pay over $500! Every class that you take care of before you graduate is $500 saved. If you take enough AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, you can even graduate a semester, or even a year early. Students take about 5 classes per semester, or 10 classes per year, so by taking (and passing) 5 AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes you could potentially skip a semester, and if you take and pass 10, that's a whole year that you don't have to take. Trust me, graduating early can save you a lot of money or, should you end up changing your major, give you more flexibility.
In addition, many of those AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes will cover your general education requirements, widely known as the least interesting classes you'll take in college, giving you more room to take fun classes. Like scuba diving. (Yes, it's a class.) So make it your goal to take, and pass, at least five AP/IB or Dual Enrollment classes while you're in high school. You'll save money, give yourself more flexibility in college, raise your GPA, increase the likelihood that you'll get admitted to the university of your choice, since they're suckers for students who challenge themselves, and possibly even be able to graduate early!
2. Get a Good GPA Now, what is a good GPA? When I say good GPA, I'm talking about the highest that you can possibly make. Let's say that you're a senior in your first semester, and you have a 2.8 GPA, which is pretty low for universities. For you, the goal should be to get your grades up to at least a 3.0 GPA. If you're an average student with a lot of time left to bring your GPA up, aim for at least a 3.5. And, if you're a good student focusing on getting a lot of financial aid, have at least a 3.75. Colleges reward for high GPAs, not only by admitting you to their university, but also by giving you financial aid. The higher the GPA, the more money they'll give you. For a 3.7 GPA, my university will automatically give you a $2000 scholarship a year for all four years ($8000 total). Get it up to a 3.8 and my school ll give you an extra $1000 a year, bringing you up to a $12000 total. My school isn't the only one that does this, and every dollar they give you is a dollar you're not in debt when you graduate. For those of you who think that a 3.7 sounds out of your reach, know that I've never seen a scholarship where the student didn't have to have at least a 3.0 GPA, and most won't reward for below a 3.5. So at the very least get your GPA up to a 3.0 or higher, if you can. The higher, the better.
3. Take As Many Standardized Exams as You Can We all know that good SAT or ACT scores are required for getting into most any university. What they don't always tell you is that many universities take your best score. And not just your best score on one test day, but they take the best scores from each section for each time you took the test, and use it to figure out your score. So if you took the SAT and got a 450 on reading, 600 on math, and a 400 on writing the first time, then you take it again and get a 500, 550, and 500, the scores they'll count will be your best from each section. So in this example they'll be considering you as having gotten a 500 on reading, 600 on math, and 500 on writing. That's the reason you should take them as many times as you can afford.
In my opinion, one of the most important tests you can take is the PSAT, and it isn't even considered by colleges! So why is it important? First off, it's great practice for taking the SAT, and it's been shown time and time again that scores on tests get better with practice. But more importantly, if you do well on the PSAT you can earn a lot of money off of it. You see, the junior year PSAT scores, plus at least a 3.5 unweighted GPA, are used to give you certain awards. National Merit honors the best students, and it's for everyone. National Hispanic and National Achievement (for African Americans) are a little easier to receive, requiring scores that aren't so high. All three of these awards translate into big money with scholarships. You see, universities love having National Merit, National Hispanic, and National Achievement scholars on their campus, and many have scholarships just for those students. At USF, where I go, National Hispanic and National Achievement scholars get $4500 a semester for all four years, which translates into $36,000 of financial aid. National Merit scholars get even more, $6000 a semester plus a laptop and a study abroad scholarship, which translates into over $48,000 of financial aid over four years. This is a lot of money we're talking about, and it can keep you out of debt your whole college career. So, take the PSAT your junior year and try your hardest. You may be the next to earn that scholarship!
Note: I base most of the rates found in this article on public universities, but private universities, or out of state tuition rates, cost much more. Scholarship information comes from USF, but other colleges also have their own programs and will reward for different things.