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Some Brief Advice for Paving the Road to College

by Sheila South

If you have a youngster in 9th grade who is interested in obtaining a college degree, it’s not too early to start preparing. Here’s a brief outline to put the stepping stones in place.

Identify Interests

Of course the first question when contemplating a youngster’s future is where do his or her interests lie? School guidance counselors can provide career assessments or there are also self-help guides online: example

Explore the Options

Volunteering in fields of interest is a great way to:

1) See if the interest is real enough to be a career objective,

2) Eliminate the interests which do not prove substantial,

3) Identify the youngster’s strengths and weaknesses in regards to the career interest, and

4) Build the bank of volunteer hours which will further the youngster’s ability to qualify for scholarships to pay for the college education.

Keeping a simple log of volunteer hours will help later when filling out scholarship applications. Your student should simply note the date, organization, number of hours served, and then keep a running total of all volunteer hours.

Your student should also keep in mind his future need for references for college and scholarship applications and keep track of contact information for supervisors at these volunteer organizations.

Volunteering for places of personal interest, investment, or to develop a skill is also an option. Volunteering throughout high school will demonstrate a desire to help others and to grow oneself. Here are some ideas:

-Learn a mechanical skill in a bike repair shop

-Learn a construction skill by helping build houses: Habitat for Humanity.

-Play music or provide an activity for the residents in an assisted living facility.

-Tutor kids in reading or math.

-Take food to the elderly or shut-ins.

-Volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center.

-Volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club.

-Volunteer at a Food Pantry.

Find a School

Some career fields require a specialty degree which will require some research to identify schools which offer that degree. For instance, not all schools offer a degree in aerospace engineering or graphic design. Specialty search engines can help identify schools which meet your student’s goals.

Be aware, search engines do not necessarily list ALL of the options particularly if seeking schools with traditional or conservative programs. A specific search will be necessary for those schools: [And even this list does not include Hillsdale College or Regent University which has one of the top law schools in the nation.]

Visit Schools

Junior year is an excellent time to take to the road and visit schools. Organizing vacation around school visits is a win-win. While at a school, be sure to attend sessions offered about financing the student’s education and gather info about scholarships the school itself offers. Often times the best scholarships will be offered by the school’s endowment. A target of 3 to 5 schools will likely yield a nice comparison.


By the end of junior year, it is time to search for, identify, and apply for scholarships. Some college and scholarship application deadlines are as soon as October of senior year. Although scholarship applications do take a lot of time, think about the payoff. If your student spends 5 hours applying for a $500 scholarship which he is awarded, he earned $100 an hour!

Finding scholarships which match your student’s profile can be time consuming. The first place to start is the target school(s). The school itself most likely offers merit-based awards (money given specifically for the accomplishments of the student like grades, test scores, demonstration of leadership, volunteer service, etc.) and need-based awards called grants which do not have to repaid (not to be confused with student loans which do have to be repaid.) Schools with large endowments will often cover a student’s cost if he is admitted and cannot afford to attend.

Another place to check for scholarship opportunities is a parent’s employer or the student’s employer (like Chick-fil-A or Burger King). There are many types of scholarships available: the Tall Club International even offers one based on height! Computer searches will render more opportunities than could be imagined. Do be aware of scams; you should never have to pay for a subscription or to submit a scholarship application.


Keeping track of school work, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities is a full-time job. When senior year arrives, all of those expectations will be coupled with another work load: college applications and scholarship applications. Most of these applications require essays which if taken seriously require a good bit of time to create. (Your student should always have someone proofread his essays before submitting.) From May of his junior year through December of his senior year, there will be a heavy load. Your student needs to be organized to keep up with deadlines. For each school that he will apply, he should search out the deadlines and add them to a calendar. And he should follow the same process for scholarship applications. This way, he can pace his school work and other commitments with meeting these extra deadlines.

Other Paths

College is expensive. If your student’s best efforts at finding scholarships still leave financing a hindrance, why not consider community college for 2 years and then transferring to a 4 year program? It is important to make sure that the classes taken at the community college will transfer to the program one intends at the 4 year school. Be sure to verify that each class will count towards the intended degree. Here is an example comparison chart from NCSU:

All of the stepping stones discussed here do require a good bit of effort and planning, but they will pay dividends if your student successfully identifies a career and is able to navigate his way through the college years without crippling debt to follow him. Parting thought: the longest journey is begun with the first step.

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