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Preparing for college can be overwhelming. Where do I start? Do my test scores really matter? How do I know which college to choose? Jeannine Phelan of EducationQuest picks the brains of two Nebraska school counselors, Anders Peterson of Southwest High School in Lincoln and Julie Freburg of Holdrege High School, to help you feel confident in your college preparation.

Where do I start?

While priorities differ from student to student, finding out what interests you is a great start. Utilize the resources your school has to offer. Whether it’s job shadowing, surveys, or extracurriculars, figuring out what you’re passionate about and excited about can help you make those first steps in searching for the college that’s right for you.

Visit, visit, visit! Both counselors agreed that there is no replacement for a campus visit. Anders put it this way, “If you are having a hard time having a feeling, I think a campus visit is a really good way to make yourself have a feeling. You’re gonna react to the experience of being there, even if it’s that the food was gross or that the walks were long.”

Additional factors to consider when narrowing down your search are location, size, career preparation, and financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Be sure to utilize our College Profiles tool to help make your search more efficient.

Are AP and dual-credit classes worth it?

Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-credit courses offer the opportunity to get a head start and get college credit while in high school. AP classes are courses you take throughout the school year and then take a test at the end of the year to determine whether it is eligible for college credit based on your score. Dual credit classes are courses where you pay a college a discounted rate (typically about 50%) to take a course that is eligible for both high school and college credit. These can help lighten your load as a college student and are a good option for students who may have a lighter course load during their senior year of high school.

How much do my test scores actually matter?

It’s no secret that the ACT is being phased out at many colleges as admission criteria. However, it is still used by scholarship donors so take the ACT seriously. Extracurricular activities and GPA are important factors in college admissions, your ACT score just provides another data point.   

When should I start applying?

Julie advises sending in your applications sooner rather than later to help avoid the dreaded waitlist. While deadlines won’t be until your second semester of senior year, it’s best to shoot for before Thanksgiving according to Anders. To dive further into the application process, check out EducationQuest’s College Timeline!

How do I get scholarships?

According to Anders, make yourself more “scholarship-able.” Even though that’s not a real word, the gist of it means to make yourself look better on paper for scholarships. That includes joining clubs, volunteering, and getting a part-time job that relates to your career interests. You don’t have to have a 4.0 or be a top athlete to get good scholarships, colleges want to see students who are demonstrating interest in their areas of study and even in their community.

Once you’ve made yourself “scholarship-able,” use ScholarshipQuest to help you find the best scholarships to help get you through college!

What are my next steps?

Now that you have all of this information, it’s time to take action. Lucky for you, EducationQuest just made your life a whole lot easier! By creating an account with MyEducationQuest, you’ll have access to all the tools you’ll need to find the right college for you, search for scholarships, apply for financial aid, and even get a Reality Check!

By Sydney Burdick