The decision to attend college once you graduate from high school can be a tough one–should you start working right away and delay school or dive right into higher education? Is a two- or four-year degree better for the job you want? Or should you pursue a skilled trade license and skip college altogether?
We start asking students as early as eighth grade what they ‘want to be’ when they ‘grow up.’ That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 14-year-old! However, it’s good to know that there are different paths you can take if you have a passion or hobby you’d like to pursue or turn into a career after high school.
The following is a breakdown of the types of secondary programs you can take, what to consider when looking at colleges, how to apply for college as a high school student or an adult, and the steps to take once you’ve been accepted. Get ready to take notes because there are a lot of nuggets you’re going to need when you apply to college!
There is no such thing as “unskilled labor.” Every person working at a job has skills that they use every day to perform their jobs. Some jobs do not require higher education or a certification, but it is often a good way to get your foot in the door if you don’t have prior real-world experience.
Choosing a degree or technical program depends on your career aspirations. For example, if you’re passionate about plumbing, you can skip the BS (bachelor’s of science, that is) and work towards a career certification instead.
Read more: Which Trades Career Is Right for Me
Having a good idea of your future goals helps, but if you're unsure about what career to pursue, here are some questions to get you thinking about your options:
If you know that you’re interested in going to college, you can start applying even while you're still in high school. Many colleges also offer rolling admissions, meaning you can apply at any time throughout the year. Pay attention to your school’s application deadlines for the upcoming academic year so you don’t miss one and have to wait until the following semester.
As a James Madison High School graduate, your JMHS diploma has been accepted by many colleges in the past. However, it’s important to note that every college has different admissions requirements and different things they look for in applicants. Before enrolling, it’s a good idea to check with colleges you’re interested in to ensure that a JMHS diploma will meet their requirements.
For further details, you can check this list of colleges that accept JMHS diplomas.
College applications typically require:
If you're an adult learner thinking about returning to school, rest assured that it's never too late. Many colleges offer programs designed specifically for adult learners. The application process remains similar, with some colleges even waiving certain requirements, like test scores, for adults.
This timeline is a guide, not a requirement, but it’s good to remember that there are many deadlines and tasks to check off in order to apply for college. Making sure you know when things are due is going to be crucial and good practice in case you have a professor who won’t accept late work.
Identify colleges that offer academic programs and campus environments that fit your goals and interests. Consider factors like size, location, cost, available extracurriculars, and graduation rates.
Virtual or physical visits to college campuses can help you understand the environment and community. You can often tour the facilities, meet current students, sit in on classes, and get a sense of whether it feels like a good fit for you.
Most colleges require the SAT or ACT. Prepare well for these tests and aim to complete them in your junior year or early senior year. Some colleges may also require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. Note that an increasing number of colleges are moving toward "test-optional" policies, particularly in light of disruptions due to COVID-19.
Most colleges require one or more letters of recommendation, typically from teachers, school counselors, or other adults who can speak to your abilities and potential. Identify individuals who can write strong, personalized letters for you, and ask them well in advance of the deadline.
The college essay is your chance to show colleges who you are beyond your grades and test scores. Most colleges require at least one essay as part of the application.
You will typically submit applications through platforms like the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or the college's own application system. You'll need to fill out personal information, list your extracurricular activities, and potentially answer additional essay or short-answer questions.
Ensure you submit all parts of your application, including supplemental materials like transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation, by each college's deadline. Deadlines can range from as early as October or November of your senior year for early decision or early action to as late as March or April for regular decision.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student aid and complete any other financial aid applications required by your state or the colleges to which you're applying. Some colleges also require the CSS Profile for non-federal financial aid.
Once you've received responses from the colleges to which you applied, review your options. Consider the financial aid package, the academic program, the campus environment, and any other factors that are important to you.
Most colleges require you to decide and send in a deposit by May 1st. Be sure to notify the other colleges that accepted you that you will not be attending.
Read more: 3 Reasons to Enroll in Online College
Once you're enrolled, start by taking the pre-assessments for subjects like English and Math. Make use of online resources and study at your own pace. For instance, Hannah Rodgers, an online veterinary technician student, shares, “I got access to my study materials right away. I didn’t have to wait for anything. This is a plus for online college."
If you’re ready to get started on preparing for college–just like Hannah–we’re here to help you every step of the way. Whether you’re ready to apply for colleges or you’re looking for a high school program that will meet your future education needs, call the helpful admissions team at JMHS at 1-888-427-6500 today!
Lauren Ambrosio is a lifelong writer with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. She joined Penn Foster in 2023 and is excited to be part of a team with such a rich history. She hopes to help our learners by providing helpful information they need on their education and career journeys. When Lauren isn’t writing about our veterinary programs—her favorite topic—she is hiking the foothills of Pikes Peak with her black lab, Remy.
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© 2023 James Madison High School,
a division of Ashworth College.
All Rights Reserved.