Graduating from high school is a huge achievement and something you (or your child) should be proud of. On the other hand, it’s a stressful time. What next? Most high school seniors spend their fall semesters researching career options and applying for schools and training programs, and then they evaluate the opportunities offered to them in the spring, so that by the time they graduate, they have a plan. It’s a lot of work, but it’s essential work if you or your child wants to have control over his or her career.


Junior year/summer before senior year

This last stretch of high school is the time to start analyzing dreams and passions. Remember, there’s a career out there for anything a student is interested in or passionate about. This is an important time to ask what kind of training program the student wants. A student may know he or she wants to get an accredited BA degree at a four-year university, or he or she may feel like specific, job-oriented training at a vocational college is the right way to go.


Either way, this is also the time to start considering what will make a student the strongest applicant he or she can be. The student should make sure grades stay strong, get more active in extracurricular activities, and especially hone skills and experiences in the area he or she is interested in pursuing.


Fall of senior year

This is the time to start applying for programs. While lots of colleges and training programs accept applications well into the spring semester, many have fall or winter deadlines for students who want to be considered for scholarships. Arts programs often hold auditions and portfolio reviews in early winter, so students interested in these kinds of programs should apply early. If a student hasn’t taken the ACT or SAT yet, he or she should do it by December, especially to be considered for scholarships. On a school’s website, the tab called “Admissions” should guide students through the school’s application process.


Start college visits! If a student is trying to decide between schools, or even just see what kind of campus might fit best, a campus visit will be hugely enlightening. A big part of picking a program rests on how the place feels–remember, the student will be spending anywhere from two to four-plus years there.


Some programs and scholarships require letters of recommendation and essays. Fall is when applicants need to be writing these. Right off the bat, students should ask teachers or community leaders to write letters of recommendation for them. Always allow at least two weeks before the letter is due. Application essays and personal statements may require several drafts, so students should start them as early as they can–and not be afraid to ask teachers for feedback.


Spring of senior year

Many colleges and programs still accept applications at this point, so this is the time to hurry up and get them in! If a student is being considered for a major scholarship, the program may ask for extra application materials or an interview around this time.


As school offers come in, the student may face some tough decisions. Perhaps he or she gets accepted to a dream school but gets a better scholarship offer from a different school? Remember, going in debt for undergrad–no matter how prestigious the program–is rarely the best idea. Save the loans for graduate school. Of course, a little bit of debt may be inescapable, but anything upwards of $30,000 is not a smart financial decision for an undergraduate degree. Students should weigh the quality of the school, program, and final cost of attending before he or she makes this life-changing decision.


Summer after graduation

The summer after graduating from high school is also the summer before college or technical training. While it’s important to take a bit of a break, it’s also time to start preparing. Most programs send out their orientation material around this time, which provides information for finding a roommate, setting a schedule, and finding an advisor. The student may be invited to tour facilities or attend an orientation weekend. It’s good planning to procure as many supplies as possible before the semester starts.


Additionally, if the student is going to be far from family and friends, he or she should get visiting! Spending some quality time with loved ones is an important step in this transition from teen to adult.


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