Starting from scratch

"We don't know anything." 

I hear that occasionally
from parents and students who have no idea where to start with college
planning.  Any family who
takes these five steps will be more informed and in control of their
student's college destiny.   If you've come to the realization that you should be doing
more, but aren't sure what exactly to do, this is where I'd start.

1.  Visit your high school counselor.  

If
you have a high school counselor (not everybody does these days), start
there.  And don't make excuses that your counselor doesn't know you or
has somehow failed you by not providing you with college information. 
Yes, part of a counselor's job is to lend college planning assistance
to students.  But it is not your counselor's job to take over the responsibility for your
college planning.  The most successful students take on this
responsibility and then advocate for themselves by seeking out their counselor for advice.

In particular, you want to get answers to the following questions. 

  • Am I taking a college prep curriculum?  If I'm not, what do I need
    to do to get on track to go to college?  Do I have any classes I need
    to make up, or courses I need to take that I haven't yet taken?
  • What standardized tests do I need to take for college and when
    should I take them?  (In particular, ask about the PSAT, SAT, ACT and
    SAT Subjects Tests).
  • What are some reasonable choices for colleges I could consider?

2. Check out the college planning calendars on the NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling) website. The Princeton Review has lots of helpful college information
on their website, too. In particular, pay attention to what they have
to say about standardized tests, which ones to take, and when to take
them.

3.  Try to attend a college fair in your area. 

4.  Learn about the process of applying for financial aid.  I think the three best sources of information are:

5.  Pick five colleges that interest you, visit the admissions sections
of their websites, and research their admissions requirements.  They'll
tell you what classes you need to take, what standardized tests are
required, and what the deadlines are to apply for admission.  While
you're there, read about their process of applying for financial aid,
too.

These steps won't complete your college planning, but they'll get you started (and caught up).