Thursday, January 10, 2013

Your quick guide to starting community college

When I wrote my book and started this blog, I had community college students in mind. What I didn't expect, was that it would garner such interest from high school students.

I've received dozens of letters from community college students who've used Community College Success as part of a class, and many of them echoed the same sentiment: This book was so helpful; I wish I read it in high school. 

And yesterday, I received an e-mail from a high school student asking for my help in figuring out how to get to community college. I've received many e-mails like hers from across the country, and it serves as a reminder that no matter how much information is out there, or how much we assume people already know, we all need help starting new things in our lives. 

Especially college. 

Some people might think "preparing" for community college is an oxymoron. Wrong. While the application process is usually much less complicated than a 4-year university, a lot of preparation and understanding is still required. 

College is complicated, especially if you are the first in your family to go. And the earlier you prepare, the better chance you have of getting the classes you want, saving money, and having a great experience. 

So below is my top 10 list of things to do your senior year of high school in order to prepare to attend community college. I hope it helps!

1. Make an appointment to talk with your high school guidance counselor about your college options. Come prepared with all of your questions and be sure to follow up. Ask him or her to recommend community colleges based on the program or major you are interested in. 
2. Talk to your favorite teachers about your college aspirations. Let him or her know what community college you want to attend and ask for help and advice. Many of them will be more than happy to help you and serve as a mentor.  
3. Google the community colleges your guidance counselors and teachers have recommended, and read everything you can on their website. Start with the "Academics" or "Programs" tab to make sure they have a program or major that interests you. 
4. Find the "Apply", "Application", or "New Students" tab on the website and read everything you can about what you need to do. Most colleges start with an online application, financial aid, and residency.
5. Start putting reminders in your calendar to send your high school transcripts to your community college once you've graduated, as well as take the necessary tests (community colleges accept SAT/ACT scores, or you can take a different test at the college; test scores do not limit you from getting in, but they do determine your starting point for your Math and English courses. If you do not score high enough, you will have to start in prep courses that cost money but do not offer college credit. These courses are okay and a good refresher, but you don't want to end up there just because you didn't study. Ask your testing center for a study guide before you take the test). 
6. Schedule a tour of the community college that interests you most. You can usually do this on the website. 
7. Schedule an appointment with an admissions counselor or recruiter on the community college campus to ask all of your questions and get the help you need when it comes to the other documents, like financial aid. Do this as early as possible. 
8. Ask around on Facebook or in your community to find someone who goes to the community college you are interested in. Invite them out for coffee or set up a phone call and ask for their advice. 
9. If you want to get a 4-year degree, start searching websites of the 4-year universities that interest you and start to plan what degree you would like to end up with. Bring this information with you when you first meet with an advisor so that you can ensure you are on a program track that will easily transition you to your 4-year school. 
10. Find out when the club recruitment fair is at your college (usually the first week) and make sure you can attend. Go around to all of the tables that interest you and plan to try out a few meetings until you find a club you like. Get connected the first week so that you do not do college alone. 

As I hope you can see, while there are a lot of administrative tasks, the most valuable thing you can do when preparing for college is to make sure you find other people who can help. Keep asking and seeking help until you get what you need.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: no one who does college successfully does it alone. Some people have help built-in in their parents. Some people have help that money can buy (e.g. paid college advisors). Some people are in programs that guide them every step of the way. That's all great. 

But not everyone has that. 

The good news though? All people have the potential for the creativity and courage needed to seek out the help they need and make college happen. And if you've read to the end of this blog, you are exactly that kind of person. You can make it to college and beyond. And I really hope you do.

If you need any additional help feel free to e-mail me at or check out the first chapter of my book for free.  

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