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Plan ahead for college years

By Staff
In my experience, there's no specific time of the year to start planning for college. Any time is a good time, and the earlier the better.
When you consider all of the decisions, applications, research, saving and testing that are part of the process, college planning is a big job.
Beginning as early as ninth grade, students and parents can start thinking about courses of study, choosing a college and how to finance a college education, and there are many useful web sites to help with college planning.
The U.S. Department of Education home page, www.ed.gov, offers advice to both students and parents. The site can help students and parents develop a plan for applying for financial aid, and it also offers many good points to consider when choosing a college or technical school.
The student aid area of the site -- www.studentaid.ed.gov -- includes thorough information on the first step in college planning -- deciding what you are best suited for in higher education. It also includes a year-by-year timeline for steps a student should take through high school to be best prepared for college.
For the big decision of choosing a college, the web site suggests that a student understand his own interests, the real costs of education, what types of schools are out there and what criteria to consider when choosing a school.
The site is an excellent starting point for any high school student, with advice on preparing, choosing, applying, funding, attending and repaying.
Another good web site is www.alstudentaid.com -- the Alabama Student Loan Program's site.
This site also includes extensive information on preparing for college, choosing a college and financing a college education, but it is geared toward students in Alabama who want to attend schools in Alabama.
It even has links to all those schools.
Soon, the Alabama Student Loan Program will launch a new site -- www.alabamamentor.org -- that will take college planning a few steps further. The site will target kids as early as the eighth grade, with college preparation checklists for each grade level.
Students will be able to research and compare Alabama colleges from that one location. They will also be able to apply from the site and transfer their high school transcripts.
Look for the Alabama Mentor site this spring.
The best advice I would give to a high school student planning for college is to absolutely visit the schools you are considering. Visit them on a regular day when you can walk around and talk to people and imagine yourself as a part of the campus.
When I was a junior in high school, I wanted to be a journalist and I was planning to go to a particular university to accomplish that.
The summer before my senior year, I had the opportunity to go to another school for a day because my brother was an entering freshman there.
I felt at home at that school from my first visit, and I didn't think again about going to the other one. My gut was right, and I was happy at that school for six years.