Freshman Year is a Time to Reinvent Yourself

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College Freshman

Freshman year of college is like being given a blank slate or a free pass. No one knows who you are or about how you embarrassed yourself that one time in second grade. You’re given a second chance, of sorts, to be the person you’ve always wanted to be. Sound great? It is! Here’s how you can reinvent yourself during your freshman year of college.

Start Journaling or Visioning

Part of being confident is having a sense of self. That’s not easy to restart once you’re eighteen or older. But one way you can prepare is by journaling or visioning who your perfect person is. Maybe she’s smart and sweet, or perhaps he’s funny and outgoing. Whatever it is, start jotting it down.

Not a writer? No problem. Vision boards are the perfect way to see it all on paper without having to put it into words. Grab some magazines or a printer and cut out words, phrases, quotes, images, graphics, etc. that inspire you or remind you of where you want to be. Lay it out in a way that resembles a roadmap for your next year.

Stay Realistic

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be your new self. You’ll fall back into bad habits, especially if it’s a trait that’s been ingrained in your mind. Very few people decide to be athletic and then go running every morning. You’re not a light switch.

Instead, make incremental changes. And then, reward yourself for when you do well. For example, if you’re trying to be more personable or social, treat yourself to something nice when you make an effort to meet new people or go to an event. Those little rewards pay off.

Change the Outside With the Inside

No, we’re not talking about your looks. We’re talking about the clothes you wear, the look of your bedroom, or the way you rock your makeup. All these little outward things do have an effect on the inside.

When you wear a pair of killer heels, how do you feel? What about when you stay at a luxury hotel room? In both cases, your inside probably feels similar to a rock star. That’s because the setting matters. Surround yourself with things that make you feel like a new person, and you’ll become that new self.

Embrace Your Best Self

Reinventing your total self is probably not going to happen. And plus, you don’t want to lose what truly makes you happy. So decide what you can and can’t get rid of. Instead, find a way to work it into your new personality.

You love playing video games but want to make friends outside that space? Great! Don’t throw out your system yet. Use that love of video games to start a club or make events for other gamers. Teach your new roommates how to play or volunteer with kids and teens.

Remain Positive

We have already mentioned that it takes time to create a new persona. The wait can be the hardest part of your transformation. But, no matter what, you need to keep a positive, forward-thinking attitude.

It won’t be easy, and your change may not be as simple as you think, but if you remain in the right headspace, you can reinvent yourself in time for your freshman year.

Thinking of a Gap Year? Here’s What You Need to Know

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The Royals do it. Malia Obama did it. Why not you? Gap years, or a delay in starting college, is becoming more and more trendy. But what is a gap year, and should you take one? We break it down to help you make this difficult decision.

What is a Gap Year?

Gap years are defined as a literal gap between high school and college. For most US high schoolers, summer break is all you get between graduation and college orientation. But across the pond, where gap years are common, it’s usually a 1-2 year period “off.”

What you do with your gap year is up to you. Some people decide to work full-time while others relax. Traditionally, gap years are spent volunteering and traveling. Whatever you decide, your time off should be beneficial to you and your reason why.

Reasons to NOT Take a Gap Year

Sounds great, right? A full year break from school may seem like a dream scenario, but there are some pretty big cons you need to consider. Here’s why you shouldn’t go for a gap year:

You’re Interested in a Competitive Program

Harvard doesn’t wait for just anyone. Even though Malia Obama was able to defer her entrance into the top college in the United States doesn’t mean you’ll get the same kind of offer. Deferring your start in an ivy league school or a competitive college program could mean losing your spot altogether. Is the risk worth it? That’s up to you and your future school.

Money’s Tight

Unless you plan on working during your gap, you better have the money to cash flow it. Whether you are planning on traveling or volunteering, all of that will cost you probably the equivalent of a year of your college tuition.

Your Family Isn’t On Board

While not completely necessary, not having the support of your family could ruin your time off — especially if you plan on crashing with them. Selling more traditional parents on gap year could be trickier than you think.

Reasons TO Take a Gap Year

On the other hand, all the risks you take may be worth it. Maybe these reasons can make your decision easier.

High School Was Stressful

If you were a ball of stress and anxiety in high school, a gap year might get you back on the right foot. A year off to explore your interests, find yourself, and could help you better prepare mentally and emotionally for college.

Money’s Tight

While we talked about money being a potential issue, if you plan on working during your year off, a gap could be in your favor. A year’s worth of work could get you the work experience you need and help you save for future tuition costs.

You’ve Got a Heart for Service

If you want to make a difference in the world, you don’t need to wait until college ends. There are many programs out there that will take those 18 and over and help them find their place in the world. You may build homes, serve in disaster areas, teach English abroad, etc. Whatever you decide, you’ll make the most of your time away from school.

Taking a gap year can greatly benefit those that use it to their advantage. It is important to discuss your options with your parents or guardians before making such a decision. But, if you feel it is right for you, dive in head first and enjoy everything that a gap year has to offer!

How to Find Your Dream Major

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If you’re reaching the end of the year with continued anxiety over your chosen major, it might be time to reconsider. Changing your major can seem overwhelming, but you shouldn’t feel undue pressure over it. The truth is that you’re not out of time to change your mind, even if this is your last semester! You don’t want to live the rest of your life wondering, “What if….?”

However, there is a point to be made that everyone experiences some major doubt over the course of their college career. There might be a few rare people who never waiver, but for everyone else, picking a major isn’t an easy decision. If you’re really considering switching, ask yourself these questions before you do anything drastic (or neglect to do anything at all).

What Makes You Happy?

This might seem like the most obvious question out there, but there’s a reason it’s first. Don’t just consider what things you like — which TV shows, theme park rides, sports, bands, whatever. Those are great but think big picture.

Are you fulfilled by pushing yourself to complete the next puzzle? Consider careers in medicine, government, or even air traffic control.

Maybe you want to see new people and visit exciting places. The United States has 270 embassies that need Foreign Service staff. You could be a pilot or teach English abroad.

There are many things that might make you happy, but ultimately you can narrow it down to the next question.

How Can You Best Achieve That Happiness?

This is where reality kicks in. Maybe you like the idea of solving puzzles for a job, but you can’t imagine going to school for seven years to become a doctor. Maybe you do want to travel, but you can’t learn languages to save your life.

That’s okay; it doesn’t mean that you can’t do what makes you happy just because you lack a skill in one area. Instead, focus more on how you can work in a field that interests you. Take personality tests, visit your school’s career counselor, and research thoroughly. There are definitely dozens of jobs in the field that you’ve never heard of.

And if you really can’t find an existing way to do what you want to do, be an entrepreneur! They represent 10 percent of the workforce, and you’ll be in good company. Getting to set your own hours and be your own boss are pretty powerful perks. Not everyone has what it takes to be an entrepreneur, but if you’re driven enough to get to this point, chances are that you do.

What Will Get Me There?

The last piece of the puzzle is to consider what path you have to take to get your happiness. Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward. Wanna be an engineer? Get an engineering degree. Wanna be a lawyer? Go pre-law, and get your J.D. afterward. In some cases, you might not love your new major, but remember that it’s getting you to a larger goal.

Sometimes, though, it’s less laid out for you. Most jobs have several related degrees. A lot will just care that you have the relevant experience or even just a minor in the field. Some jobs won’t care at all what your degree is in, just that you have one.

You can take some time to ask yourself all these questions, but don’t let them sit on the backburner for too long. Eventually, you’ll have to make a decision. When you do, look up what classes you need to take and get a plan in place. Years down the road, you’ll be glad that you took the time now.

How to Actually Fundraise in College

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You’re hopefully back in the swing of classes, although summer vacation could not come soon enough. But it’s far from time to check out. If you’re intent on building your resume, you’re working hard at your classes as well as some extracurricular activities. But one of the hardest parts of staying active in clubs and groups throughout college is the constant pressure to fundraise.

College students aren’t exactly known for their expendable income, since paying for school itself is often a struggle. So you and your group members might not have enough to donate yourselves. Instead, you’ll have to get other people to part with their money, so you can keep playing lacrosse, raising awareness about local policy, educating disadvantaged kids, or whatever else you think will help you later on. Question is, how can you best fundraise in a college town?

Know Your Target

Ask yourself: who is most likely to support your cause?

Students might have little cash to spare, but they also probably have more school spirit than anyone else nearby. If you want to target students, you’ll have to give them some sort of tangible return for their support. Some kids might be willing to part with a couple extra bucks for nothing but a fuzzy feeling, but most college kids will respond best to food. Popcorn, pizza, or anything that you can make it bulk cheap is a good way to go here.

However, if you’re looking to solicit community involvement as well, then you might need to up the stakes. Adults in the community might feel a certain sense of pride about the school, but they’re less impressed by dollar pizza slices than your average sophomore. Consider their political leanings; if you’ve got a lot of concerned environmentalists in your town, try a green fundraiser. If there is a strong arts presence, consider classing up your fundraising.

Quantity or Quality?

When considering your fundraising scheme, consider if you’re aiming for quantity or quality. Are you trying to get a lot of little donations or several larger ones? The latter will require more effort on your part, but the payout for your organization could be great.

Here are a few “quantity” based ideas:

  • Have a bake sale. Consider some easy recipes like pancakes, cookies, or hot cocoa!
  • Create a GoFundMe account. This is a great way to get people from even outside your community to donate, like faraway relatives, but don’t rely too heavily on this one option.
  • Ask your school if you can sell concessions at upcoming games.

And a few “quality” ideas as well:

  • Ask a local business for support. Even if you can’t secure a one-time donation, you might be able to convince them to donate a percentage of their sales as long as it’s a worthy cause. Lots of business do just that to help fundraise for pets, world hunger, and literacy programs. Your club can do that too!
  • Hold a dance! Social events are always appreciated on campuses. You can go for casual or formal, but college kids rarely get the chance to dress up, so you might have an easier time with formal.
  • Offer your services to the community. As a group, all go rake someone’s leaves, mow their lawns, fix their plumbing, whatever it may be. With so many of you, the job can get done in a few hours max.

These ideas will vary depending on your fundraising goals and how many people you have involved, but they’re a good place to start.

Consider Teaming Up

On college campuses, there are a lot of involved young people. Many are trying to make a significant change in their community, and there is no reason you both can’t help each other out.

If you’re part of a gender-divided sports team, consider asking the other side if they want to team up. If you’re an environmental group, there’s probably another one on campus that could use some money as well. Greek houses are always trying to fundraise, so make sure to pick their brains! They’ve got to be experts by now. Sometimes, two minds are better than one.

Of course, the returns on this strategy diminish the bigger the other group is. If they help out a lot, the other group might want more of the money than you’re prepared to give up. But you shouldn’t dismiss this option right away; give it some serious thought.

Fundraising is always a surprise, especially in a place as unpredictable as a college campus. You never know who is going to feel school-spirited or giving that day. The best you can do is approach this problem as a unit and commit to putting your all in it. Because if you’re not going to fight for your club, who is?

Move-In Checklist for Girls

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College Checklist for Girls

 

College may seem far off in the distance, but the reality is there’s only one year left. That means it’s time to start talking dorm rooms. And of course, figuring out your style and making sure you have the essentials ready to go is an absolute must. This OCM shopping list is the only one you’ll need. Here’s a breakdown of everything that’s on the move-in checklist for girls.

Bedding

Truth be told, dorm beds are kind of miserable no matter where you go to school. It’s almost universal that you’ll need a few things to make your sleeping space comfy. The first is the right kind of bedding. Extra-long sheets, comforter/quilt, and pillows are the basics. But also consider investing in a great mattress pad if you’re worried about a bad back or a thin mattress.

Bath

Communal bathrooms can be intimidating, but they’re a breeze once you’ve got the right gear. Of course, you’ll want your beauty products and favorite shampoos and soaps. We say splurge and get the best to make your shower experience more luxurious. What you really need is a pair or two of flip flops, a shower caddy to carry it all in, and a set of durable towels.

Home Essentials

Colleges do not give their students cleaning services for their rooms — you’re in charge of that. This means you need to stock up on cleaning supplies and gear. Broom or a sweeper are great to have handy, as well as paper towels and some basic sanitizing wipes.

Out of Sight

Small spaces means getting creative with your storage. Under the bed boxes are crucial, as are closet organizers that hang on the door. Trunks are great for being decor, seating, and storage, but you can also consider ottomans with storage built in as an option.

Dorm Cooking

Believe it or not, but you can cook when you’re living in the dorms. Most come with a small, communal kitchenette, and you’ll want a fridge and/or microwave for yourself. That means you’ll also need a few basics — pot, pan, mixing and measuring bowls, containers, mugs, plates, silverware, etc.

Desk Supplies

Keep yourself organized with everything you need — staplers, paperclips, pens, and pencils, together in a sturdy box or desk organizer. You may also want to invest in the must-haves of studying, like highlighters, notecards, notebooks, and other portable items you can take to and from class and study sessions.

Technology

A laptop or at least a tablet with a portable keyboard should be at the top of your list; it’s an essential in the digital age. But don’t miss out on other essentials like a personal printer, a surge protector, extra batteries, and a carrying case. A TV in your dorm is also a great addition that will let you have movie nights or just “veg,” and a pair of noise-canceling headphones will keep you sane if you get a roommate who snores.

Decorating

Now this category is where you can have some fun! Mix in some touches from home (like a favorite throw pillow or a picture of your BFFs) and add in some new, adult items like a potted plant or a gorgeous vintage mirror. The trick is to come up with a theme or particular style and work with it until it feels like home.  

Extra Essentials

Some things don’t fit into categories but are totally necessary. We’re thinking of first aid kits, umbrellas, lockboxes, and other frequently used items. Think about what you use around your house and add it to this category. You may be surprised what you need — and what you can leave behind.

Use Your Summer Job to Catapult Your Summer

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“Summertime, go get a job!”

Have you heard that one yet? I remember hearing that from many people when I was in High School. Oddly, it mostly came from people that I rarely saw, didn’t really know what I was doing with my life, and just liked to offer unsolicited advice. I am all about maximizing the time you have during the summer because most don’t. If you do have a job or will find one for the summer, approach it with the right mindset because that is how you will get the most impact.

Your summer job is really for your development. Minimum wage jobs are not meant to be careers. That isn’t what they are meant to be. You’ll find yourself moving out of those types of jobs by maximizing the time you have when you start. Understand that. Your summer job is a foundation step for your career.

Over the summer, you can develop specific skills that will help catapult your career. Accountability, organization, communication, and work, to name a few.

Accountability

Be the best at whatever your responsibilities are. They may seem small or time spent wasted to you, but you are literally getting paid to fulfill these responsibilities, so they mean something to the business you work for. If you are a cashier, never leave a till unbalanced. If you stock shelves, establish an incredible organization system. Take pride in what you do and max it out. Yes, people will tell you to “calm down, slow down, or stop taking it so seriously” but in reality, you aren’t truly focusing only on today, you are trying to build a mentality that will propel your tomorrow. This will help you establish a habit of accountability. That way, when you start classes again in the Fall, or move on to the next job, you are ready to maximize every class and every responsibility you have even when you know it is only short term.

Organization

Starting a new job means you’ll be adjusting your daily schedule around this new role. Start planning your time so that you are never late. Fit in a solid morning routine, get what you need to get done outside of your job, but do not be late. Once you are at work, organize your flow in the way you get things done. Find the best way to work. Try new things, try new ways, improve the process. This is another habit that will give you success in school and later jobs. You’ll know how to change up the way you study or take notes, you’ll know how to take on new projects in later jobs. You’ll be able to get more done.

Communication

No matter the job, you’ll work with people. Maybe it is only the same three that you see and talk to every shift, maybe you consistently meet different people every day. Life is all people. Start practicing the skill of developing relationships with people. Great communication will present you with more opportunities than you ever thought possible. Focus on seeking to understand, help them get what they want, and let them know you appreciate them. This will help you as you later work with classmates and professors, and future people you will interact with in future jobs.

Work

More than anything, you’ve got to get it done! Make sure you are the employee that gets their stuff done. Even though you know this summer job is not forever, don’t waste your time. You’ll waste your time if you drag your feet. You’ll get more out of it when you build your ability to get things done. This mentality and habit will propel you through the rest of school and you will be ready to make some big things happen when you are ready to jump into your career.

Your summer job is more than just having something to do now right? Right. Go get it done. Build yourself into a better human. Start now, and go get it.

Five Successful Habits from Incredible Student Leaders

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I have been lucky to work with some incredible students. These students have earned 3.8+ GPAs, been high performers in Student Leadership positions, worked part-time, and made incredible memories. They lived the dream, right? I’ve put together five trends I have seen from the incredible, and if you start applying these you will see incredible results too.

The number one thing incredible students have in common is urgency. Every successful student and successful person for that matter has urgency. They feel like they don’t have time to waste and they never stop growing or learning. It is ok you have to take a class with content you don’t care about, the incredible students understand that they will have to do things they aren’t passionate about in their future job too. Now matters. So if you are in a class where you don’t see a purpose, find a purpose. Why spend any of your time frustrated, bored, or coasting? Be fueled by the desire to achieve.

The second trend of incredible students is that they have an elevated circle of influence. Your friends, the people you spend the most time around, help you determine what is acceptable. That means how much time you study, what grades you pursue, and how hard you work. If you want to increase any of those levels, start elevating your circle of influence. The incredible students I worked with were selective with those they spent time around. Even within their Student Leadership teams, the incredible students still surrounded themselves with others that supported and pushed their levels of effort.

Being an incredible student is no cakewalk. These students were always the busiest that I knew. To operate at that level they had to manage their time and relationships well. Incredible students break down their classes and their time. They know what is coming, what has to be done, and who they need to involve to help them get there. Incredible students build and maintain relationships with their teachers, even the ones in classes that don’t cover their favorite subjects. If you want to be incredible, learn to communicate and organize your time. You only get today once, are you gonna waste it?

To be incredible, you have to know yourself. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? The incredible students identify these and then focus only on maximizing their strengths. Use your strengths to boost your performance and figure out how to excel. If you aren’t very organized but communicate really well, then always communicate with your teachers, classmates, and bosses. Increase your level of communication and your relationships will help you stay on top of your responsibilities.

Incredible students live above the opinions of others. These high performing leaders aren’t bothered when people call them nerds, or boring, or a loner. You will never please everyone, so why waste any time worrying about the expectations of others. Live in your own reality, and remember, just because someone says something or you have a negative thought doesn’t mean you have to believe it.

You’ll notice that none of those trends have anything to do with natural talent. Maximizing your strengths doesn’t mean developing new ones, it is identifying what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t. Effort, focus, priorities, and work. That is what will get you there. Which of these trends do you need to work on? How will you adapt these to your situation? Figure it out, start doing, and start being incredible.

3 Lessons All Students Should Seek to Learn in 2017

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3 Lessons All Students Should Seek to Learn in 2017

A new year brings new goals, new challenges, and hopefully new achievements. You won’t accomplish greater achievements this year with the same work ethic that got you your achievements from last year. If you want this year to be your best ever, then you need to level up your knowledge and work ethic.

If you’re a student, you may be seeking to earn a greater GPA. You may be planning on graduating, gaining admittance to your dream school, or earning a scholarship. Some may be planning to jump straight into their career path in a specific trade. Whatever the case may be, all students should seek to learn these three lessons to make the most impact in 2017.

 

Lesson 1: Get Organized

Succeeding in school obviously requires a certain level of organization. This year, challenge yourself to create systems and a routine to keep yourself organized. As you continue in school, you will see more assignments and projects stacked on top of each other. This will especially be the case in college. When you enter the workforce, you will still see assignments and projects demanding your time. My advice? Get a planner. The Nomatic Notebook is my personal favorite, and I have also seen the Panda Planner work very well for students. Finding an organization method that works for you takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.

Lesson 2: Get Educated

Focusing on your classes is the purpose of going to school. Never forget that. Along with gaining the education that is most likely leading you toward your chosen career, you can gain what I call the “other” education. More commonly known as “self-development”, you should spend your time during school focusing on shaping yourself into a better person. Easy ways to do this is to turn your commute to/from school into a learning opportunity. Listen to a Podcast or Audiobook. Read a book or a blog post. Those who seek out the “other” education and apply what they learn will catapult their success for sure.

Lesson 3: Get Focused

Set clear goals of what you want the end of this year to look like. Picture it clearly, one year from now where are you at in life? What have you accomplished? Now work backward to now, noting accomplishments that will be required to get there. What skills or habits will you need to develop? Who can help you get there? Are there any resources you could find and utilize to help you get there? You can use the R.I.S.E. method of achieving goals here. Get laser focused on what needs to happen this year and get after it.

 

Time will pass, and you get the same amount as anyone else in this world. The question then isn’t how much time you have to accomplish your goals. Instead, focus on what you are going to do with the time you have been given to achieve the most. Commit and work. You’ve got this!

 

Which of these three lessons do you feel you need the most? Comment below!

Dealing with Pre-Application Anxiety

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College Application Stress

There are two types of high school seniors right now.  There are the ones who have already applied to their colleges of choice and are waiting to hear back on an early decision, and then there are those that are putting the whole affair off until February.  I was the second kind.  My classmates were deciding over their top three early admissions, and I hadn’t even looked past the first couple pages of my state school’s website.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care.  Actually, quite the opposite.  The whole thing seemed so overwhelming, I didn’t even know where to begin.  K-12 had been pretty straight forward.  I had been told where to be, what to do, and what to learn for the past thirteen years, so college seemed like this insurmountable challenge.  If that last sentence hit a little too close to home, here’s some advice to get you through the next couple months.

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Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

One of my biggest problems was that I started to overthink everything.  What would I even major in?  Where were all my classmates going?  Would I like the town?  Could I handle the drive there and back during holiday breaks?  Would I live in the dorms, join a sorority, or was I allowed to live off-campus

These are all important questions, but you don’t have to know the answers to all of those right now.  You don’t need to worry about whether the school colors will clash with your skin tone until you’ve explored your options.

Prioritize!

So, you don’t want to overthink things, but you still need to identify what is important to you.  Before you even start seriously looking at schools, think:  Do you want to live close to home?  Do you just have to go to the same school as your best friend or boyfriend? Do you need to go to a top school, or do you want to save money by staying in state? These are important criteria to be aware of when you looking through your options.  Write them down as a list in order of most important to least important.

Of course, it can be difficult to pick a school if you don’t even know what you want to go to school for. With so many options, most freshmen are just as lost as you.  That’s okay!  You’re still a teenager.  Just think about some fields that you might be interested in, and keep those in mind while researching programs.  If you are one of the lucky few that knows that they’re destined for medical school or the world of marketing, then more power to you!

Start Doing Research

If you haven’t already, you need to get to this step ASAP.  The longer you wait, the fewer options you’ll have.  Start by just looking through the basics: costs, location, prestige, population, etc.  How does each school match up to your criteria?  You can successfully eliminate a lot of schools this way.  Recognize that some of your criteria might be at odds with each other.  You might have to give up living in a big city to go to school with your best friend or vise versa. Whenever you come to conflict like that, refer to that list you made, and ask yourself which one matters more.  Which priority is going to make you happier in a year?

You’ve also probably received more than your fair share of university pamphlets.  These can be great resources to see your options, especially which universities are interested in you, but make sure you look deeper.  Don’t decide based on the smiling students on the cover or the football team’s performance.  Instead, scour through their website.  Ask older siblings or friends what they discovered was really important in college.  Visit the campus if possible! Then reevaluate your own list.

Look at Your Finance Options

Paying for college is a big part of the experience.  A university’s affordability should be one of your top concerns.   There are several ways that you can accomplish that.  Scholarships and grants are the best, but they’re also very competitive.  You should apply for these as early as possible!  Next, see if you qualify for any sort of employee reimbursement.  Some schools have specific partnerships, like ASU and Starbucks, and some companies will only provide it under certain conditions.  Obviously, you don’t know where you’ll be working after graduation, but it’s never too early to start looking at future career paths.

Loans are an unfortunate reality for most college students.  If you find yourself among us, make sure that you know your stuff.  Finances are complicated- they have college courses about them!  There’s no shame in admitting you don’t understand the jargon.  Just do yourself a favor and learn what you can about loan lingo.  You’ll make more educated choices, and you won’t be surprised when you get your first bill in five years!

Decide.

Okay, I know that it still seems overwhelming, but you’re ready!  You’ve got all the tools to make a great decision right in front of you. Imagine the weight off your shoulders when you can actually answer your grandma’s holiday questions with zero stress.  This is a big step, but college is a journey.  Picking where you go is important- it’s your first adult decision- but it’s what you do at college will be even more so.  One step at a time!

Can You Take College Classes when in High School?

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College classes in High School

Whether you are eager to begin your college career or are looking for a challenge outside your regular high school classes, you may be asking yourself if you can take college classes while in high school. Well, we have some good news for you: you absolutely can take college courses while you’re still in high school! Here are a few things you need to know before you get started.

Get some second opinions

Maybe you’re a straight-A student or an overachiever who loves to take on academic challenges. Or maybe you just like the idea of getting a jump-start on the credits you’ll need. Whatever the case, you should get some opinions from those who know you best before you start exploring your options.

Start with your guidance counselor. These professionals are trained to know local college options, along with classes open to you. If they’ve been around long enough, they’ll also know if the classes are appropriate for you to take and if you’ve met the necessary pre-requirements.

You may also want to talk to your most trusted high school teacher, especially if he or she teaches the subject in which you want to take classes. They can give you an honest opinion on if they think you’re really ready to take on a college class, especially if you are already busy with regular classes and clubs.

Know your options

Many high schools work with community colleges to provide top performing students with access to college classes as part of the normal curriculum. This may mean travel to college campuses or having a professor travel to you. You’ll most likely get both college credits and high school credits in one!

Your second option is to go straight to the source — the college itself! Community colleges are your best and more affordable options. They cater to non-traditional students and often have programs or beginning college courses geared towards those who haven’t completed high school yet.

Here’s where your high school guidance counselor comes in handy again. They will show you how to apply, find, and register for classes (or will point you to the person that can). If you’re going for a four-year school, you may also want to check in with them so they can speak to a college admissions counselor or advisor on your behalf.

Don’t get discouraged

Let’s say you’re not exactly ready to begin college early or there aren’t any options for high school students in your area. Don’t worry! You can still get the college experience! For one, you can take AP (Advanced Placement) courses. If you pass the AP class, you can receive college credit or opt out of some classes when you get to college. It’s the best of both worlds!

You can also look into online college courses offered through programs like Coursera, Khan Academy, or through colleges like Harvard. The best part of this is that these classes are often free or inexpensive. You’ll get prepared for college classes and learn, be challenged, and learn a new lesson!