All around the school, seniors are wondering how they will get into college. They are ready to take life by the reins and graduation is just around the corner. Yet, what happens after you shake the hands of the faculty and are handed your diploma? What steps lead up to this moment? Where will you go after RPA, and how will you get there? The answers to these questions will determine how you navigate life after high school, and how successful you will be.
When the word FAFSA, or Federal Application For Student Aid, is said, you can hear the groans of the seniors from the student union. While some believe this process to be tedious, it is required for anyone who would not like to pay for college entirely out of their own pocket. There are some tips and pieces of information, however, to make the process more efficient.
Date 2016 FAFSA is released: October 1st
Things to have on hand: Social Security Number, your family's most recent tax returns, W-2s, an FSA ID (created on FAFSA’s website fafsa.gov) and other records of money earned. You will also need your Alien Registration Number if you are not a US citizen. If applicable to you, a record of untaxed income and bank statements/records of investments will also be needed.
You can submit the FAFSA online, or request a paper version through the official website. You will then get a SAR (Student Aid Report) three days to three weeks after you submit the paperwork.
The colleges or universities you write on the FAFSA will contact you with an award letter. This will tell you the amount of monetary aid the school is willing to give you.
You can receive grants or loans. A grant is basically “gift money”; money you will get for free from the government. A loan is something you will need to pay back.
Apply as early as possible, and as correctly as possible the first time. This enters you into a pool with a limited amount of money early, as well as leaving time to correct any mistakes.
Along with filling out the FAFSA (and the College Scholarship Service Profile through College Board for private colleges), students should use the resources provided by RPA: Donna and the Career Center. Students can apply for local or national scholarships they find through research, or talent and academic scholarships offered by individual colleges. When researching scholarship websites, be cautious. Use only reputable sites, such as zinch.com, scholarships.com, and fastweb.com.
ACT AND SAT
One integral item needed to get into any college is national standardized test scores taken from either the ACT or SAT tests. George Hegarty, a humanities teacher at RPA, has some tips for getting a sufficient score. His first suggestion is to “know what's going to be on the test... while no one can know the exact questions, knowing the order in which you're going to do [the sections]... is really important.” Hegarty also suggests using the practice tests held at RPA to your advantage.
“You can look back at those results and see where you should practice,” says Hegarty. “You don't need to practice everything... do 20 minutes to half an hour 3 or 4 days a week.”
A student can also use these practice tests to decide whether they are more suited for the ACT, SAT, or both. You should take the pretest during the fall of your junior year, then take the actual test during spring. Hegarty notes,“if you're a senior, the time to test is now. The last test I would recommend for seniors to take would be December.”
One common misconception is that one of the tests is more academic than the other. Hegarty believes this to be false, and encourages students to decide what will work best for their individual path. He also encourages this when creating your class schedule, choosing classes that challenge you in the areas you are most passionate.
“There isn't a defined good [score]. What matters is what people want to do beyond RPA. If you want to go to Princeton, you can look up and figure out... what Princeton requires,” states Hegarty.
Hegarty will be hosting study sessions in the Career Center in the Glacier building on Mondays and Wednesdays during lunch for students wishing to practice.
APPLICATIONS: SCHOLARSHIPS AND EXTRACURRICULARS
On every college application, there is a section dedicated to activities and extracurriculars that the student has pursued during their high school career. Bayley Killpack, a mathematics teacher at RPA, has some tips for making your application look the best it can be.
“I think colleges are looking for a well rounded student. It’s not so much about doing everything, but about being enthused about what you’re doing. Colleges like to see students that are involved in more than just academics, whether that means they’re doing community service, helping out at their church, involved in 4H or FFA, or have a job.”
Killpack encourages experimenting to find your niche and the extracurricular you would like to pursue. She also notes that leadership and community service are not the only options. “I work with National Honor Society students, but I also work with athletes. Even though that’s not necessarily a service, it shows you have the ability to manage your time. One of the cool things about RPA is we have so many different interests and things brought to the table. I am amazed at all the different experiences you all as students have had and continue having.”
Above all, Killpack pushes students to “be honest. You want to put things down that are going to make you look good, but you also want to put things down that you truly like to do.” All in all, students should find the thing they are passionate about and chase it. That extracurricular or activity is what they should put on their application.
A MESSAGE FROM YOUR COUNSELOR
Kim Downey, the guidance counselor at RPA, has a special piece of advice: "usually RPA students make the transition to college really well because of the way we structure things. I would say, start looking at colleges, going on college tours... To get an idea of what schools you might be interested in." Downey also suggests knowing what classes should be on their transcript, and getting any mistakes fixed before sending it off to colleges and universities.
BEWARE THE SUMMER MELT
“The summer after you graduate from high school isn’t completely free from all college obligations,” says Downey. “Think about that summer as a bridge and not necessarily a gap. Sometimes [what happens is] what we call a summer melt.” Make sure you go to any orientations, fill out any forms, and meet with any staff members you should be meeting with to ensure that you are completely ready for college once the term starts.
LIFE AFTER GRADUATION
After four years in high school, students are ready to continue into their next chapter of life. For graduated RPA students, this high school has prepared them especially well for life in college.
Victoria Jenkinson, an RPA graduate of 2016, says “RPA definitely influenced me, especially in being able to manage my time. A lot of students around me have no clue how to do things when they are not due the next day (which is actually really scary).”
Carrie Olson, an RPA graduate of 2014, agrees: “RPA teaches skills that will take you far. Even simply knowing how to schedule classes is a big help.”
Some graduates say that RPA helped them find the right college by showing them the environment that they felt most successful in. “I love RPA because of the inclusive atmosphere, the personalization, and the caring and supportive teachers among many other things that make RPA so special. These things were what I went looking for in a college. I felt at home at RPA, which is what I needed in my higher education choices,” says Molly Williams, a 2015 RPA alumni. Another 2015 graduate, Elsa Harris, has ideas that coincide with Williams’s. She also encourages students to take advantage of resources like Donna and the career center while you have them, and to stay passionate in college.
“Find a college that gives you a good feeling inside. Take advantage of all scholarship opportunities. Then when you get to college, get involved in clubs and college life and make friends with people that are different than you. College is a time of learning and growth in and out of the classroom,” notes Harris.
The above students are just a few of those who have advanced beyond RPA into higher education. If they can do it, so can you. As long as you stay up to date on your information in high school, you too can walk down the aisle and receive the RPA diploma that is the starting line of your future.