Are you planning on attending college after graduation? Did you know that 69.7 percent of 2016 high school graduates enrolled in college in October 2016? If you are considering college after high school, it’s important to set yourself apart from the competition. The earlier you start, the better! To ensure that you are in the best position possible, follow these key steps for preparing for college.

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Preparing for College

1. Make a list of colleges that interest you

Create a wish list of things you are looking for in a college. Then, create a list of schools that you are interested in. You can gather information online or speak to a counselor at your school to learn about colleges that might appeal. Make sure to look at requirements for admission and check that you can meet the basic requirements. Do as many campus visits as possible and then compare your wish list against what the colleges have to offer. Cross out any that don’t make the cut for any reason.

2. Sign up to take the SAT and ACT exams

Take advantage of online SAT/ACT study support or sign up for a tutor for the exams. Make sure to take the exams early enough to allow yourself time to re-take them if necessary.

3. Know your grades

One of the first things you need to evaluate is how well you’re doing academically. If your grades aren’t quite where you want them to be, talk to your school guidance counselors to map out steps for improvement. You’ll feel better knowing that you have a plan in place – just make sure you stick with it!

If you’re doing really well, then all you need to do is maintain your grades until graduation. It’s important to finish the semester strong, even after receiving acceptance letters from colleges. Remember, colleges can rescind their offers if your grades slip too far from where they were when you were accepted. Don’t slack off!

4. Gather letters of recommendation

Talk to your teachers and advisors. Most colleges, especially liberal arts schools, know that grades aren’t everything. They want to know more about you, and well-rounded students are desirable.

Give them what they want via letters of recommendations, accolades, and awards you’ve gathered. Have adults who may have connections at the school write a letter of recommendation for you. Ask adults who you may have worked with to write you a referral. If you’ve volunteered, gather letters from facilitators that showcase your efforts.

These letters will give the admissions offices a broader perspective when it’s time to look at your application.

5. Calculate costs

Work with your parents and a school advisor to calculate how much college you and your family can afford. Know that in most cases, even great students struggle to pay once they get into their top schools.

Look for ways to reduce college costs. For example, earning college credits while still in high school and attending a local community college for two years prior to transferring into the 4-year college of your choice can save a lot of money!

College credits can be earned by high school students in several ways. Advanced Placement courses, CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exams, the International Baccalaureate Program (IB), and dual enrollment are a few. Another way to save on the cost of college is to earn alternative credits online. College credit general education courses are available at a much lower cost than the same courses taken at a college. When exploring alternative credits, it’s important to make sure that the provider is accredited, and that your credits will transfer to the school of your choice. Ed4Credit is proud to be a part of the American Council on Education (ACE). Our courses are recommended for credit by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT®). This highly regarded recommendation means that your Ed4Credit classes will be considered for credit at over 2,000 colleges and universities across the United States.

In addition to calculating the cost of tuition and fees, you need to be realistic about how much you’ll be spending on clothes, entertainment, food, and books. Costs add up quickly!

6. Make a List of Extracurricular Activities

Your extracurricular activities should complement your academic achievements. Your extracurricular activities tell the admissions staff who you are, what you like to do, and how you could contribute to the life of their school.

If you’re in an art club, that means that, as a student at their institution, you could help their cultural departments grow. If you’re the captain of the cross-country running team, you could contribute to both the sports and academic lives of students.

Look at extracurricular activities that can make you stand out as an asset to any school!

7. Begin your college essays

If you know which schools you’re applying to, you can check out their essay requirements and start brainstorming topics you’d like to write your essay on. Starting early will give you plenty of time to revise your essays. Doesn’t that sound better than having to write an essay in a hurry?

8. Finalize Your Preparing-for-College Checklist

You’ve taken some great first steps in preparing for college. Remember, this will be an ongoing process throughout your high school years. Depending on where you are academically or with your activities, you might have to amend your checklist over time. Based on your initial checklist exercise, you might find that you must start doing better in math class or sign up to join a school club. Get started right away!

For a few college life hacks to get you through your first summer before college, check out our list.

Kris Powers is social media relations director for Ed4Online’s multiple divisions, including Ed4Credit, Ed4Career and Ed4Training.  Kris believes that knowledge affects change and change leads to growth. This is the belief behind her motivation to help learners everywhere gain access to quality education and training.

Ed4Credit has not only earned approval from the American Council on Education’s (ACE) College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT®), we were also a proud participant in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Alternative Credit Project, an effort to assist the over 31 million U.S. adults who are eligible to return to college to complete a degree or credential because they already have completed some college coursework.  For more information, email info@ed4credit.com or call (727) 824-7800 ext. 4.