College prep starts at younger age

MIAMI COUNTY — As exciting as it is to graduate high school, it can also be the most nerve-wrecking; one chapter has ended, and a new one is beginning as a young adult. Some will go to college, some may not, and there are those who do not know their next move. Whether you are a freshman or fresh out of high school, there are many things to consider for preparing for college.

Piqua High School guidance counselor Lindsay Muhlenkamp described common issues students have when deciding where to go to college, and stressed the importance of students doing their research.

“A lot of kids pick colleges based on popularity and where their friends are going,” Muhlenkamp said. “Speak to people about the job that you want and make sure it’s a need. You don’t want to be $80,000 in debt with a degree that’s not in need.”

According to William G. Tierney in Preparing for College: Building Expectations, Changing Realities, he addresses an important component to laying the groundwork for a college career, that being a student seeing their school guidance counselor regularly, especially for “students of color, low-income students, rural students, women, and first-generation, college-bound students who face unique challenges when applying to and enrolling in college.”

Muhlenkamp stresses the importance of students doing well during their high school career, starting the first day of freshman year.

“Your freshman year in high school does count, colleges look at your academic career all the way through,” Muhlenkamp said. “If you had a really rough year your freshman year and want to go to OSU (Ohio State University), they may not consider you.”

With the help of College Credit Plus, a state dual-enrollment program that offers college courses to grades as early as seventh grade, students benefit from saving money on college, an estimated $10,000-$20,000 by the time they graduate high school.

“It’s a new process for us as well (starting college prep in seventh grade), it gets the kids thinking about what they want to do and have a more solid decision (of career path) in their sophomore or junior year,” Muhlenkamp said. “Fortunately with College Credit Plus, we are eliminating the debt and kids graduate with at least a semester’s worth of college.”

Edison Community College enrollment manager Christina Raterman, who has experience in both private and community colleges, also encourages younger students to take College Credit Plus as a way to build their confidence before taking on college full-time.

“Being in that program (College Credit Plus) they (students) can say, ‘I just rocked this course, maybe I won’t be so bad in college,’” Raterman said. “And they really surprise themselves.”

Raterman and Muhlenkamp both also encourage students to be involved in extracurricular activities before and during college.

“They (colleges) don’t just focus on academics, they want to see if you are a well-rounded kid,” Muhlenkamp said. “Not just having brains matter, you need to be well-rounded.”

“Studies show that students who are more involved with the school are more connected to the school,” Raterman said about students in college. “They will make more friends that way and are more connected to the school.”

As for some students, being able to go to college seems out of reach, especially if students struggled academically in high school or can not afford to. Muhlenkamp advises those high school graduates to “take baby steps” by doing things such as taking the ACT test and starting off their college career at a community college, taking remedial classes before college level.

“Even if students are a little intimated by college, they can start part-time then go to full-time, especially at community colleges like Edison,” Raterman said. “It’s a completely different schedule than the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (high school) schedule. I think that can help students be more excited; they can have breaks at their own pace.”

Raterman suggest financially-troubled students look at different campuses to see what they have to offer with financial aid and applying for federal student aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA offers $150 billion of funds each year to over 13 million college students.

“I think one thing is just visiting campuses, students can fear college ‘going to be so much work,’” Raterman said. “Talk to admission to find out what college has to offer, it will help them (students) build confidence.”