Preparing for College takes effort

Preparation for college is a long journey that does not just begin once a student enters high school.  Developing a mindset where a student has aspirations of attending college is influenced by a number of factors, including home life, one’s educational success at an early age, exposure to advanced educational pursuits, personal career goals, etc.

This general checklist is offered to assist parents and students in the preparation process.  It is definitely not all-inclusive; however, it is comprehensive enough to get you moving in the right direction.  Some information was retrieved from a similar brochure published by the University of South Carolina Aiken and other sources, to include guidance counselors and personal experience.


8th grade:

  • Meet with the middle school counselor to determine courses that can be taken in 8th grade to earn high school credit that will position the student for college.

9th grade (Freshman Year):

  • Establish very strong study habits.  Middle school is very different from high school.  Some students make good grades in middle school without having to study consistently.  Start the habit of studying a minimum of two hours nightly whether or not homework has been assigned.  Review class notes, read ahead, etc.
  • Start getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, at church, and in the community, including volunteer activities.  However, do not overload yourself.  Keep a log of your involvements so you can recount them later on your resume or when completing college and scholarship applications.
  • Attend Individual Graduation Plan (IGP) meetings with the high school guidance counselor.
  • Start to think about what your future career or job.  Research the requirements for attaining this job (i.e. college requirements, experience, etc.).  Collect information in a journal and keep it updated over the years.

10th grade (Sophomore Year):

  •  Attend college fairs at your school and in the area.  Collect information on colleges who offer degrees of interest to you.  Include information in your journal.
  • Discuss registration for the PSAT or PLAN (pre-ACT).  These tests will help identify areas for improvement and give you a chance to strengthen future courses.  Ask your counselor which test might be right for you and discuss the right time to take these tests.
  • Discuss with your guidance counselor the necessity for taking Advanced Placement or dual credit college courses that will be offered at your school during your junior and senior years.
  • Strengthen your writing skills.  Consider taking a summer writing course.  Most colleges and scholarship applications require essays.  Furthermore, standardized exams such as the SAT and the ACT contain an essay portion.
  11th grade (Junior Year):



  • Official transcripts that will be sent to colleges by the high school counselor will go through the junior year.  Therefore, early admission into colleges will be based on high school grades through the junior year.  In other words, the GPA and class rank earned through junior year are extremely important.
  • Register for the PSAT, SAT and/or ACT exams.  Counselors can enlighten students and parents on the process and fees.
  • Continue meetings with the guidance counselor to ensure coursework is aligned with college admittance criteria.  For example, most four year colleges require four years of English and math, along with additional courses in history, lab science, and foreign language.
  • Begin requesting college admissions materials from schools of interest and at college fairs.
  • If you plan to play sports at the collegiate level, you must register with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) if attending an NCAA college.  There is a cost for registration.  You must also apply to the NCAA Amateurism Certification Clearinghouse.  Visit for more information.
  • Consider making college campus visits during the summer.  Many colleges offer campus tours.  Contact colleges of interest for tour availability.
  • Talk with guidance counselors about job shadowing and internship opportunities.  Many schools have organized initiatives with area businesses to make these opportunities available for students.
  • At the end of your junior year or early senior year, apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Discuss this process with your counselor or go to for additional information. 

12th grade (Senior Year):

  • Develop a master senior year calendar and review daily or at the least weekly:

            -Test dates, fees, and deadlines

            -College application due dates

            -Required financial aid applications and their deadlines

            -Recommendations, transcripts, and other necessary materials

            -High school’s deadlines for college applications, transcripts, etc.

  • Take the SAT and/or ACT if higher scores are desired.
  • Submit college applications (many colleges offer online applications).  Make sure to proofread the application before submitting.  Keep copies of final applications submitted.
  •  Research and apply for scholarships.  Every year, there is countless dollars of unclaimed scholarship money.  Use the internet for national scholarships.  Oftentimes, community businesses, organizations, fraternities and sororities, will offer scholarships.  Abide by those deadlines, which often require transcripts, recommendations, and essays.
  • Follow up on all admissions and financial aid applications.  Parents should strive to file federal income taxes as early as possible.  This will greatly assist in the financial aid process.
  • If you have applied to more than one college (strongly suggest you do), make a final decision about your school around April and send in your admission/enrollment deposit (if required) to reserve your space.  Typically, May 1 is notification day.  Your admission/enrollment deposit should be in by now to the college you have chosen.  You must inform every college whether you are accepting or rejecting their offer of admission or financial aid.
  • You will have other deadlines, such as application for housing, submitting a final high school transcript to the NCAA (if applicable), etc. 

Again, this checklist is just a start.  The best advice is to ask lots of questions, do your own research, don’t be afraid to call and/or meet with high school guidance counselors and college admissions counselors.  You have made the decision to go to college, so this is all about your life.  Don’t be afraid to reach for your goals and make the worthwhile sacrifices to see those goals come to fruition.  Congratulations!

College Career Financial Planning

Financial Planning as You Embark on Your College Career

Julian Hills is a content writer and blogger for His journalism career has taken him from newspapers to local television news stations and even a 24-hour cable network in the Southeast. Julian is a graduate of Florida State University who enjoys finding new ways of saving money for football season tickets.

Getting accepted to a college or university is a big deal, but in many cases it’s the beginning of an uphill financial climb. Some people end up not attending college because they don’t have the money to pay for it. You don’t want to let an opportunity like that slip away.

That is why it’s important to have a financial plan to pay for your education. Most people — not just families struggling financially — apply for some sort of financial aid like grants, scholarships and loans.

Cost of attendance is the total of a college’s tuition fees, room and board, books, travel and attendance.

There are options available to pay for all of this, figuring out what’s out there and where to start will provide some framework to get you on your journey to embark on your college career.

Calculate Your College Costs

A Net Price Calculator is probably a very good place to start when it comes to getting an idea on planning for college. It’s an online tool intended to help families estimate how much they will pay for college for a full-time undergraduate freshman for one year.  A federal mandate requires colleges and universities to have a net price calculator on their websites.

Apply for Financial Aid

The majority of financial aid comes from the federal government which uses formulas to determine need based on household income. However, many colleges offer their own aid to talented students of all incomes. This is often done to make their institutions more competitive.

Students and their families looking to finance college often begin by completing one or both of these forms: The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and a CSS Financial Aid Profile. 

  • ·         FAFSA: Any college or university that awards federal aid requires that students complete this form. It’s also used to determine state aid as well.
  • ·         CSS Profile: This is an online application that collects information used by certain colleges and scholarship programs designates an institution’s own financial aid to students. About 300 colleges require a CSS profile — many of them Ivy League or elite private colleges.

Determining Need-Based Aid

The information collected from these aid forms calculates something called The Expected Family Contribution (EFC.) It is the minimum amount of money determined that a student’s family should be able to contribute based on parents’ combined income, assets and number of dependent children enrolled in school.

Schools determine financial need by subtracting EFC from the cost to attend a particular school.


  • ·         Some estimates show that a student whose family has an income of $70,000 and two dependent children, have an EFC of $7,513. That student would be eligible for need-based scholarships, work-study programs and student loans.
  • ·         A student with a family income of $250,000 with one dependent child would not qualify for need-based aid. Their EFC would be nearly $68,000.

Even if a student qualifies for need-based aid, it does not mean the institution will pay 100 percent of it. Parents still may have to qualify for other types of aid that will help them cover the costs.

Look into Merit Aid

Families can also look for merit aid which is usually a scholarship based on a student’s achievement. Usually this money does not have to be repaid and can be given to anyone. Standardize test scores and grade point averages are usually two determining factors for merit aid, but many students receive this money for other achievements like artistic abilities or athletics.

If your child qualifies for financial aid and gets a merit-based scholarship, colleges will reduce the amount of need-based aid they provide. This is also true for any other private scholarships, state grants or outside aid.

Plan on Avoiding Massive Debt

It’s very important to consider all of your total costs when deciding how to pay for school. Even though taking out loans to pay for school can provide amazing opportunities, you can easily find yourself in thousands and thousands of dollars in debt when it’s over.

Just remember they are not the only option. That’s why planning and knowing what’s out there is essential.   

Parent’s guide to student success

Check out the must-see guides to assist parents with understanding Common Core Standards — the country’s new universal educational standards.  Could you pass these if you were a child?

Public Education needs fighters not complainers

“Public Education needs fighters not complainers”
By Donna Moore Wesby
I love public education.  I attended Aiken Elementary, Schofield Middle, South Aiken, and ultimately graduated from Aiken High School.  Public education is the cornerstone of our educational system in the United States. 
Not everyone views public education with my optimism given over three million students in the U.S. dropped out of high school in 2010.  According to statistics released at the 2012 Education Nation Summit in New York, the U.S. is 14th in reading; 17th in science; and 25th in math.  Yes, we have plenty of work to do.  Let’s bring this discussion closer to home.
Despite budgetary cutbacks and programmatic setbacks, the Aiken County Public School District is a leader in moving the state toward the Common Core Curriculum transition, offerings of single gender classrooms, career and technology education achievements, and student success in arts, band, and horticulture.
As my tenure of serving on the Aiken County Board of Education comes to an end, moments of self-reflection and hindsight allow me to question whether or not my 20/20 vision of progress for Aiken County public schools is seen with the same lens by the community. 
Success is truly in the eye of the beholder.   I’m particularly proud to see strides this district has made to improve student achievement. Hammond Hill Elementary was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School becoming one of only five schools in South Carolina to receive such notoriety. Aiken County high schools improved in all four subject areas (Algebra I, English I, Biology, and U.S. History) on the End of Course exams and scored above the state average in three subject areas.  Aiken County seniors scored a district composite of 1438 on the 2012 Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which was 16 points above the state average of 1422. 
One of my personal highlights of being on this Board is the creation of The Center for Innovative Learning (CIL) at Pinecrest.  It is this district’s approach for creating an alternative learning environment for students who do not excel in a traditional classroom setting.  With the increased emphasis on parental involvement and inclusion of psychologists, we’ve seen improvements in students’ lives and a decrease in expulsions (coupled with the efforts of our new Discipline Tribunal Process).
I’ve enjoyed working with a Board truly concerned about the students.  Although some decisions were not popular, they were based on facts, research, experience, community input, and sometimes gut instinct.
The Board took deliberate steps to improve communication and transparency within district and board operations, including offering Budget 101 workshops; holding many community input meetings; improving the district web site; and providing access to more information.  This Board adopted a paperless process saving resources, time, and money, which allows public access to school board meeting presentations.
We are certainly not ready to adorn the sash of victory.  With some students still dropping out, not reading on grade level, and graduating high school not prepared for college or the world of work — I’d say this district obviously has its challenges. 
I am thankful three individuals have stepped up to run for the District 8 seat I’ll soon vacate — Wes Funderberg, Tad Barber, and Bruce Wheelon.  Apparently fighters, not complainers.  I look forward to observing how the new nine along with administration will move the district forward.  As I transition into more of an advocacy role, I hope to use my knowledge to effect educational growth within our communities.  I appreciate those who voted for me and allowed me to serve this great community.  While some say this is a “thankless” job, I chose to be a fighter not a complainer.  I did not run for office to be thanked but to serve.
What public education needs are people willing to fight for all this institution stands represents, where every child who enters the doors, no matter their socioeconomic background without disqualifying criteria, is afforded an equal opportunity to be educated by quality educators who sacrifice time, energy, and resources to help children learn. 
Fighting can reveal itself in many forms: joining PTA and booster clubs, donating to public education foundations, emphasizing the value of education from home, serving on school boards, financially supporting schools through taxes and bond referendums, and more. 
Let’s join together to fight for public education, the institution where most people have been and are educated.  Are you willing to be part of the solution as a fighter instead of complaining about the problems? My service gloves are on; are yours?
Donna Moore Wesby is the outgoing District 8 Aiken County School Board member.  She continues to host weekly television and radio broadcasts, “Education Matters” on ASTV Channel 95 and WAAW 94.7 FM.

Dropouts decreasing in South Carolina

(As reported from the South Carolina State Department Of Education)

State’s high school dropout numbers decrease for second consecutive year.

More than 800 fewer students dropped out of state high schools in 2010 than in the previous year, according to a new report from the South Carolina Department of Education.

The decrease during 2009-10 was the second consecutive year of improvement in reducing dropout numbers. Since 2007-08, the state’s total high school dropouts have decreased from 8,032 to 6,265 – a 22 percent improvement.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said improved dropout rates are a critical step toward improved on-time high school graduation rates, which he views as a key measurement of success for the entire K-12 system.

“We have to make certain that kids stay focused and engaged from the first day of kindergarten through high school graduation,” Zais said. “Students must have basic reading skills by third grade to successfully complete high school. Offering parents a full menu of schools to choose for their students will enable them to find the best fit for their learning styles. Technology allows schools to deliver customized learning experiences rather than one-size-fits-all instruction to every student.

“There is no silver bullet to magically improve high school graduation rates, but by focusing on the needs of students, we can and will make progress.”

The 2010 dropout report found improvements in all demographic groups. Included were a decrease in African-American dropouts from 3,579 in 2007-08 to 2,724 in 2009-10 and a decrease in dropouts from high-poverty families from 4,451 in 2007-08 to 3,768 in 2009-10. Hispanic dropouts decreased from 399 in 2007-08 to 322 in 2009-10.

Looking at specific grades, the best progress in reducing dropouts occurred among 9th-graders, with 2,342 9th-graders dropping out in 2007-08 compared to 1,691 9th-graders dropping out in 2009-10. Ninth-graders made up 29 percent of total high school dropouts in 2007-08, but 27 percent last year.

Thursday, June 23, 2011