By Jeffrey Bridgman
“So what’s next for you?” If you’re nearing graduation or recently graduated, you probably get this question a lot. It’s disconcerting to not know how to answer it. Resist the pressure to plan out your life, but don’t completely wing it either. Being prepared for the next step can help us accomplish life goals and save money. The early bird gets the worm, so be ready to jump right into the coming attraction in your life, which may be one of these.
Sitting out a semester can be depressing if your aim was set on college. Though online applications processes and on-demand testing centers have made college deadlines easier to meet, you still stand to save money and get better financial aid the earlier you apply. So keep these musts in mind.
Tests: Most colleges in the U.S. require standardized test scores from either the SAT or ACT for admission. The tests are offered every few months with registration dates occurring about a month before the test dates—otherwise there could be late fees. Start with seeing when college applications are due, then pick a test date about six months in advance. The test can be taken multiple times so getting an early start means you can try again if you don’t do well on the first test.
FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a U.S. government form required for most financial aid and loans. The online deadline for the 2010-11 school year was June 30, 2010, so after your parents (or you, if you’re independent) file taxes is a good time to visit the FASFA web site and complete the app while you’ve got the tax info handy.
Scholarships: Many competitive scholarships have very early deadlines—with many coming up quickly in January or February, if they haven’t already passed! They often require essays, letters of recommendation or transcripts. Getting a head start will surely make for a better essay and if you don’t pressure people for recommendations, they might write something nicer!
Admissions: My college’s deadline for enrolling is just before classes start. But there are several reasons you might want to apply before the early-registration deadline, such as getting preferential housing, or the classes you want or need. Popular classes and general requirement classes fill up fast.
Finally, are there any other requirements, things you should be doing now, or classes you should take which will better prepare you for college?
Registration for classes next semester has already started at my school. Reviewing graduation requirements, major requirements and what prerequisites they may have each semester before you sign up for classes, will not only prepare you for registration, it could save you from having to take an extra semester at what you hoped would be the end of your college career, or having to take killer semesters to graduate on time. Also, sometimes scheduling conflicts are inevitable and classes can fill up quickly. The earlier we start, the easier those problems will be to resolve.
Money too tight? Not all financial aid and scholarships are for freshmen. There may be several options available for upperclassmen as well. Ask around well in advance of the following year!
Graduate school: Many of the same things apply to graduate school as well as college, including taking standardized tests early, applying to your top pick school early and for financial aid.
Resume: Before you apply for any career-level job or go to any interview, developing a resume is a must. Although the process of building the content of your resume can take place over several days, it will be necessary to condense that into a professional looking document, highlighting things that present you as a good choice for a future employee. Don’t create your resume in a vacuum. You probably don’t need to hire a resume service, but ask a friend with good taste and common sense for help, or at very least, check other examples online to see what a decent resume looks like.
Interviews: Many companies visit campuses for interviews several months ahead of graduation. Check with teachers and watch campus bulletin boards for information.
Job fairs: Dress nice and attend! Job fairs are an opportunity to network and find new companies that you may have never considered working for before.
It’s way too easy to procrastinate on these important matters, but doing things last-minute might mean missing a full-tuition scholarship or finding out the position you wanted is already filled. There’s too much at stake.
For all of our coming attractions, we should remember early on to seek God’s guidance before we act. Then act accordingly, and quickly.