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Getting Ready for College Early: Steps 1, 2, 3 & 4

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jul 12, 2011

Step 1

A two- or four-year college degree is becoming more and more important for unlocking the doors to economic and educational opportunity in America today. Getting a college education requires a lot of time, effort and careful planning by parents and students, but it provides knowledge and skills students will use for the rest of their lives to help them succeed in whatever they undertake. By going to college students:

  • Get (and keep) a better job. Because the world is changing rapidly, and many jobs rely on new technology, more and more jobs require education beyond high school. With a two- or four-year college education, your child will have more jobs from which to choose.
  • Earn more money. On average a person who goes to college earns more than a person who does not. Someone with a two-year associate degree earns more than a high school graduate. In 1998, a man with a bachelor?s degree or higher earned almost 98 percent more than a man with only a high school diploma, and a woman with a bachelor?s degree or higher earned almost 84 percent more than a woman with only a high school diploma.
  • Get a good start in life. A college education helps your child acquire a wide range of knowledge in many subjects, as well as advanced knowledge in the specific subjects they are most interested in. College also trains students to express thoughts clearly in speech and in writing, to make informed decisions and to use technology?useful skills on and off the job.

Students who are not interested in going to a four-year college or university for a bachelor's degree can benefit from the skills and knowledge that two years of college provide to compete in today's job market. These students may want to pursue a technical program in a community, junior or technical college, which provides the skills and experience employers look for. Many high schools and some local employers offer career-focused programs called tech-prep, 2+2, school-to-work or school-to-career, which are linked to community and technical colleges. These programs coordinate high school course work with course work at local colleges, and in some cases give students the chance to learn in a real work setting. This way, the high school material better prepares students for college-level work, and also starts the student on a clear path toward a college degree.

Students interested in technical programs will probably want to take some occupational or technical courses in high school, but they also need to take the "core" courses in English, math, science, history and geography that are outlined in step 2.

What Kinds of Jobs Can You Get with a College Education?

One of the major benefits of acquiring a college education is having more jobs to choose from. Parents and students should talk about the kind of work that interests the student, and find out more about the kind of education that specific jobs require. For instance, some jobs require graduate degrees beyond the traditional four-year degree, such as a medical degree or a law degree. As students mature and learn about different opportunities, they may change their mind several times about the type of job they want to have. Changing your mind is nothing to worry about?but not planning ahead is. For more information on the educational requirements of specific jobs, contact a guidance counselor or check the Occupational Outlook Handbook in your library.

Examples of Jobs Requiring College Preparation

Two-Year College (Associate Degree) Four-Year College (Bachelor's Degree) More Than Four Years (Various Graduate Degrees)
Computer Technician Surveyor Registered Nurse Dental Hygienist Medical Laboratory Technician Commercial Artist Hotel/Restaurant Manager Engineering Technician Automotive Mechanic Administrative Assistant Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Heating, Air-Conditioning, and Refrigeration Technician Teacher Accountant FBI Agent Engineer Journalist Insurance Agent Pharmacist Computer Systems Analyst Dietitian Writer Investment Banker Graphic Designer Social Worker Public Relations Specialist Lawyer Doctor Architect Scientist University Professor Economist Psychologist Priest or Rabbi Dentist Veterinarian Public Policy Analyst Geologist Zoologist Management Consultant

Source: Compiled by the Planning and Evaluation Service of the U.S. Department of Education from various sources.

By the time a child is in sixth grade, families should start talking about going to college. Make it clear that you expect your children to go to college, and together start planning how to get there. Everyone knows that high school courses and grades count for admission to college, but many people don't realize that a college education also builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier years. Your child should plan a high school course schedule early, in the sixth or seventh grade.

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