Get good start on college in high school

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As I walked up to receive my Pine-Richland High School diploma, I bid farewell to the past four years of my life. Goodbye SATs. So long 7 a.m. classes.

I finally graduated from high school and anticipated kicking off my freshman year at Duquesne University with a clean slate.

I moved out of my parents' home and into a dorm. I was responsible for managing my time and schedule, and for the first time in my life, I was in complete control.

I thought I would be relieved by my newfound independence.

But it was not a relief.

I didn't know what classes to take; I wasn't sure about my major; and I didn't realize the amount of student loans I needed to take out.

It was frightening. Overwhelming. A weight on my shoulders I could not carry myself.

I wanted to go back to high school -- the place I was too eager to abandon now bore resemblance to a sanctuary.

Ultimately, I wish I had been better prepared.

This feeling is normal, I was assured by David Wakelyn, senior policy analyst at the National Governors Association, who said only a quarter of American teens start out feeling well-prepared for college.

Adjusting to college was stressful, to say the least, even though I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship and a basic idea of what I wanted to study.

I wish someone pulled me aside in high school and said, "This is what you need to do to prepare for college!"

So for college-bound students, here's the little nudge that I needed. Ultimately, the more prepared you feel after high school, the more confident you'll feel entering college.

College courses are at a higher level than high school courses, and the material is usually presented at a faster pace. Professors assigned me more reading, writing and problem sets than I was used to.

Choosing a college course load that includes some challenging classes and others that will be less intense helped bridge that steep learning curve.

Another way to ease the adjustment is taking Advanced Placement courses in high school.

Upon entering college, I immediately regretted not taking enough AP classes, which not only save you money, but prepare you for the rigors of a university.

Through AP courses you can earn college credits and stand out in the admissions process by demonstrating your maturity and willingness to take the most rigorous courses available to you.

"I didn't know the mechanics of AP credits until my guidance counselor told me I could skip a semester," said James Gaugler, a chemistry major at the University of Pittsburgh. "I took AP classes because I just wanted the challenge."

Mr. Gaugler received 11 college credits for classes he took in high school.

Andrew Lee, a 2010 Pitt graduate with a degree in rehabilitation science, also benefited from taking AP courses in high school, receiving nine college credits at Slippery Rock University.

Along with academic preparation, students also need to find a school that is the right fit.

Mr. Lee transferred from Slippery Rock to Grove City College before ending up at Pitt.

Transferring twice was inconvenient and cost him time and money because not all of his credits transferred.

Mr. Lee wished he had chosen a school that was a better fit in the first place, calling his decision to apply to Slippery Rock "last minute."

There are ways to narrow your college search to find one that fits you.

Visit colleges you're interested in while they're in session.

Do your own research by reading about majors and careers online and then review colleges with your counselor.

Go to college fairs and get applications and financial aid information from colleges that can accommodate your desired career path and interests.

If you're clueless about what your interests are, a good way to find out is through volunteering or school activities, which can help you explore your interests and talents outside the classroom.

One of the after-school activities I was involved with in high school was Model United Nations, an academic simulation that played a big role in my initial choice for a major, international relations.

Even though I switched to an English major, I felt more comfortable having a basic idea of what I was interested in as a college freshman.

Like many students, I imagined college as a new beginning, but it's important to remember that it's only the next chapter.

Sonya Chun, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, has sophomore standing at Duquesne University. She can be reached at .


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