From The Founder and Senior Analyst of ZapThink

Ron Schmelzer

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Preparation: Planning for College Should Begin Early

Tenacious applicants can also appeal college awards

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son is closing out his 10th grade year. He does not seem to be too worried about college right now, since it is still over two years away. I feel a bit uneasy about it, however, because I don’t want things to go too long without making some sort of a plan. What can we do now so that we are ahead of the game for college prep?

Anna B.

Columbus, OH

Dear Anna,

You are doing your son a favor by asking these questions now. He needs to understand that the longer he waits, the fewer and fewer his options will become. Let’s get him moving!


Since your child is in tenth grade, he still has time to create and work a plan. Had he waited much longer, he may have found himself in a bit of a bind with at least one if not more of the categories I will go into below. Many students begin to look at their overall body of work from high school as late as the second semester of their senior year, where there is little they can do to help themselves outside of focusing solely on their SAT and ACT scores. What is sometimes forgotten is that students are in position as early as ninth grade to start mapping out what they will need in terms of required courses and electives to make themselves attractive to the universities they would like to attend.


  1. Five College Minimum

Pick five colleges that you think you want to attend. Investigate each school with the following four steps. Once you have done the research, you may decide that the college is not right for you, and you’ll need to replace it with a new college to research. When selecting a college to research, do not fall victim to some of the common errors that both parents and students make:

· “It has a beautiful campus.” – Is there a statement that should have any less relevance? Your child will not be living there beyond school! The aesthetic appeal of a campus should not factor into your decision at all. It is the frosting on the cake, nothing more. You can live wherever you like once you have earned the degree that will put you on the path that is in keeping with your long-term vision of yourself.

· “I need to go to [insert name here] school.” – Do you? You need to be sure that you are not applying a sweeping generalization about the school to all of its departments. With the big name reputation some schools have come to enjoy, it is easy to assume that it is exceptional in everything, but sadly this is seldom if ever the case. If you are interested in psychology, for example, how does [brand name school] measure up in this department? If the answer is “Not very well,” then despite the name recognition of said school, it just may not be the place for you. This also applies to those casual fans who are drawn to a school simply because they support the major sports teams. You can root for this team from anywhere, while working to achieve your goals. On the other hand, if it meets your academic and career path criteria, and is in line with your long-term vision, then go for it.

  1. Know the credit requirements for each school

This requires some forethought, and is geared more toward those students who are still in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades. Make a list of the high school credits you will need for each of your college selections, and the number and types of electives you will need to take in order to be considered for admission. This needs to be done as early as possible so that your child is not caught without a credit he needs due to poor planning.

  1. Know the college GPA ranges, as well as ACT/SAT minimums

This includes knowing both minimum requirements for acceptance and additional requirements for scholarships. Have your child set a goal to exceed the minimum scores. Remember that a higher ACT or SAT score will only increase your child’s chances of getting a scholarship or grant.

  1. Know the colleges’ extracurricular minimums

Most colleges and universities prefer that your child has extracurricular activities to complement their GPA and standardized test scores. Some even require it. Your child should research each of his choices to see what types of activities are preferred. These will usually be a combination of volunteer work and/or community service.

In the event that the scholarship situation does not unfold as you or your child had hoped, remember that even colleges and universities have an appeals process. Call the financial aid department and speak with the representative responsible for your student’s financial award.

If you feel that you have a legitimate argument as to why your child’s offer should be reexamined or increased, then there is no reason that you cannot successfully make your case with the college in question.  It also helps if your child has applied to multiple colleges (note that this was number one on my above list) and has multiple offers on the table as well, as schools may increase their offers simply due to the fact that another of your choices made a better offer. This is also helpful in that it gives you several schools to consider based on offers, overall cost, and your family’s financial situation.

If you do decide to pursue an appeal, state your case clearly and succinctly,” says Scott Anderson, founder and CEO of For instance, “my wife lost her job and our income this year will be $40,000 less than last year’s information on the FAFSA.”  Or “My mother-in-law just moved in with us and we now have to support her.”  Provide whatever supporting financial information you have available, but do not include information that does not pertain to your appeal.

This is but a small sample of what should go into college preparation while a student is still in high school, but it should be an effective start. Try not to let it overwhelm you or your child by approaching this series of tasks in manageable steps, and your son will be on his way to making a college selection that is focused and gets the ball rolling for effective career planning and management.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].


More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.