5 Things to Remember When Preparing for College

College preparation tips for parents and students from Detroit College Access Network and Detroit Promise.

College prep

Applying to colleges can be a lengthy and tedious process, but it’s all about getting your pencils in a row. Here, Detroit College Access Network Executive Director Ashley Johnson helps guide us through the process.

1. Check your eligibility for free tuition. 

Students who live and go to high school in Detroit may be eligible for free money for college through the Detroit Promise. This place-based scholarship awards money for tuition and fees for community colleges and four-year institutions. Visit detroitpromise.com/do-I-qualify for more information. When applying for scholarships and grants, in general, Johnson says to start early and “over apply.” 

She says, “You should apply for as many as you possibly can.” And she reminds that those infamous essays can often be reused for different scholarships. Johnson recommends creating a scholarship database of sorts where you can keep track of deadlines, requirements and other useful information. Also, be mindful about not confusing fellowships, scholarships and other legitimately free offerings with loans that you’ll have to pay back. 

2. Completing the application is just the first step. 

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The college enrollment process is a multi-step endeavor and filling out the application is just the first part. Johnson says students and parents want to start the application process the summer before senior year, ideally, but be aware of everything else you’ll need to do before it’s time to enroll. The big to-dos? Complete the FAFSA and apply for scholarships. Visit detroitcan.org to download a copy of the College Prep Checklist. 

“You want to be able to go into your first day of senior year prepared to sit down with your counselor one-on-one and be able to say, ‘Hey, these are the colleges I’m interested in,’” Johnson says. Even if you weren’t one of the earliest birds, she says it’s not too late to apply for this upcoming fall semester. “Most colleges – especially our local ones like Wayne State and Oakland University – have rolling admissions all the way up until around Aug. 1 of the year for which you’re looking to enroll.” 

3. Make the most out of your high school career. 

Reaching out to colleges happens later in the game, but the work starts as early as ninth grade. “Applying for colleges does not start senior year,” Johnson says. Be mindful of maintaining a high GPA and if your school is offering advanced placement, honors classes or dual enrollment, she says take advantage. “That’s going to look good on your transcript.” 

By the 10th or 11th grade, students should start looking into and studying for the SAT or ACT. DCAN will host virtual SAT prep classes every Tuesday and Thursday in March. Visit detroitcan.org/satstudents for more information. Also, get involved in student-led organizations, extracurriculars that interest you and any leadership opportunities. 

4. It’s not just about being accepted to college. You want to graduate. 

Students of color, especially, will want to keep the institution’s culture in mind when deciding where to enroll. An environment where students feel welcomed, safe and included matters to how well you’ll do and to how likely you are to graduate. Look up those students of color graduation rates. “If you’re going to put four years of your life into this and give thousands of dollars to this institution, you want to make sure you’re going to get a really strong return on your investment,” Johnson says.

Whether to opt for an HBCU or a predominantly white institution will be a personal decision based on what you’re hoping to get out of your college experience. Families should sit down for honest conversations. Visit detroitcollegematch.com for an easy-to-use tool that’ll help parents and students take a data-informed approach to selecting the right school. 

5. Keep calm and have fun. You’re not alone. 

DCAN has trained coaches available to offer group and one-on-one advising sessions for free to families. “This process can be really hard and confusing. Even if you have parents who went to college, chances are, they went about 15 to 30 years ago, so things have changed,” Johnson says. From logistics questions to financial aid, “We just want families to know that we’re here to support them.

And don’t forget to breathe and soak it all in! “This should be a fun experience. The whole family should be involved.” She says whether you get into your dream college or end up somewhere else, it’s all about taking pride in your accomplishments and making the most of the process. 

Detroit Promise is a last-dollar scholarship that ensures all eligible Detroit residents have a tuition-free path to an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or technical certificate at participating academic institutions. Detroit Promise is a program administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, which has been building one of the largest portfolios of education and talent programs in Michigan. They recognize that a more prosperous and competitive Detroit starts with making sure that we improve educational outcomes at every level.

Detroit College Access Network is a collaborative network between local schools, organizations and the community. DCAN supports high schools and community-based organizations as they develop the most productive programming by providing resources, training and through capacity building, in an effort to foster rich college-going cultures. Detroit College Access Network’s mission is to increase postsecondary readiness, enrollment and attainment so all students in Detroit can achieve their educational dreams.

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