High Rocks College Readiness Resource Guide
Welcome to High Rocks' college readiness resource page! We are here to support you at any stage in the college process--whether you are writing an application essay, studying for the SAT, or figuring out how to pay for college, we are committed to helping you succeed.
Explore a wide range of career opportunities. Try out job shadowing. Learn how to write a great email. Get in the habit of asking for support from teachers, counselors, and High Rocks staff.
Explore a wide range of job and career options.
At High Rocks, we encourage students to keep their options open, especially this early in the college and career process! So you have a dream job? Remember that it’s always okay to change your mind (any number of times!). A great way to get a taste of a job or career is to set up job shadowing (joining someone at work for a day to learn what it’s really like). Maybe you’re interested in medicine or healthcare---High Rocks has many connections with healthcare professionals in the area. Or maybe you’re interested in arts, music, or theater---High Rocks can connect you with professional musicians, actors, directors, and gallery workers. Sustainable agriculture, cooking, teaching, even beekeeping---reach out to us and we can help you set up a job shadow.
Learn how to write a great email.
Yes, you may be well-versed in social media technology, but are you confident in communicating through email? This might seem like a small thing, but knowing how to use email is actually a really important skill, and one that is not usually taught in schools, or really anywhere. Schools, universities, and many jobs rely on email to communicate, and your relationship with those institutions can depend on your ability to use and write emails. Here's a helpful guide to writing a great, professional email.
Ask for support.
Yes, school is challenging. School doesn’t always set you up for success. If you are struggling in a certain class, or just struggling to keep up with your homework, let somebody know. If your teachers have “office hours” or tutoring sessions, try to go to them. If you can’t make it due to other responsibilities or activities, ask your teachers to make time for you. As a student, you deserve all the support you need. Asking for help does not mean you are a bad student or that you are not brilliant, it just means you are putting the effort in to set yourself up for success. Teachers will notice this!
Choose a challenging yet manageable schedule of classes. Join an extra-curricular activity. Start building your activities resume.
Congratulations on making it through middle school and getting into high school! Take this time to explore your interests, make challenging and thoughtful choices, and develop your dreams of the person you want to become. While it may seem that you have lightyears of time ahead of you before graduation, the choices you make now will affect the trajectory of your high school education and future goals, so it is important to be thoughtful about the classes you take. Most importantly, this is a time to be true to yourself and ‘do you’. Don’t feel pressured to take classes just because your friends or in them or because you don’t want to be the weirdo in jazz band. Be the weirdo in jazz band! Take the classes that pull you closer to your goals and dreams!
Some questions to consider:
What are my requirements for graduation? In most high schools a certain number of Math, English, Social Studies, Science and Foreign Language classes are required for graduation. Since you are just beginning high school now, you should try to take all the core-courses you need to fulfill your yearly and graduation requirements.
How can I challenge myself?
While it might be intimidating to try out an Honors-level or more advanced class, you should remember that school is a great time to practice growing past your comfort zone and stretching your brain to take on new challenges. Plus, taking honors classes now will make you more prepared to take advanced placement or other honors classes later on in high school, making you more attractive to most colleges. However, it is important to balance challenging yourself with managing your stress level. High school is a big transition, and you want to set yourself up for success. If the idea of taking three or four honors classes makes your heart pound and your palms sweat, try just signing up for one or two and go from there. If you talk to your school counselor, you may be able to switch courses in the next semester if you feel like the classes you are in are too easy or too difficult.
What language do I want to try to master?
Languages open up doors to new worlds. Beyond just something impressive to put on your resume, mastering a foreign language gives you the ability to connect and communicate with people across the country and the globe. Luckily for you, your brain at 14 is much better at learning languages than adult brains! So choose the language you want to learn and choose wisely. Think about where in the country or world you might want to travel to, the kind of work you want to do as an adult, and what languages are becoming more common in the U.S. Because languages take years to master, it is important to try and stick to studying the same language for all four years in high school.
What interests and skills do I want to develop?
What electives does your school offer that make your heart soar and your brain wrinkle? Have you ever wanted to make clay pots, design your own t-shirt, or star in a school-play? Now is your time to try out new and exciting things.
What opportunities do I have for education outside of school to pursue my hobbies, dreams, and aspirations?
Taking advantage of extra-curricular activities helps you grow as a person and connect more deeply to your community. Engaging in volunteer, art and extra-curricular projects long-term both looks impressive to colleges and enhances your personal growth.
Start updating your Activities Resume.
Keep track of all of your academic achievements and extra-curriculars (including your involvement in High Rocks programs) by creating and updating an Activities Resume. Your Activities Resume will set you apart from others in the college application process, and is good practice for writing a resume when you start applying for jobs.
Build your list of colleges. Join a free High Rocks trip to visit campuses. Meet with students, professors, and admissions staff. Ask lots of questions!
Build your list of colleges (start with our High Rocks Guide to WV Colleges and Universities)
Building a list of colleges that you are going to apply to can be intimidating, but it can also be exciting! Generally, you’ll want to make a list of about 5-10 schools. But at this stage, feel free to add even more schools---remember, you don’t have to apply to all of them.
For out-of-state colleges and universities searching, use the College Board search tool: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search
Start visiting campuses
High Rocks takes students on 3-5 college trips a year to WV schools, as well as schools in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky. You might see half a dozen campuses on a High Rocks college trip! Make sure to save your spot by contacting High Rocks staff.
If you can’t visit in person, most schools have virtual tours on their websites.
Examples of questions to ask admissions counselors tour guides while visiting schools:
- What’s the average financial aid package? Loans or grants?
- What are your work-study opportunities?
- How do students balance work and homework?
- What kind of academic support and guidance do you offer?
- What are the most active student groups on campus?
- How popular is Greek life on campus?
- Do you offer health and counseling services?
Other tips for visiting colleges
- Take an official tour by reserving a spot online in advance. Usually, colleges will have this option under “Admissions” or “Apply” on their website.
- Ask current students (such as your tour guide) why they chose this school.
- Set up appointments to meet with professors in a department that interests you, and see what the program is like!
Keep updating your Activities Resume!
Take the PSAT
This year, you will take the PSAT. This test measures what you have learned in high school so far, and what you need to do to succeed in college. It's very important that you take this test seriously. Make sure you know when your school is offering the PSAT (ask your counselor).
A great PSAT score can help you receive merit scholarships as well as academic recognition, which looks GREAT on college applications.
The College Board recommends looking at sample PSAT tests to prepare for the test. However, the most important thing to do to prepare for the PSAT is to keep up with your high school classes. Do your homework, study for tests and quizzes, and sign up for challenging courses.
Study for and take the SAT and/or ACT. Advocate for fee waivers if you need them. If you can, take the tests more than once.
Taking the ACT and SAT can be a great way to showcase your skills to colleges, especially if you struggled with grades or keeping up with school work early in your high-school career. Remember that you can take both the SAT and the ACT multiple times.
Grammar and usage, math, reading, science and reasoning, and writing (optional). The levels of math the ACT covers are: arithmetic, algebra 1 and 2, functions, geometry and trigonometry. Formulas will not be provided. Register for the ACT.
The SAT is comprised of two sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing is comprised of two tests, one focused on Reading and one focused on Writing & Language. The Math section is comprised of a single test with two components - a no-calculator portion and a calculator-allowed portion. The SAT also includes an optional Essay. Some schools may require the Essay, so be sure to ask before you take the SAT.
Register for the SAT at one of these test sites(make sure to register at least four weeks before you plan to take the test!): https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/find-test-centers
Should I take the SAT or ACT?
“Most colleges and universities will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT, and do not favor one test over the other. That said, college-bound students are increasingly taking both the SAT and ACT. Changes made to the SAT in 2016 have made it easier than ever to prep for both tests concurrently—and earn competitive scores on both! The best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you is to take a timed full-length practice test of each type. Since the content and style of the SAT and ACT are very similar, factors like how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find most challenging can help you determine which test is a better fit. Try our QUIZ: SAT, ACT, or Both? to learn more.” From “The Princeton Review”
SAT vs. ACT
Preparing for the Test
Even if you plan to take the SAT and/or the ACT multiple times, take each test very seriously. They can take up a lot of time and money. You will want to study for the test and take a free practice test online. Taking preparatory measures will almost definitely improve your score and give you an advantage in the college admissions and financial aid process.
Check out College Board's free SAT prep--15 minutes a day!
Khan Academy offers several free practice SAT tests as well as personalized feedback.
Finalize your college list and start applying. Work on your personal statement. Ask your teachers for recommendations.
Finalize your college list
We recommend applying to 5-8 schools. Your list should include:
- Financial Safety (at least one school that you can count on being accepted to, and that you can count on being able to afford)
- Safety schools (based on your grades and scores, you will almost definitely be accepted)
- Match schools (based on your grades and scores, you will probably be accepted)
- Reach schools (based on your grades and scores, you might be accepted)
Create a calendar for college applications
- Keeping track of your applications, schools’ application deadlines, and test scores can be a pain. We highly recommend creating a calendar with all of those important dates and tasks so that you stay on track throughout your senior year. Consider using Google Calendar--it’s free and easy to use.
- Make a note of all of your application deadlines. Remember, different schools will have different deadlines to send in all of your application materials. Many schools in West Virginia have rolling application deadlines, which means that schools will continue to accept applications until they reach their desired class size. This also means while there is no official date to complete your application, you’ll want to get your application in as early as possible---earlier applicants have an advantage, and you’ll know whether you got in sooner! PRO-TIP for Rolling Admissions: set deadlines for yourself to finish your applications. For example, if D&E has rolling admissions, pretend your D&E application is actually due March 1st.
- If you’re taking an SAT/ACT during your senior year, put that on the calendar
Start Applying to Colleges!
We recommend that you apply to 5-8 schools. As you know, you’ll want to include at least one financial safety school (a school that you know you’ll be able to afford, and you know you’ll be able to get into based on your GPA and test scores). The other schools you apply to should be a mix of safeties, matches, and reaches.
Believe it or not, some college applications actually cost money to complete. However, there are a few different ways to avoid application fees. If you qualified for an SAT fee waiver from the College Board, you are eligible to receive application fee waivers for participating schools (including most schools in WV). Some schools will have the option to apply for an application fee waiver---make sure to ask the admissions counselor at that school if you need one.
The Common App is an online system that allows you to apply to multiple schools at once, which can save you a lot of time. Most WV schools do NOT use the CommonApp, but it’s great to use if you are applying to schools out of state. For more out of state options, take a look at the Coalition for College application, which waives all application fees.
Summer is a great time to complete your personal statement. A personal statement is an essay you write about yourself, an experience you’ve had, an identity you have, your hopes and dreams, etc. The personal statement is your chance to show what makes you special, and what sets you apart from other applicants. Some schools regard the personal statement as the most important aspect of an admissions application. If you are applying to schools on the CommonApp, you’ll be required to write a personal statement. Several schools in West Virginia also require a personal statement. CommonApp releases a new personal statement prompt every year. During the summer before your senior year, finish writing your personal statement. It’ll be much harder to get this done once you start senior year! Here's our guide to writing a great personal statement.
Letters of Recommendation
Many schools will ask for 1-3 letters of recommendation from your high school teachers. Think about the teachers you have had so far: With whom do you have an existing positive relationship? In whose class have you excelled or significantly improved? Note: some schools require that recommendations come from a core subject teacher (English, math, social studies, science). Make sure to check!
***Ask your teacher to write you a letter of recommendation at least three weeks prior to the deadline. If you can, ask your teacher in-person, and send an email if you can’t. It is helpful to send your teacher your activities resume, your personal statement, and anything you want them to highlight in their letter. The idea is to help your teacher do the least amount of work possible, since recommendation letters take a lot of time, and they do not get paid to write them. Make sure to say thank you!
Finish up your applications and focus on financial aid. Talk to your caregivers about your family's financial situation--you will need this information to apply for financial aid. Fill out the FAFSA. Fill out the CSS Profile. Start applying for scholarships.
Hopefully you’ve already got a big chunk of your applications done during the summer. If not, now is the time to really get those done! That way, you can focus on paying for college during your senior year.
Financial aid is one of the more intimidating parts of the college process. Take a look at our Financial Aid 101 guide for some basic information to get started.
In order to receive federal aid like grants and loans, you will have to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Some schools will also require the CSS Profile, a similar form from the College Board. These forms must be completed on-time. Check the application websites for current deadlines, and add them to your calendar.
To complete the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, you will need access to you and your caregivers' tax returns and other important documents.
For more detailed information about how to complete the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, check out this KhanAcademy video.
Reading Your Financial Aid Letter
Every school that accepts you will send you a financial aid offer. If you applied online, make sure to check your application portal for updates.
Most financial aid letters will list the college's Cost of Attendance (tuition + room and board + fees), Grants (money you don't pay back), and Loans (money that is provided by either the school or the federal government that you will pay back incrementally). Some loans are subsidized, which means that any interest the loans accumulate while you are in school is waived. Some loans are unsubsidized, which means that you will pay any interest accumulated on the loan while you are in school (so you end up paying more). Your financial aid letter will also list Expected Family Contribution (costs leftover after grants and loans are taken into account).
Cost of Attendance - (Grants + Loans) = Expected Family Contribution
Your expected family contribution can be offset by outside scholarships as well as work study. Work study is a program that provides on-campus employment to students with a demonstrated financial need.
You can always get in touch with High Rocks staff and AmeriCorps for help deciphering your financial aid letter!
Every little bit helps, so start making a running list of all the scholarships you qualify for with deadlines and requirements. Keep applying throughout this year. Remember, even the smaller scholarships add up to help you pay for school.
The PROMISE Scholarship is a merit-based financial aid program for West Virginia residents. Students who achieve certain academic requirements are eligible to receive funds to help pay for college. Eligible high school graduates will receive annual awards up to $4,750 to cover the cost of tuition and mandatory fees at public or independent institutions in West Virginia. Awards are contingent upon annual funding of the program by the West Virginia State Legislature. You must have a GPA of 3.0 to qualify for the promise scholarship. You must also fill out the FAFSA and take the SAT or ACT by June of the year before you enter college. Visit CFWV.com to learn about PROMISE scholarship deadlines.
- Take a look at West Virginia scholarships offered by Unigo
- Check out local scholarships from the Greenbrier Valley Community Foundation
- See if you qualify to apply for the Questbridge Scholars program, a competitive national program that provides full-rides to select schools
- Apply to become a Bonner Scholar and receive partial tuition aid while committing to community and social justice work.
Unfortunately, when searching for scholarships we have to watch out for scams! If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Learn to identify scams, and save yourself time and money. Check out this article from the College Board for more tips.
Support from High Rocks doesn't stop when you graduate from high school. We're here to help you see college through to the end.
Are you a first-generation college student? Are you interested in STEM? Consider joining the First2 Network, a High Rocks partner dedicated to supporting first-generation students from West Virginia achieve their goals in higher education.
Tips from High Rocks for continuing success
Think about your college’s Gen-Ed requirements and requirements for your major(s). Focus on fulfilling requirements at a steady pace so that you can be sure that you will graduate on time. Think about both your career goals and what classes will fulfill certain requirements for your major(s) and/or minor. But in your first year, try to take some classes in subjects you are curious about or may not fit within your pre-determined “plan”--it is important to take time to explore new courses that you didn’t get a chance to take in high-school and be open to changing your mind about what you might be most passionate about learning. You never know where your journey of learning might take you!
Adjusting to the culture of a campus environment can be overwhelming. Aside from dealing with the stress of classes, campus jobs and managing your own schedule as an independent adult, the social universe of college is very different from that of high school. The process of making new friends and adapting to the social rules and rhythms of college life may feel at times exciting and at times strange, lonely or exhausting. For some of you, college may also mean a departure from a small-town or rural way of life, or it may be the first time you get to consistently interact with people coming from very different cultures, backgrounds and belief-systems. This diversity is wonderful and enriching; it can also be confusing and anxiety-provoking to figure out how to develop relationships with people who do not share your life experiences. It is important to stay connected to friends and family from home who can anchor you during this time of transition. At the same time, it is so important to challenge yourself to push through the discomfort and embrace the environment you are in. Nothing in life is permanent--if after a year you still feel miserable, it is always okay to transfer or look at other options. But the first few months are difficult and confusing for most people--even if it seems like everyone around you has made tons of friends and is having a great time, they are probably struggling with the same stress and self-consciousness you might be feeling internally. Give yourself time and grace to adjust. Develop practices that can center and ground you--like going on walks, calling a friend from home once a week, reading a favorite book or getting involved with an activity that brings you joy.
The most important part of time management is learning how to set your own boundaries, which is a lifelong skill that can be difficult to master. While it may be tempting to sign up for every club and get involved in every organization and start a band and take five classes, it is so important to keep your schedule simple and manageable during your first semester so that can you allow yourself enough time to emotionally adjust to your new environment. It is important to also remember that college classes are generally much more demanding in terms of work-load than high-school classes. And while structured clubs and extra-curricular activities are a very important way to build relationships and make friends, it is important to also create space in your life for open and unstructured time. Buy a planner and try to make top priorities for each week. Stick to them, and allow yourself enough time to rest and rejuvenate. It will make focusing on the work you have to get done much easier and more fulfilling.
Think about what extra-curricular interests you have and how you can explore new passions, hobbies and talents when you are in college. College presents an amazing opportunity to expand your universe--don’t be afraid to try a new instrument, join a weird frisbee team, or take part in a protest. Becoming a part of clubs, sports-teams and student-activist groups is an incredible way to build relationships and gain new skills in college. To find groups you might be interested in joining, check out club-fairs and bulletin boards.
OTHER GREAT RESOURCES: