It's a few months into the school year, and people are already asking about your teenager's plans for college. Unless your teenager is a high school senior, college may seem like a long time away, but just like childhood, the time will pass more quickly than he or she thinks. Here are 10 steps you can take now to help your teenager go to college.
1. Make sure your student is taking the right classes. According to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Oklahoma student schedules should contain at least four college-preparatory classes per year. Some schools require extra units, and some colleges encourage extra units. Check with the high school counselor to make sure your student is on track. A list of courses to take can be found at OKcollegestart.org under Plan for College.
2. Research college entrance requirements with your teen so you can help guide and plan course schedules. Remember, it is much easier to plan ahead than to go back and take needed courses. Check out
3. Compare college costs, as they can vary widely according to the choices you make. Factors such as private versus public college and two-year versus four-year college play a part in the total cost. Don't let sticker shock deter you. Remember, college is an investment in your child and his or her future. More information can be found at OKcollegestart.
4. Start exploring financial aid now. College costs can be reduced through scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Information can be obtained through the counselor's office. The Federal Student Aid website, FAFSA4caster (www.fafsa4caster.
5. Have your teen take classes eligible for college credit during high school years. Advanced Placement and technical-
6. Start, or even better, continue, saving for college. The website FinAid (www.finaid.org) has custom calculators that can help you figure out how much you need to save and how much aid you'll need according to college costs.
7. Take advantage of Oklahoma's college incentive programs. Start a college savings account with as little as $100 and receive an Oklahoma income tax deduction. Check out the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan at www.ok4saving.org or call (877) 654-7284. Your child could qualify for free college tuition. Oklahoma's Promise is a unique program for students that will help pay for their college education if their family income is $50,000 or less. Students must sign up in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade and meet certain academic requirements. They also must stay in control outside of the classroom by avoiding trouble, like drugs, alcohol and gangs. There are additional requirements to get and keep the scholarship while in college. For more information on Oklahoma's Promise or to apply, ask your child's counselor or visit
8. Encourage your student to join extracurricular activities or volunteer for community service projects. Good grades are at the top of the list for college admission, but they aren't the only thing that determines college entrance.
9. Help your teen start thinking about career choices. Have them make a list of their interests. Encourage them to talk to people you know who have interesting jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an online Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/oco) that lists information about the job market by state, the training and education needed, and earnings.
10. Explore colleges virtually and in-person with your student. Start with OKcollegestart.org for information about colleges in the state, and then visit the colleges that interest you most. Most colleges offer campus tours on scheduled days and times. If your high school offers campus visits, see if you can accompany your teen.
Gregg Garn is director of the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma. His column is offered in conjunction with the center's GEAR UP for SUCCESS program. For more information about the program, visit k20center.ou.edu. For more information about college awareness go to www.OKcollegestart.org or call 225-9239.