Taking these 10 steps can pave a path to college for your children

BY GREGG GARN Published: November 28, 2010
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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 okpromise.org.

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.

College is a big step and does take time to prepare. The earlier your family plans and prepares for college, the more choices you create. Start by following this college checklist to keep your teen on the path to higher education.

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.