Preparing for College – by Megan Lengyel

There are over 2,000 4-year colleges and universities in the United States.   It is quite a daunting task to begin selecting which of these colleges is the best fit for the student.  It can be difficult to get a feel for the true mission of a college or university before a student enrolls, but considering the size of the student body and the academic atmosphere, the opportunity for spiritual growth, and the total costs before making a decision can help to insure that the right college is chosen for each individual student.

The academic atmosphere that the college has to offer is an extremely important aspect.  Many times the size of a school inadvertently influences the academic atmosphere.  An obvious effect of going to a larger school is that of class size.  It is not uncommon for general (core) courses at larger school to have upwards of 300 students in it.  This may make undergraduate students feel more like a number than a valued part of a program.  Larger schools also tend to put much of their academic efforts and funding into their graduate programs.  Unfortunately, this could mean that many of the professors may be more involved in graduate student progress than the success of their undergraduate students.  The implications of larger class size and lack of professor commitment to undergrads may result in the need for these students to be more self-motivated and independent learners.  

Smaller schools generally put their main emphasis on academics.  Sometimes larger schools tend to become more focused on the strength of their athletic program, and in doing so unintentionally take away much of the strength from academia.  Although athletics can certainly add to a student’s college experience, the main reason for attending college should be learning.  Overall, you will find that smaller schools tend to keep their sights set on providing the best academic experience for a student including smaller class size and individual attention from professors.  Home schooled students while independent learners, may also be accustomed to having individual attention. 

Another aspect is the opportunity for spiritual growth.  It is important to grasp the true mission of the college or university that you apply to.   Pope John Paul II, in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, calls upon Catholic students to understand the higher purpose of their education:

“Students are challenged to pursue an education that combines excellence in humanistic and cultural development with specialized professional training. Most especially, they are challenged to continue the search for truth and for meaning throughout their lives, since “the human spirit must be cultivated in such a way that there results a growth in its ability to wonder, to understand, to contemplate, to make personal judgments, and to develop a religious, moral, and social sense”. This enables them to acquire or, if they have already done so, to deepen a Christian way of life that is authentic. They should realize the responsibility of their professional life, the enthusiasm of being the trained ‘leaders’ of tomorrow, of being witnesses to Christ in whatever place they may exercise their profession.”

It is important for the university or college to foster the ideals of education that Pope John Paul II writes about.  Although this does not mean that a student should automatically disregard a school that is not faithful to the Magisterium or secular, the student will need to enter into the environment with strong faith in hand, keeping in mind the purpose of the education they are pursuing.   Students who do not have the opportunity to enroll in an institution that upholds the ideals mentioned by Pope John Paul II, should be sure to investigate the outlets they may have to meet other Catholics, such as the campus Newman Center, on campus parish, or other Catholic clubs or groups. 

Of course the one thing everyone wishes that they could take out of the equation is cost.  It seems that every college and university is raising its tuition on a yearly basis.  With the rising cost of education, it can be difficult not to make it the number one factor in choosing a college for the student.  All is not lost, however.  There are ample ways to gain money for college.  The number one way to gain “free” money from a college or university is directly from them!  Most 4-year colleges and universities offer general academic scholarships, and the majority offer some type of departmental and leadership scholarships.  The absolute best way to increase your chances of getting one of these scholarships is MEETING THE DEADLINE.  Admissions counselors will not consider any late applications, so it is essential that students research and know the deadlines for scholarship consideration for every school for which they apply.  Some schools even have priority deadlines, which may not be the last chance to qualify for academic scholarships, but certainly increase the chances of receiving the scholarship once the application is in.  Both the ACT and SAT should be taken at least 3 months prior to this deadline, and in individual cases, should have been taken for their 2nd or 3rd time if necessary.  Also be sure to request your transcript be put together as soon as possible!  It is a good idea to look at your official transcript before sending it on to colleges so that the courses accurately reflect what you have really done during your high school years. 

Financial aid is another avenue that every parent should pursue to obtain funding for their student in college.   The FAFSA (free application for federal student aid) should be filled out on a yearly basis.  It can be filled out no earlier than January 1, and the sooner it is filled out the better the chance of receiving the best financial aid.  There are also independent scholarships that students can apply for during their senior year.  The following websites can help students in the scholarship and financial aid process. – Free private scholarship search engine – Information on financial aid planning– File the FAFSA on-line – information on taking the PSAT, SAT, and AP tests – Information on the ACT and PLAN tests.

Also remember to look at scholarships available from Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus and the Italian Catholic Federation (ICF) and from local groups, fraternal organizations, and essay contests.  See the timeline below for more information. 

Although every school is different, the implications of size and the academic atmosphere should be considered carefully.  There are benefits and drawbacks to every college, whether large or small.  Overall, it is important to match the student’s work ethic, goals, and learning style with the academic atmosphere that is prevalent in a college.   Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that

“With every other University it shares that gaudium de veritate, so precious to Saint Augustine, which is that joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth in every field of knowledge. A Catholic University’s privileged task is “to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth”.  

Most importantly, it is important to keep in mind the goals of having a true Catholic education whether it is at a public, private, or Catholic university or college. 



9th grade

Start reading about what to expect as the time approaches to consider college.

Start a log of all of your extra-curricular activities and awards. 

Keep your records current.


10th grade

Begin researching schools casually that may have piqued your interest.

Take the PLAN test, or other similar test that helps to narrow down your interests in career paths.  Go to for more information.

Research where you can take the PSAT during 11th grade.  You may want to take the PSAT during 10th grade for practice.

Keep your records current.


11th grade


Begin to narrow down the list of colleges that you are interested in (10 is a good goal).  Using a book like the Peterson’s top 300 colleges is an excellent resource. 

Take the PSAT. 


Visit a few of the schools that you are seriously interested in with your parents.  Be sure to meet with admissions counselors to get a better grasp on what that particular college likes to see from its applicants. 

Some universities have spring weekends for prospective students who are only juniors.  Be sure to research the schools that you are interested in to see if there are opportunities for you.  Some may include scholarship opportunities.

Take the ACT and/or the SAT. 

Keep your records current.


Continue to make visits to colleges that you are interested in.  Parents should make use of any summer vacations to visit colleges, even if it is just for the experience.

Retake the ACT and SAT if you wish to retest. 

Request that a transcript be made up for you to review AFTER you have turned in all of your 11th grade work. 

Decide if you will apply for early decision for any of the schools on your list.  Be sure to investigate the application due date!  Be sure to request the applications during the summer so you can review what needs to be included.


12th grade


Your list of schools that you want to apply to should be narrowed down to 5 or 6.  Students applying to highly selective schools should also be sure to include schools that are less selective as back-ups. 

Request college applications and review them as soon as you receive them.  Note the different things that are required: transcripts, letters of recommendation, guidance counselor reports, and/or essays.  Many colleges offer online applications.  However, Kolbe cannot send transcripts via email, so be sure to request a transcript at least 2 weeks prior to the deadline.  A student may make up to 10 transcript requests free of charge; after that, the cost is $5 each. 

September — November

Take the ACT and/or SAT if you wish to retest.

Be sure to begin writing essays early for those applications that require them.  Have your parents, tutor, friends, or an academic advisor at Kolbe review them. 

Ask for letters of recommendation.  Allow at least 2-3 weeks for recommendations to be written.  Letters of recommendation should be sealed with the person’s signature across the seal.

Fill out applications.

Be sure to include some time to visit schools and shadow a freshman for a day or two.  Staying in the dormitory can give you a good idea of what the living conditions are at the school. 


Enjoy the Advent and Christmas season because you have already turned in all of your applications!  If you haven’t, get to work!

January — April

Fill out the FAFSA (the earlier the better!). 

Continue applying for private scholarships, noting the deadlines and requesting materials for those applications early.

Turn in copies of scholarships and acceptance letters to Kolbe for your records. 

Make any final college visits and try to shadow a current freshman. 

Notify the college that you will be attending.  Most schools have a May 1 deadline for this notification.


If you have taken any community college courses or any AP tests, be sure to request proper documentation so that you can receive credit at the school you will be attending.

Request your diploma from Kolbe.

Inform Kolbe of the college that you will be attending and any scholarships that you have received.


After you have officially graduated, request that a final transcript be sent to the college that you are attending.  THIS IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY SENT.