Many of us have heard the adage that unless you want to flip burgers your whole life, you have got to go to college. While the avenues have opened a bit beyond fast food work for those who do not get a degree, it is true that in many instances, in the competitive job market of today, you have to have a bachelors degree to even get an interview.

So if that’s the direction you want to go, how do you get on that road to a bachelor’s degree? Let us map it out for you.

Start in High School

The time to prepare to earn a bachelor’s degree doesn’t start when you apply at a university. It starts in high school where you lay the foundation for college success. The classes you take, your grades and assessment scores, and the activities you participate in not only paint a picture of you for an admission board, but allow you to progress to a level of education that you need to fulfill your career goals, not to mention securing scholarships to finance your education. Then it’s on to college.

One of the criteria considered when admitting a student into a college program is the quality and number of high school courses attempted. Ultimately colleges are looking for students who appropriately challenge themselves, but still perform well in the courses. There are opportunities for students to earn college credit through Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school. A test is administered at the end of the year for these courses and if you pass, you get credit toward your college requirements.

There are also concurrent enrollment programs offered at some high schools. Concurrent enrollment is where qualified students can earn credit towards their degree by taking college-level classes that are taught at the high school using curriculum that would be used at a college.

Deciding what classes to take should be done with care because it’s not just the quality of the classes that count—grades matter too. Colleges want students who aren’t padding their schedule with classes to get all As, but are getting good grades in classes that they have to work and learn to study in.

Tests Matter

Assessment test scores also factor into the admission process. There are several different assessment tests, typically administered in high school, for career interests and aptitude. These include the most common ACT and SAT tests, but there are also the PLAN and PSAT tests, preliminary tests given earlier in high school that prepare you for the other tests and assess where you are in relation to your career and educational goals.

ACT and SAT tests don’t measure your IQ, but rather are designed to predict academic success in college. The SAT tests knowledge in reading, math and writing, where the ACT tests knowledge in English, math, reading and science. Both tests are worth preparing for and taking early as you can it again if you don’t like your first score.

Get Extracurricular

Aside from all the studies and tests that are an important aspect of your high school career and preparation for college, what activities you participate in and how you spend your time outside of school is also key. Colleges are eager for students to be well-rounded, who will contribute to the campus environment. The best way to do this is to get involved. Whether it’s in sports, clubs, service opportunities, or student government, do something that makes your education experience fun.

Earning Your Stripes

Even students who have taken all the right roads and prepared their whole lives to go to college may still find the actual steps of earning their bachelor’s degree a little nebulous. The major stops on the way to a bachelor’s degree are fulfilling the general education requirements, choosing a major and then finishing the major courses.

For bachelor degrees at most higher education schools, 120 credit hours are required. Credit hours for general education courses are fulfilled first during your college career. For the general education aspect you are required to take classes across a wide breadth of fields and are introduced to different perspectives. You build upon skills you have already learned in classes such as English and math. Each institution has specific criteria for general education.

One of the purposes of taking general education courses is to learn what your interests are and to help you decide what you want to focus your studies on—in other words, to choose a major. This is specialized knowledge in a field. Most colleges prefer that you declare a major within your second year at the school.

Each major has specialized, upper-level classes that are required in order to graduate in that field with a bachelor’s degree. There are a minimum number of courses that must be taken within that major. Apart from that major, you also become knowledgeable in a minor subject by taking six to eight courses that will enhance your training.

Earning a bachelor’s degree isn’t a one-day trip or a walk in the park, but if you want to do more than work fast food, by preparing well and following these steps mapped out for you, the trip is worth making. If you want to learn more about your bachelor’s degree options, visit our Bachelor’s Degree page.

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