Preparing for college is analogous to setting up a series of dominos where when one falls, it leads to the next one falling.  If you start in the middle you will get to the finish line, but the result may not look as good as if all the dominos are down.  It will seem as if something is missing.  One of the many reasons why a typical bachelor's degree takes well over 5 years is due to the incomplete picture caused by starting in the middle instead of at the beginning. 

NCAG suggests following the track of dominos set up here to help develop a logical plan of attack for your familys higher education goals.  This is not an exhaustive plan as we leave that to the personal consultants you may use.  It is, however, a really good foundation from which to make good decisions. This is a plan of action.  Remember those who fail to plan, plan to fail.  Each item will have two parts.  The first part will be the item in a few short words and the second item will be a few more descriptions of what is meant.  Let's get started by pushing the first domino and see where it takes us. 

The dominos are: 

  1. Develop Self Awareness - What do you want to do to contribute to the community, the nation or the world?  Do you like to build things with your hands or mind?  Do you like to be around people?  Are you the creative type? Do you like to understand why things work the way they do? Do you like the risk of starting something new or defending a long standing tradition? This is not an overnight decision for most people and you may change it as you attend college but it is the first step, a starting point.
    1. Speak to your parents for input.
    2. Speak to people you trust.
    3. Speak to your local high school counselor as he may have access to programs where you can answer a series of questions, and the results will give you clues as to what you might enjoy doing.
    4. Seek out private college advisors as they have tools to assist in the decision. They have training in this decision making process.
    5. Shadow a person who is doing what you want to do by spending a week or longer watching them as if you were a fly on the wall.  If they will let you get involved with the task, even better. Ask questions when time allows. 
  2. Pick a Major - The college major will be the certified training you will receive in the college curriculum.
    1. The same programs that you employed in the first domino also will tell you what training or major is generally required. 
    2. Again your high school guidance counselor should be able to help.
    3. Again a private counselor will be able to help here.
    4. Again the shadowed professional you watched for a week can offer firsthand knowledge of what is required, or what they would have done differently to get where they are.
  3. Search for a College - Pick colleges by doing a college search. There are many services and ways to do this, but the important thing is to start to put together the criteria for what you want in a college.
    1. There are many good college search engines to use.  Google 'college search'.
    2. Most high schools that have a computer lab will have local search engines to use.
    3. The college search step will include other issues to consider about the college such as the location, state or region where you want your college to be. The size of the student body and class size are important to many students. Cast a wide net and then narrow it down using all of the individual things you want your campus to have.
    4. Remember, most people get to go to the local high school because that is where they live, but college is a choice, so choose it so it will fit you for your best college opportunity.
  4. Determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) - This is the financial amount your family is expected to contribute to your education. This is important when applying for financial aid and loans.
    1. Check with the Department of Education for tools that allow you to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for your student.  The EFC is a per student per year cost forecaster.  It is not the final amount the student/family will pay but it is a very good barometer at almost all colleges.
    2. Private counselors are very helpful here as the variables from college to college make the use of databases necessary to plan a budget for the cost of college to the student/family.
    3. It is part of the college selection process for most student/families.
  5. Plan your Academic Path - Determine what courses/tests you need to take for those colleges you just selected.
    1. The college may require two years of foreign language in high school.  Some may require only one year. Check the college's web site. Check with your high school counselor. Ask the high school counselor if you are on track.  If not, what courses can be taken at the high school to place you where you want to be?
    2. Some colleges require you take a standardized test as part of the admissions requirements.  The two most common are the SAT and the ACT.
    3. Some colleges require a secondary standardized test call the SAT subject test.
    4. These options require the college bound student/family to set up a test taking plan of action.  When will I take the test?  What are my preparations for the test?  What dates are the tests given?
    5. Your Grade Point Average is KING.  Not where you want to be?  Then take action!  Get help, don't give up!
    6. Test preparation companies can be very helpful towards maximizing your test scores.  Your GPA has been proven to be the real indicator of your success in college, but having your test scores matching your GPA will help in most college admissions departments. 
  6. First College List - Narrow down your long college list to a shorter college list.
    1. Check out the college via a video tour of the campus.
    2. Contact the college and request information to research the college.
    3. High school counselors and private counselors can be very valuable to a college bound student/family at this stage of the process.
    4. Attend your high school's or other high schools' college fairs. 
  7. College Visitations - Visit some or all of the colleges on your list.
    1. Visit college campuses early and often.  For those very proactive students/families, a college visitation can be done as early as the freshman or sophomore year of high school, but are most frequently done in the junior year of high school.
    2. The ideal is to visit before you apply so that you do not apply to colleges that don't meet your "fit".
    3. Create a series of questions that you will ask every college you visit and keep a record of their answers.
    4. You must visit a campus before you say "I DO" to a college.  If you have not visited a campus before you applied for admission then visit after you have been accepted - but visit. 
  8. Final College List - Narrow down your college list to the ones to which you will make applications for admissions.
    1. The student/family must make decisions on the final list of colleges.  Counselors will vary here on how many and what type.  The general consensus is six to ten colleges, any one of which you would be happy to attend.  You will have a favorite but apply to places where you will be happy.  Another general consensus would be to apply to one or two "reach" schools, one or two safety schools and the rest as peer schools.  A reach school would be one where your GPA/Test Scores are lower than what a university/college would accept.  A safety school is where your admittance is almost guaranteed.  A peer school is where your GPA/Test Scores are on par with other students in the university/college.  Reference books will give you the answer to these GPA/Test Scores questions.
    2. Accountability about affordability should be used here.   A student may be able to get admitted but can the family afford to support the student attendance?  This is a VERY opinionated point.  Again, a private advisor can be of help. Education will pay for itself eventually, but at what price to the family with multiple children or limited resources is a valid question.  
  9. Admissions Applications - Apply for admission to the colleges.
    1. Check the college's web site for the admission application.  Download it, follow its instructions, complete it and then transcribe it to the web site or mail it in, depending on what the instructions say.
    2. Common application programs are useful in saving a little time for the student.  See the state's common application programs and the common application for private colleges. 
    3. Many colleges will require an essay which you should start on early to allow yourself time to create the best essay you can. 
  10. Scholarship Search - Make yourself aware of Scholarship Resources.
    1. Athletic resources are available to approximately ten percent of college bound student/families.  The rules for the system are found in the web site.
    2. Internal scholarships are the biggest money producers against the cost of college.  Check the college's web site for special applications. Be aware that in most colleges your admissions application is also your scholarship application.
    3. Private scholarships can be found by doing some Internet research and also with scholarship search engines found on the Internet.
    4. Regional scholarships can be found from those same Internet search engines but may also be found at your local high school guidance counselor's office or bulletin board.  Some will list themselves in the local newspaper or regional magazines.
    5. Local scholarships can be found in the same places listed for the regional scholarships.
    6. Those students whose parents work for larger companies may find company scholarships which they can apply for.
    7. Please be aware that you DO NOT pay for scholarships in any way.  If the scholarship wants a fee it is a scam. 
  11. Financial Aid Applications
    1. Set up a system to track all the different types of financial aid forms required by the colleges you are applying to.  Be advised the due dates will change based on the status of your application.  Example, Early Action status will require different financial aid forms at different times than an application status of regular admissions.
    2. The CSS Profile administered by is used by 300 plus universities/colleges to determine what amount of college resources will be used to assist an incoming student/family.
    3. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) administered by the Department of Education is used by universities/colleges to offer federal assistance monies.
    4. The state in which you live may have, in some cases, very advanced programs for grants and loan assistance.  Many state forms will start with the FAFSA which will fill in many of the answers to their state form that then must be finished by the student/family.
    5. Some universities/colleges will have their own form in addition to all of the above. You will find this in the college's web site. 
  12. Verification Process
    1. Once financial aid applications have been processed, the colleges and the Department of Education go through a verification process. The process will ask for your tax returns to verify the information entered into the financial aid forms.
    2. Do whatever is asked of you by the Department of Education, the College Board and the colleges. 
  13. Awards process - The budget for attending a university/college.
    1. The Cost of Attendance (COA) is a figure that you will need to be aware of in this domino.  The COA is the total cost of attendance.  It includes by federal standards the tuition, room and board, books, fees, transportation and the cost of a computer.
    2. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated in an earlier domino is the second figure you will need to be aware of in this awards process.
    3. VERY SIMPLY put, you will find that the award you get in need based and non-need based help will be the COA EFC = AWARD.  There are many variables here that will cause pause. 
    4. If the Award(s) you receive is not what you expected or doesn't meet your total need, go back to the college(s) you applied to and see if they can work with you to meet your need.
    5. Again a private counselor may be of help here. 
  14. The Choice - The FINAL COLLEGE Selection.
    1. You may need to make one more physical visit to ask the hard questions of the final four or so universities/colleges that have made it to this point.
    2. Tell the ONE on May 1st - the final decision date for college selection.  The process must have a finish line for the decision and May 1st is it.
    3. It is polite to send a letter of declination or to phone telling the other universities/colleges you applied and received acceptances to that you are not attending their university/college. 
  15. Loan - Explore loan options.
    1. College backed loans are offered by some colleges.  Ask them for information.
    2. Federal student loans are limited to certain amounts depending on the year of college. (Freshman year is different than the sophomore year.)
    3. Federal parent loans are limited to the cost of college minus the assistance as discussed in the Awards Domino.  They do have some credit limits but are relatively easy to get.
    4. State loan programs are offered by many states. See your local state's higher education web site for details. 
    5. Private educational loans are offered by many of the major banking companies in the USA.  See the banks' web sites for details. 
  16. Freshman orientation - Prepare, move to and attend college.
    1. Do attend the college Freshman Orientation meeting offered by the college.  Your class schedule and many other issues are covered here and ensure a smooth transition from your home to your new school home.

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