Planning Your Future

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High School Timeline 

Students who decide to pursue a degree at a two- or four-year institution after high school should begin planning during their freshman year in high school. LEAF’s High School Timeline will help students and parents plan for their future by understanding what tasks need to be done and when they need to be completed.

Choosing a college major or career

There are multiple steps students take when deciding what careers they would like to pursue and what training they will need to achieve their goals. The best way to make a good choice regarding college majors or career options is for students to explore their hobbies, favorite classes, how they interact with people and their own personality. It is normal to switch majors or careers based on new information, interests or life experiences.

Inventory your interests and talents by taking a career assessment at one of the following websites:

Career One-Stop

My Next Move


Visiting a College Campus

Visiting college campuses can be valuable when selecting the right school. Visits offer a first-hand look at a college’s academic programs, facilities, and atmosphere. It is best to start visiting campuses in the spring of your junior year. To make the most of a college visit, some pre-planning is necessary.

Individual Visits versus Campus Visitation Days

Many college campuses have visitation days in the spring, summer, and fall, offering information to you and your parents or guardian in a group setting. Visitation days are a perfect way to get to know a campus at the beginning of your college search. However, they may not allow the opportunity for one-on-one contacts that individual visits can. You may need to schedule an individual visit to meet with an admissions counselor, a financial aid officer, coach or other college personnel. You may attend several visitation days in the spring and summer, and then as your list of colleges narrows, you will revisit some of them in the fall.

Checklist for a College Campus Visit – Here are some things to look for during a visit:

  • Attend a class – Is the quality of teaching, the class size and atmosphere conducive to your learning style? Try to avoid breaks and vacations when visiting.
  • Investigate the campus environment – Take a campus tour. Visit residence halls, student centers, dining facilities, the library, etc. Informally interview students and faculty. Does the campus provide comfortable living quarters? What kinds of students attend this school? Do you see yourself fitting in? Can you envision living, eating and studying at this school?
  • Check into academic programs and student activities – Does the college offer the field of study or major that you want? Are there social activities, clubs, fraternities, sororities, intramural athletic programs, etc. on campus that interest you? Are there opportunities for volunteering, especially in your areas of interest? Are internship opportunities or co-op programs available that correspond to your major?
  • Meet with an admission counselor – Learn more about what courses are required for your academic major. Discuss the chances for success for admission, graduation and career opportunities. Verify the admission requirements.
  • Ask about financial aid opportunities – What percentages of students receive financial aid? What scholarships are available and how do you apply? Determine the actual costs of attending that college. Do they have institutional aid available?
  • Job or work-study opportunities – If you plan to work while in college, inquire about job opportunities available both on and off-campus.
  • Safety – What is the crime rate on campus, and what types of security measures are available?
  • On your way out of town, jot down a few thoughts about campus life. Make a list of what you liked and what you didn’t like. By the time you finish touring all the campuses, your notes will be invaluable to help you remember your impressions of each college tour. Students who can’t visit the campus can always do the next best thing –– take a virtual tour.

College Application

Once students have narrowed their college choices, they need to apply during the fall of their senior year. The key to making the college application process less stressful and complicated is to start early and stay organized.

College application requirements are different at each college; students should review the application requirements very carefully. It is important to correctly submit all the pieces required for each application. Students should never hesitate to contact the Admissions Offices of the colleges they are interested in to clarify or obtain more information. Applications will include some or all of the following:

  • Application form (online or paper)
  • Transcripts
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • Essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • An interview
  • An application fee

Some colleges require that students submit elements of the application through an online portal called the Common Application. Other schools require that applications be submitted directly to the Admissions Office, electronically or via postal mail. If the institution is a Common Application member, students can apply to multiple institutions by filling out one application.

Keep copies of everything sent to the college, as it could be useful for scholarship applications in the spring. An application fee may be required in order to submit an application. Some schools may waive the fee if the application is submitted online. Application fee waivers are available to students who qualify. (Students should talk to their LEAF Advisor or Guidance Counselor to see if they are eligible for application fee waivers.)

It is very important to know application deadlines. Generally, students should have applications finished by Thanksgiving. Note that colleges may have earlier deadlines for applications that are to be considered for academic or merit scholarships.

Essay Tips

Writing a college admission essay can be intimidating. With some organization, you can write a top-notch essay that stands out from other applicants and tells the admissions team who you are. A personal essay is typically 300 to 500 words in length. You may be asked to “Tell us about yourself” or “Tell us your hopes and aspirations.” These topics require some thought, especially when you may be uncertain of your goals and you’re trying to discover your own life and career path. The essay is a chance to demonstrate what you have discovered about yourself up to this point in your life. The admissions team will evaluate your writing ability and the substance of your essay. After all, a very large part of your evaluation in college will be based on essays and written exams. These general tips and guidelines can help you get started:

  • Be yourself. Choose a topic that is meaningful to you. Speak in your own voice. Write what you believe, not what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t take on too big a topic, and don’t adopt a “preachy” tone. College admission officers don’t want to be lectured on rainforest destruction. Instead, tell them how you became interested in environmentalism.
  • Be creative. Pick a topic that is unique to you – be original! Remember that the people reviewing your essay will have read hundreds, if not thousands of essays. Don’t give them one more “The Most Important Person In My Life” essay to read.
  • Begin and end clearly. Reduce the introduction and conclusion to one sentence each. Try to make topics clear in a few lines and never sacrifice specifics.
  • Captivate your audience. Your essay needs to be engaging and memorable. Draw the reader in with a quick, enticing introduction. Catch their interest and give them a reason to finish your essay.
  • Accentuate the positive. When writing about a traumatic experience, describe but don’t dwell on the negatives. Rather, explore how the experience changed you and what lessons you took away from it.
  • Leave time for drafting. Write the first draft. Let it sit for a few days. Then review it carefully and look for both weak or dull spots and spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Never let your first draft be your final draft. Read each draft aloud; your ears can pick up problems that your eyes may miss.
  • Revise, rewrite, reword. Revision is the key to all good writing. It will allow you to develop your own style and organize your thoughts more clearly. Hammer your draft into shape through rewrites. Using dialogue or humorous anecdotes is almost certain to spice up your essay.
  • Ask people for input. Have several people look over your drafts and offer their comments and suggestions. Teachers, counselors, friends, parents, siblings – ask people you respect for some candid feedback. “Does it sound confusing?” “Is it boring?” “Do I come across well?”
  • Modify your essay for different colleges. If you have written an essay that points out a specific college or interest in a specialized major, ensure that you edit those phrases each time.

Options Other Than Traditional College

Even though all students need additional training and education after high school, two- and four-year institutions are not the only option. Students can learn new skills in apprenticeship programs, earn certificates, and utilize vocational training through Career Technical Education while still in high school, or join career training programs offered by the military.

Career Technical Education Options

Career Technical Education (CTE) allows students to learn job skills in their junior and senior years of high school. Many CTE programs allow students to earn college credit if they complete the program and continue on to a two-year institution. Students in CTE courses also may be able to complete industry certifications and/or join a labor union during the program. Typically, students must apply to CTE institutions during their sophomore year of high school.


Apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by individual employers, joint employer and labor groups, and/or employer associations.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an apprenticeship is on-the-job learning in traditional industries such as construction and manufacturing, as well as new emerging industries such as health care, information technology, energy, telecommunications and more. Students who are accepted into apprenticeship programs are paid a salary and usually learn using a combination of industry-specific classroom coursework and hands-on learning. The length of the apprenticeship depends on the program and the complexity of the occupation.

Ohio Apprenticeship information
Apprenticeship Pathways
U.S. Department of Labor


Military Options

Military service is a way to see the world and learn valuable skills that can be transferred into civilian life. Many enlistees would not have the opportunity to attend college or purchase a house without the benefits associated with military service. The opportunity to learn responsibility, focus and discipline can benefit enlistees for life. People in the military learn how to make decisions in extreme conditions and function in periods of stress – traits critical in civilian life. However, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the risks, as well as the benefits, of military service, and what the commitment to a career in the Armed Forces involves

Military Information
ROTC Information

National Guard Information
Military Colleges and Academies

Evaluating Employability Skills
Employability or work skills are divided into two types – hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are related to the required job tasks – building a cabinet, writing software code or operating a machine. Soft skills are those skills related to personal traits, attitudes, and personality. The following are 10 important soft skills: (Can we use “hover-over” terms to show their definitions?)

Communication Skills – You listen well, you don’t swear at work or have a bad attitude, you can ask for what you want clearly, and you’re not afraid to ask if you don’t understand something.

Decision-making Skills – When you must make a decision, you think carefully about all your choices, ask for advice and choose the wisest option for the situation at hand.

Enthusiasm – You have excitement and/or passion for your work whether you are leading a team or serving as a contributing team member.

Integrity/Honesty – Others can trust what you say, as demonstrated by your actions. You are honest with others, and you value confidentiality, loyalty, and dependability. You admit your mistakes and correct them.

Positive Attitude – Example: showing up to your team’s game ready to give it your best. You are excited and ready to go, even if the chances of winning are low and it’s going to be hard work.

Problem-solving Skills – If you see a problem, you don’t wait for someone else to solve it. You research options and find a way to fix it.

Resilience – Accepting that life does get hard at times and does change. It’s about being able to change, ask for help and keep going.

Responsibility – You are dependable and reliable, and others know they can count on you to get the job done. When you manage yourself, you are in control of what you do and say in a way that doesn’t harm yourself or others.

Teamwork – You help each other to achieve a goal. You make sure you do your part, you get along with everyone and you respect your coach or manager.

Willingness to Learn – You show that you’re happy to learn new things and what you need to know to do your job. Example: your coach says you need to work on your skills. You don’t get too upset but take it calmly and try hard to improve.

Situations where soft skills come into play:

  • Class projects
  • Clubs or StuGo committees
  • Sports
  • Church activities
  • Scouting
  • Volunteering
  • Part-time neighborhood jobs


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