SIKESTON - Although high school students are just getting back to school after Christmas break, it's time for them to start thinking about the next school year.
"We're going to get course booklets together at the end of the month and have pre-enrollment in late February or early March," said John Berry, senior counselor at Sikeston R-6. At Scott County Central, students enroll in mid-
March, said counselor Jerry Bre ahmer.
Sikeston's graduation requirements of four courses in each of the core areas puts its graduates in a good position. "They will fulfill the admission requirements for almost any college they want to go to," Berry said. "By the time they've gotten a diploma from here, they've met those things."
These classes are encouraged at Scott County Central, Breahmer said. "The main thing that the ACT company tells us will improve scores is to take more rigorous courses," he said. "They tell us even if a student doesn't do well in a class, they are going to pick up enough to help them do better."
Dual-enrollment courses are highly suggested by both counselors. "You can get a credit for less money and get your high school credit as well as college credit," Berry said. The school offers four such classes through Southeast Missouri State University - an English writing class, social studies, biology and music appreciation - plus advanced placement courses.
Students are also encouraged to take classed at either SAHEC or the Three Rivers Community College off-campus center in Sikeston. The school tries to arrange the classes so the students have time to get to either SAHEC or TRCC and back, so the classes are usually first thing in the morning, at the end of the day or in the evening, Berry said.
Most of Scott County Central's courses on the high school campus are through TRCC or SAHEC. "In some cases they can leave," Breahmer said, although it is rare.
Although dual-enrollment courses aren't offered until senior year, college preparation starts at the beginning of high school, Berry pointed out. "How many times do you see seniors who look back and say 'if only I would have applied myself more during sophomore year?'" he asked.
Because admission requirements vary, Berry urges students to choose about seven colleges they are interested in during their sophomore year, then narrow that list to five as a junior and three to five as a senior.
Breahmer said college visits are very important for students. Scott County Central offers four college days to their students - two their junior year and two their senior year - to enable them to visit those campuses.
"I tell them to talk to a professor in the departments they think they're interested in and encourage them to sit in on a class," Breahmer said. "You just can't tell as much about a school reading their brochures as you can talking to the people there and walking around."
But brochures and Web sites are a good way to start learning about colleges, he said.
Berry encourages senior to apply to any school they are interested in their senior year. Once the students are accepted, it is usually easy to choose which college to attend, since they often have the schools prioritized before they send in applications.
ACT scores are also important for college admissions. Berry said he recommends students begin taking the test at the end of their sophomore year. "Use your junior year to see if you can improve on some of those scores," he suggested.
Students receive advice from the counselors as a group and on an individual basis. "We try to go into the classroom several times each year," Berry said. "In addition to that, when they start narrowing things down I visit with several of them on an individual basis."
The sophomore year is an investigative year and students are opening their minds to different possibilities, Berry explained. The junior year focuses on answering the question "specifically, how do I prepare myself?" And the senior year is about finalizing plans and mailing college, scholarship and financial aid applications.
Students receive more one-on-one help as they get older, Breahmer agreed. "Today I helped students fill out ACT registration forms," he said. "I also look up schools on the Internet when students ask."