5 Questions to Ask Your High School Counselor

Your high school counselor is one of the most valuable resources at your school. They can help you choose classes, find school activities, prepare for college and a career, and even support your mental health. It’s easy to get so involved with your friends and schoolwork that you forget your counselor is available to help. Now is a great time to schedule a meeting with your counselor! If you’re nervous or unsure where to begin, these questions will help break the ice. 

Which classes do I need to take to graduate?

Take full advantage of your counselor’s knowledge, and remember they’re professionals in this kind of thing! When you meet up with them, ask them which classes will put you on track for graduation. It’s NEVER too early!

Can you tell me about some of the school’s extracurricular activities? 

One of the most exciting aspects of high school is having the freedom to make choices that support your interests and goals. There’s no better time to branch out and try new hobbies, discover new passions, and make new friends! 

Your counselor can tell you how to get involved in your school’s extracurricular activities and which ones look good on college applications. If something sounds fun, get all the details, and make it happen!

How do I manage stress, especially when I’m struggling in my classes?

We get it. High school is INSANELY stressful at times. Your school counselor is the perfect person to go to if you’re struggling with stress. If you’re having a hard time in your classes, your counselor may offer resources, like tutoring or office hours with a particular teacher. Don’t hesitate to confide in them about personal challenges at home unrelated to school. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help. Your school should have tools in place to help you succeed.

How do I start exploring college and career paths?

You can explore college and career paths through internships, volunteering, and extracurriculars. Your counselor will likely have information about local opportunities for students. By exploring different careers, you can see which ones interest you most.

Which AP courses would you recommend for me?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes aren’t one-size-fits-all. If your school offers AP courses, ask for more information. AP options are typically available starting your sophomore year. When you express interest in these classes, your counselor can help pick ones that make sense for you and find time in your schedule to make them work.

Establish a relationship with your school counselor as soon as possible. They are there to help you, and they will offer a listening ear!

7 Tips for Choosing a Major During High School

Choosing a major while you’re still in high school can feel like a huge decision, especially if you aren’t sure what you want to study or what career you want to explore. While you don’t need everything figured out, choosing 2-3 majors you like will help you pick colleges that fit your academic interests. Here are some tips to help you choose a major:

Think about your interests and strengths.

Think about what you like doing in your free time and what subjects you enjoy. Look for majors that use those strengths.

Read about different majors.

Check out My Majors in Encourage to learn about majors and the colleges that offer them. See which classes you could take within each major and which majors match specific careers. Use this information to build a list of majors perfect for you. 

Consider your career goals.

What careers interests you? Use My Careers in Encourage to explore thousands of careers based on your interests. Learn about the training paths and education requirements for each career.

Talk to people who work in jobs that interest you.

Reach out to people who work in careers that interest you. Ask them about their experience and the education you need for that specific field.

Take a variety of classes.

Take classes in different subjects to learn what you enjoy and where you do your best work. You may discover some new classes you love!

Get to know your high school counselor.

Your high school counselor can help you understand your college and career options. They can provide guidance and information about majors, careers, colleges, and academic requirements.

Visit college campuses.

Visit your favorite college campuses during school breaks. Take informational tours, talk to current students about their experiences, and ask academic advisors about the school’s majors and programs.

Choosing a major is exciting and personal to you! Choose a major that matches your interests, career goals, and values. You’ve got this! Encourage is here to help. 

What’s Next After High School?

The value of a college degree is a hotly debated topic. Whether you’re swiping through TikTok or talking to your school counselor, everyone has an opinion. 

While some research shows that adults with degrees are more likely to earn more and achieve high levels of career satisfaction, no path has a guaranteed outcome. It’s important to explore your options, learn what works best for you, and do what brings you the most joy. Below are some common paths students take after high school graduation.

Start Working

Some high school graduates want (or need) to start working right away. Full-time employment could include apprenticeships or simply working 35+ hours a week. 

Top Tip: If a job interests you and you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications, apply anyway! You never know who is in the applicant pool and doesn’t hurt to put yourself in the running. 

Work/Attend College 

Many employers have created programs to help keep solid employees. Employers like UPS, Starbucks, and Target offer tuition support for eligible employees at partner colleges. 

Top Tip: Make sure your schedule is balanced. It’s hard to work more than 20 hours a week and attend college full-time (4-5 classes). Pace yourself and take time for self-care. 

Go to College

If you graduate from college, you’ll have a wide variety of career options. Remember, not all colleges are created equal. From price tags and degrees offered to the social scene, each college has its own vibe. Whether you pursue a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree, pick a program and college that fits your academic, social, and financial expectations. 

Top Tip: Make a list of 3-5 top “must haves” for your college experience. Choose a college that fits your expectations. 

Military/Military + College

When you enlist in the military, you commit to four years of active duty and four years of inactive duty. Some military options combine military service with education, including the National Guard, military academies, and ROTC. If you’re interested in a military career and want to pursue life as an officer, you can earn your degree while enlisted. 

Military Top Tip: There are many jobs within the military, and many aren’t combat. You will take an aptitude test when you enlist in the military to determine your placement. To increase your placement options, take some practice tests and brush up on your English, math, and science skills.

Military + College Top Tip: Start early. ROTC programs and scholarship spots are limited. Choose a college that offers ROTC, and speak to a recruiter before your senior year about how to pursue the opportunity. 

Take a Gap Year

Some students take a gap year after high school to travel or volunteer. Gap years can be formal, planned overseas experiences, while others are less structured or self/student-directed experiences. The best way to structure a gap year is to have a goal in mind and a set end date. 

Top Tip: Apply to college first and then defer your admission for a year. You’ll have to file FAFSA again, but you’ll have the support of your high school team/counselor before you leave to pursue your year of experiential learning. 

What are the Different Types of Colleges?

Not all colleges are the same! If you’re wondering which college is best for you, here are the most common types of colleges and universities.

Private College/University

Private colleges/universities are four-year schools that don’t receive government funding and rely mainly on tuition, fees, and private funding sources. Private donations allow some private schools to provide generous financial aid packages, which helps offset tuition costs and makes the price comparable to public schools. If you like seeing familiar faces around campus, you may enjoy this type of college because they tend to be smaller and more intimate. 

Public Colleges/Universities

Public colleges/universities are four-year schools that receive funding from the government. This funding allows them to offer lower tuition and fees. Public schools classify students as either “in-state” or “out-of-state.” In-state residents pay lower tuition since their tax dollars are supporting that institution. Public colleges and universities tend to be larger in size and student body and offer many majors and on-campus clubs.

Junior/Community College

Junior/community colleges are two-year schools that offer courses parallel to the first two years of a four-year school. Admission is open access, so the school will admit you if you apply and meet all of the basic requirements. Although the school may be open access, some programs may implement selective admissions and enrollment limits. The price tag for these colleges is lower than private or public four-year institutions because they don’t offer everything you’d get at a four-year school. If you’d like to take basic courses at a lower cost and transfer to a four-year school later, or you want to pursue a career that only requires a two-year degree, you should consider this type of college.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal arts colleges are typically small, four-year schools with an intimate campus setting and a diverse, well-rounded curriculum. As a student at a liberal arts college, you can expect to take courses in literature, history, languages, math, and science to complement the classes within your major.

Vocational or Technical School

Vocational and technical schools offer certification or training within a highly specialized field like welding, culinary arts, or dental hygiene. Most programs lead directly to a career in a short period of time.

If you already know what career you’d like to pursue, find out what education and training you need to land a job in that field. If you don’t know what you want to pursue, that’s ok too! Pick a school that offers a variety of programs and classes so you can explore all your career possibilities!

5 Tips to Help You Make Your Final College Decision 

Congratulations, you got into college! If you got letters of admission from more than one college, you’ll need to choose one. It’s hard to know whether to go with your head or your heart. Here are a few tips to help you sift through the information overload and choose a school that’s perfect for you.

Focus on fit.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by opinions, college rankings, and information from each school. But remember, you’ve got this! Just break down fit into a few key elements:

  • Financial fit (Does the tuition/cost feel manageable?)
  • Social fit (Does the school offer the campus culture you’re looking for?) 
  • Academic fit (Can you study what you hope to/want to study?) 

Double-check your list.

As you were touring colleges or applying, there may have been some programs, experiences, or “must haves” that stuck with you. List them out. Maybe you loved the city location, access to Greek life, athletic programs, study abroad opportunities, or the support for your identity through LGBTQI or Black student union centers. Make sure the college you choose has everything on your “must have” list. 

Pulse-check the code of conduct.

No one wants to be surprised by housing rules, curfews, dress codes, or limits to guests or transportation in their first week of college. Do a little digging on each college’s website to make sure their student code of conduct aligns with your expectations. 

Weigh your financial investment.

Consider all outside and school-based scholarships, grants, and loans. What will your financial investment be yearly and after you graduate? Compare your financial aid award letters using one of the net price calculators available online. You can even find tools to calculate your monthly repayment if loans are on the table. 

Create your own rankings.

If you’re still struggling, pick three to five elements of college that are the most important to you. Then, rank each offer on a 1-10 scale according to how well that college meets your needs. Sit with your numbers and highest-ranking college to see how it feels. 

Remember, deadlines are essential. Colleges will want to know whether or not you’ve accepted their offer (many by May 1). Once you decide, inform your top college by following the directions in their admission letter. It’s a good idea to decline your other offers. It will also help you declutter your inbox!

Cutting Costs in the College Search and Application Process

If you’re unsure how you’ll pay for the costs associated with the college search and application process, you’re not alone! Thankfully, there are ways to help offset these costs. We’ve highlighted some areas where you’ll see fees and some resources that will help offset the costs. Some of these resources can be utilized by all students regardless of family income level, and others are only for families demonstrating a certain level of financial need. 

Test Prep

If you want to earn a high SAT and/or ACT score, you’ll need to prep for these tests. Unfortunately, many test prep programs come with a hefty price tag. If you’re taking the SAT, a great free resource for all students is Khan Academy. For the ACT, we recommend ACT’s free resources!


Essays are another huge component of your college application. The good news is you probably have free resources available already! If you’re looking for people to review your essays, your English teacher or an older friend who was admitted to their dream school are both great resources. Remember to be respectful of their time and give them a draft of your essay well before the due date.

Test Fee Waivers

The ACT and SAT both cost money. However, you may qualify for fee waivers based on your family’s income. Here is more information about ACT and SAT test waivers.

Application Fees

Application fees can get expensive, especially if you’re applying to many schools. These fees typically range from $25-$90 per application. Colleges want to ensure the application fee doesn’t stop you from applying, so there are several ways to have your application fee potentially waived.

  1. If you qualify for the SAT fee waiver, you also qualify for four application fee waivers (at participating colleges).
  2. If you qualify for the ACT fee waiver, your counselor can fill out the application fee waiver request form on your behalf and submit it to the colleges you are applying to. It is at the discretion of each college to approve the fee waiver.
  3. If you are applying through the Common App, here is more information on waiving application fees.
  4. Some college admissions counselors have a limited number of fee waivers they can give out at their discretion. There is no harm in politely asking for a fee waiver, although you must be able to explain why you need the waiver. Even though your request may not be granted, there’s no harm in asking.

Campus Visit Vouchers/Fly-In Programs

An in-person campus visit will help you decide which school best fits you. Some schools offer campus visit vouchers and fly-in programs to help reduce these costs. These programs are typically reserved for admitted students and usually only cover a portion of the costs associated with your campus visit.

Even if a college doesn’t offer these programs, there are ways to visit at a low cost. See if there is an admitted student event that offers free on-campus lodging. You won’t have to pay for a place to stay, and you get to experience dorm living. Talk to your friends and see if they want to visit the same campuses. You can split the costs and take a fun road trip!

Don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA (each year you are in college) and apply for scholarships. There are lots of ways to save money on college applications and visits. Don’t let the costs associated with college be a deterrent to pursuing your college dreams!

5 Reasons You Should Download the Encourage App

So many things to do and SO little time. Trying to balance planning for the future and living in the present? We found a way to optimize an interactive, low-stress tool to make sure you’re covered for life after high school. We’re more than your average college planning app.  

Keep reading to learn more about why you should be sprinting to your app store after reading. 

We celebrate each step of your journey with milestones

The journey takes a lot of planning and a lot of steps, and this can seem really overwhelming. We’re ready to bake a cake and celebrate each step you achieve when planning for college; do you like chocolate or vanilla?

Match with colleges directly

You’ll create a profile and list preferences about cost, lifestyle, majors, and more to customize your college matches. Find the school that makes sense for you while you’re chasing your dreams. You’ll have the option to save schools that pique your interest and get to know them more.

Match with scholarships

No joke, college is expensive. Answer simple questions about your preferences, priorities about affordability, and other interests, and we’ll match you to your best-fit scholarship opportunities.

It’s basically a to-do list laid out for you! The guesswork is over.

Half of the battle is simply wondering what you need to do to make it work. Thankfully, we’ve designed your to do list for you depending on preferences and goals. Sounds like a win to us.

We’ve got the experience to make a difference

Long story short, we’ve got over 100 combined years of research experience to build a unique app experience that high school students love to use when planning for college. For the past 50 years, we have been evolving the way we do things by listening to the student experience and implementing changes as needed. In a nutshell, you can trust us to guide you in the right direction when painting a picture of your future!

Intrigued? We can’t blame you. Download the app below and take flight! We’ll be on standby with your cake.

Supporting Your Student In Determining If College Is Right for Them

You want what is best for your student. You might also be feeling overwhelmed by what life after high school holds for them and what your influence in that time will (or should) be. We’re here to help break this down into steps so that you feel empowered and able to be an important influencer in these conversations. A good first step is to talk about if college is the right path for them after high school. Here are five questions that can help you participate in that conversation:

What is college?

Popular culture often showcases a monolith experience of college, but the reality is that there are so many choices. Overall, college is any degree-earning formal education after high school. Depending on the type of college, the experience might be different but the results are the same types of credentials.

What are the types of colleges?

There are more than 4,000 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the United States. That can feel overwhelming, but there are some key-types of institutions that these can be sorted into. Typically, we would sort institutions by types of credential offered. A community and/or technical college will offer Certificates and Associates (or “a two-year degree”). There are also 4-year institutions that offer Bachelor’s degrees, often in addition to Associate’s degrees. Layered within this, there are also institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), or Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).  The ways we can segment schools can go on and on – based on size, location, funding sources, and more – but starting with type of degree and type of community served can help narrow the conversation in meaningful ways.

What college is needed for your student’s career goals?

If your student searches “degrees needed for [insert job or field of interest]”, the search will likely return a level of education or credential type. Knowing if and what level of education is important for a career field is important as your student embarks on their self-exploration for their future. A Certificate or Associates is typically more narrowly focused on a job or industry. A Bachelor’s allows one to gain specific field knowledge while also building your general education knowledge to help one be well-rounded. Certain professions will also call for an advanced degree like a Master’s or Doctorate, and most often cannot be earned until a Bachelor’s is completed.

What lifestyle does your student want to lead?

This is a big question, but also an important one to think about. Support your student as they envision their adult life. This will help them think about the lifestyle they hope to have and the degree needed to obtain that lifestyle. Your voice in this conversation is valuable because you have  lived experience to share. As a family member or mentor, speak of your own experience making big decisions. What do you value in your own lifestyle? How did you make decisions about it? Even if you wished you did things differently, that is still useful wisdom for your student. 

How does college fit into that lifestyle?

College – the time and money spent there – is a true investment in self and one’s future. College degree holders earn more over a lifetime than those that do not, but life is more than salary. A degree after high school can help advance career, impact lifestyle, and support goals.

There are many pathways to the same end goal, and if college can support your student in that journey, it should be strongly considered. As a family member or mentor to your student, you are poised to share your lived experience as it relates to your after high school journey. Don’t forget! Encourage is here to support you as you support their college and career planning! Encourage your student to download the app!