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Passport to Careers Guide: Preparing for College or Apprenticeship

How do I get ready for college or an apprenticeship while I'm in middle school and high school?

It’s important to keep all your options open. You don’t have to know your exact career path. You will have more options available after high school graduation if you get ready by trying new classes, developing good study habits, getting involved in school activities, and working.

During high school, you can take college entrance exams and enroll in dual credit programs that allow you to earn both high school and college credit without paying college tuition. And don’t forget to apply for financial aid when you are a senior.

It’s never too late to do better. If you’ve had issues with grades or study habits, you will still have options at a community or technical college. You can get a GED, earn a high school completion diploma, or retake coursework. The information here and on other pages of the Passport to Careers Guide will help you.

Some colleges have more requirements to be admitted than others, and apprenticeships can be competitive. Learn more about the requirements to be admitted to a four-year public college. If you are interested in a trade, so you can begin earning a paycheck right after high school, visit How to Become an Apprentice and Apprenticeship Washington.


The Supplemental Education Transition Planning (SETuP) program provides information to youth, foster families, and school staff about post-high school education and training opportunities for youth in foster care. Your local SETuP provider can help with filling out applications; planning the right classes and pre-college testing; and identifying additional resources to help with transportation, housing, and other challenges.

Apply for the College Bound Scholarship

The College Bound Scholarship program is an early commitment of state financial aid to eligible students who sign up and fulfill the College Bound pledge. If you are placed in Washington State foster care, you will be automatically enrolled in the College Bound Scholarship. If you are placed in other types of foster care—such as tribal foster care, federal refugee foster care, or ICPC care—you need to apply for College Bound during 7th or 8th grade. Learn more on the How do I apply to college, apprenticeships, and financial aid? page.

Get organized

The 12th Year Campaign Student Workbook: Navigating College Admissions and Financial Aid has lots of information and worksheets for Juniors and Seniors that can help you with applying. The workbook includes a list of monthly tasks, as well as worksheets for comparing colleges, keeping track of your applications, and gathering information and materials for college applications. Get organized by identifying a physical place to keep paper information and a place on your phone or computer to save electronic information. Use a calendar to track important deadlines. Talk to teachers, coworkers, coaches, or others about being a reference for you, and make sure to get their contact information. Ask for email and mailing addresses, and add them to your contacts or address book.

Sign up for admission tests

Some four-year colleges will ask you to take and submit either an SAT or ACT admission test with your application. These timed tests help the college understand what you have learned so far.

In recent years, many colleges that used to require admission tests have made testing optional. Check with any college you're applying to for their current requirements.

The SAT and ACT tests charge a fee to take the tests, but you may be eligible for a fee waiver. Talk to your high school counselor, who will help you determine if you are eligible and get a test fee waiver card (see SAT Fee Waiver information and ACT Fee Waiver information.)

There are ways to prepare for the SAT and prepare for the ACT such as pre-tests, online practice tests, and practice tools. There are many free test-preparation tools. Be careful not to sign up for a paid test-prep service—your test fee waiver will not pay for test preparation.

Two-year and four-year colleges both may ask you to take a placement test, which is different from the admission test, to help place you in the right classes. You may learn you can skip introductory classes or that you will benefit from more preparation. For example, you might want to brush up on math before taking geometry.

Planning resources

Review the resources in the Passport Resource Guide, especially the following tabs:

  • Planning for college
  • Testing & test prep
  • Workforce & careers