Preparing for college can feel like a daunting experience. Slow down and breathe deeply because you can do this! One of the best ways to tackle the seemingly endless list of things you need to do to prepare is to break them into manageable categories and focus on one chunk at a time. Here are seven categories you can use to help you prepare for college.
1. Take Required Courses
When thinking about college, consider what courses you must take in high school to allow you entrance into higher education. While the requirements for schools vary, there are some that are common across colleges. These include, according to ACT, Inc, four years of English, three years of Social Studies, Algebra I & II, Geometry, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Social Studies, at least two years of a foreign language, and some coursework in the visual or performing arts.If you have an idea of what schools you want to apply to, take a look and see what is required for admissions; try and tailor your classes to fit these requirements. More than anything, colleges are looking for students with a solid academic foundation, so it’s important that your courses reflect a broad base of knowledge.
2. AP, IB, and College Courses
In addition to taking courses needed simply for college entrance, challenge yourself. Take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These courses are more rigorous than typical high school courses, training you to think critically and analytically in your work, work independently, and manage an increased workload, more closely resembling what will be asked of you in college. Some school weigh AP grades, which can boost your GPA, and students are also able to take AP exams for college credit, if you score high enough. Earning credit in high school for a required college course clears up your schedule to take courses in your major and help you move through school faster, if that’s something you are looking to do.
In addition to, or in lieu of, AP or IB, consider taking college courses at a nearby college, if possible. Not only can these help you get general credits out of the way once you’re in college, but it shows the admissions counselors you are willing to challenge yourself. It is not enough to simply have a high GPA. The courses you choose to take in high school are considered in your admission to college. Better to take harder courses you do acceptably in than easy courses you ace.
3. Test Prep
Start early preparing for college entrance exams. Figure out if the schools you are applying for require the ACT or the SAT. It doesn’t hurt to plan to take both. Take pre-tests and then focus particularly on weaker areas, either on your own or through a test prep course. Plan to take the actual tests during your junior year, at the latest, and be ready to take them more than once. It’s rare that a student aces them the first time around. Give yourself time to work on improving your scores, if necessary.
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4. Maintain Momentum
Even if you didn’t start high school off academically strong, don’t despair. College admissions counselors look for upward trends in applicant’s GPAs, so strong grades junior and senior years can help offset earlier, less stellar ones. And if you’ve done great throughout high school? Don’t slack off your senior year. While you may have been accepted to your dream university, some schools have a policy that if you drop below a certain GPA during your senior year, your admittance will be withdrawn. Plus, keeping up with a full class load will make your freshman year of college just a bit easier since you’ve kept your mind and your study skills sharp during senior year.
5. Hone Study Skills
The structure offered by high school is a great way to develop good study skills that will help you in college. Some good skills to develop include: setting goals, prioritizing both your school work and your extracurricular obligations, note-taking, keeping a calendar of what work is coming up and other important dates and events. While you’re at it, figure out what you need to be successful in your study habits. Figure out if you work better in the morning or at night, with music or somewhere quiet, alone or with others. Working on your study skills in high school will make them a comfortable, reliable thing for you when you arrive at college, when everything else is new and uncertain.
6. Long-Term Extracurriculars
College admissions are not all about courses and GPA. Beginning freshman year, get involved with a few select extracurriculars you are excited about. You don’t need to do everything. A huge list of a lot of random one-offs are not going to help you. Instead, focus on those activities and clubs that you truly love. Not only will they make your high school life richer, admissions counselors are looking for students who are in leadership roles. Can’t find something that suits you? You can always start your own club or organization.
7. Financial Planning
Oh, college tuition, the bane of so many students (and parents). Unless you are one of the fortunate few who have college paid for from the outset, this is something you will need to think about before you can apply and the more time you have to save or apply for scholarships the better. And that’s a great place to start. Birthday money from your aunt? Save it. Paycheck from your first high school job? Save it. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, saving everything you can will add up over time. While it may not cover everything, that money can help defray costs in college.
Start early researching scholarships and then apply, apply, apply. There are thousands of scholarships out there, but be prepared to take time applying for them. Some take a simple application, but others, especially the larger ones, ask something more of you. Maybe it’s a portfolio, or a business idea, or a video entry, regardless, give yourself the time to do them well.
Still overwhelmed? Consider working with a college admissions consultant who can walk you through the process of applying and getting into the college of your dreams.