Getting ready for college far in advance is the best way to ensure success. While it may seem far off when you are in high school, time has a way of sneaking up. Planning your strategy and diligently plugging away at it will minimize the anxiety of trying to do too much at once.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of 15 tips to help you prepare ahead for college. Put into practice, they can give you a competitive edge and help you become a stronger candidate for admission to whatever school you choose.
1. Begin Preparing for College as Early as Possible
College preparation should begin as early as your freshman year. Going to college is a huge personal and financial decision that will have an impact on the rest of your life, and the more time you have to plan, the easier the experience will be. The admissions process itself will be smoother with a well-crafted plan, and you will have time to build up a solid profile to use when it’s time to apply.
2. Go for the Challenging Subjects
While in high school, it may be tempting to opt for the easiest classes, but you should try to take courses in core academics that are somewhat challenging for you. Most colleges will require at least three years of math, social studies, and science and four years of English. Some will want to see two years of foreign language study. If you don’t complete these requirements during your four years at high school, you will find yourself adding these core classes to your new college schedule. Meeting these essential academic prerequisites while you’re still in school means you won’t have to waste time and money taking them later on.
3. Find out the Requirements for Your Degree Choices
Depending on your goals, the academic requirements of your degree may dictate the choices you make about your high-school classes. Whether you choose a major based on potential future earnings or you want to simply study what you love (or both), make sure you are capable of the work involved. Reach for your dreams but be realistic too. If you absolutely can’t pass calculus, you might want to think twice about going to veterinary school or becoming a chemistry major.
4. Schedule a Meeting With Your Guidance Counselor as Soon as Possible
Your first point of contact when preparing for college is often your guidance counselor. This person can help you with current academic issues and assist you with your personal stressors and worries as well. Your guidance counselor is there to be a liaison when it comes to planning for college and is an ideal person to talk to about your goals and aspirations.
If you attend a large school, you may need to be proactive about establishing a relationship with your guidance counselor. Don’t wait for them to seek you out. Instead, set up regular appointments to discuss your goals and concerns about college and take advantage of all the help they can offer.
5. Participate in Personal Enrichment Activities
Most colleges like to see a well-rounded profile that includes active participation in community and extracurricular activities. Academic enrichment programs, workshops, and summer camps that focus on art, science, or music are a great option. Volunteering is also an activity that not only looks terrific on an application but is personally satisfying as well. Whatever you choose, make sure it is something you enjoy.
6. Get to Know Your Interests
Well-meaning relatives have probably been asking you for a very long time what you want to be when you grow up. It is easy to get other’s aspirations for you mixed up with your own. While your family may have you pegged for a lawyer or a biologist, now is the time to start figuring out what you want to be. Make a list of your top choices, take some career quizzes, and do some online research. Don’t worry about deciding the rest of your life right now. Explore your own interests, and get to know what makes you tick.
7. Read as Much as You Can, Whenever You Can
The coursework in college encompasses much more reading than what is required of students in high school. Get accustomed to this increase in your workload by increasing your reading time during holidays and summer vacation. Try to read a variety of books, from novels and biographies related to your chosen major to books that pique your interest and curiosity. Well-read also means well rounded, and a love of reading will serve you well—not just in college, but for a lifetime.
8. Consider an Internship
Internships offer you an opportunity to explore your interests further by taking part in a learning experience through employment. In an internship, you will be doing practical work that is related to your potential career, allowing you to see what your future could look like in reality. It can be a valuable experience to help you learn more about your likes and preferences and give you a better idea of what you want to choose for a major.
9. Practice Traditional Note-Taking Skills
While a lot of students are opting to record lectures using their smartphone, there are many advantages to taking notes the old-fashioned way—by hand. Studies show that writing notes by hand forces you to focus, process, and retain information better. And if you think that typing notes on your tablet or laptop is the same, guess again. Studies have shown that students who take hand-written notes as opposed to typed notes consistently perform better overall.
10. Learn How to Manage Your Time Wisely
College will place many conflicting demands upon your time. You already know how hard it can be to juggle school, work, and personal life. If you are still in high school, however, the structure of your home life likely helps to dictate some boundaries on your time. The freedom to choose your own schedule that comes with college also has its downfalls.
If you are not a naturally disciplined person, you may find yourself studying only during crunch time, a habit that increases stress and anxiety. Set aside specific times for studying now and set them in stone. Start with a half-hour and move to 90 minutes over time. This one habit can make the challenge of college academics much easier in the long run.
11. Develop Strong Writing Skills
Even if English is not your strong suit, developing excellent writing and grammar skills will help you glide through many college subjects much easier. Being able to convey ideas and facts into clear language will give you a leg up both academically and professionally. From written exams to research papers, students who can write well typically score better and have the edge over those who skip this critical skill.
12. Start Looking Into Colleges
There are more than 4700 two and four-year colleges and universities in the US. Naturally, you will want to get into the best one you can. However, what is best for someone else might not be best for you. Consider your personality and preferences. Do you love big cities or are you more comfortable in a small-town atmosphere? What about climate? If you hate the cold, Harvard isn’t going to be your first choice. Likewise, Northerners may find the University of Florida stiflingly hot.
Are you someone that gets homesick easily? Forcing yourself to attend a University that is hours from home might cause unnecessary anxiety in an already new and stressful situation. Perhaps something closer to home that still gives you the freedom you seek is in order.
Of course, you will want to find a school that fits your budget as well. Looking at all of your options early on can give you a better idea of your preferences in comparison to how much you will need to save. This is also the perfect time to visit college fairs and gather phone numbers and as much information as you can.
13. Visit Colleges in Person
After you have done your research, checking out colleges in person is the next logical step and a crucial part of the preparation process. The fall and spring semesters of your junior year are ideal times to visit. Don’t try to squeeze them all in during senior year, as this will put undue strain on an already packed schedule.
During your visit, take advantage of the complete tour, including classrooms, student housing, sports arenas, libraries, and recreational facilities. If lunch is offered, try it out. Immerse yourself in the experience as much as possible to get a feel for the atmosphere. Check out the surrounding town and its amenities as well. Are there things to do nearby that match your interests, or is there plenty to do on campus? You will be spending a good deal of time at school for the next few years, so make sure it’s someplace you want to be for a while.
14. Test Preparation
Most high schools require students to take mandatory admissions tests like the SAT, and the majority administer the PSAT as preparation. However, even if you take the PSAT, it’s a good idea to do additional studying as well. Colleges look at your SAT score when making a decision about admissions, so it is in your best interest to score as high as possible on this exam.
Fortunately, studying for the SAT is a breeze with free websites like Khan Academy, where you can take as many practice tests as you want. There are also thousands of interactive videos and lessons, as well as study tips and quizzes to help you.
15. Apply for Scholarships
It’s never too soon to start applying for scholarships—some have deadlines as early as a year before college starts. Apply for as many as you can as soon as you can. In most cases, you don’t need to choose your school before applying.
College scholarships are available from a multitude of sources, and they aren’t just for top students and athletes. Scholarships are available for gamers, vegans, artists, horse lovers, and anything else you can imagine. Keep in mind that around 50 percent of all scholarships are available for students already attending college, so be sure to keep filling out those applications each year you are in school.
16. Explore Your Financial Aid Options
For most students, financial aid is what makes higher education possible, and exploring your options early on will give you an idea of what you can afford. You will want to fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid) form as soon as possible and learn all you can about the different forms of student aid including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. Apply for every type of financial assistance available to see what you qualify for.
When applying for financial aid, make sure to meet all of the requirements and deadlines to maximize your chances of approval.
17. Make a Plan
Now that you know how to prepare for college, it’s time to make a plan and put it into action. The steps above don’t necessarily need to be taken in order. You can personalize your timeline to suit your needs. For this final step, you might want to purchase a binder with folders to keep all your notes and information organized. A calendar would also be helpful. Jot down your goals and a time for completion and begin to do something each day with the aim of getting ready for college in mind. You may even want to involve your parents, guidance counselor, or a trusted mentor to help keep you on track.
Preparing for college doesn’t happen overnight. It takes research, diligence, and planning to put everything in place before you even step through the doors as a student of higher education. However, starting as early as possible and making the most of your time in high school can give you a competitive edge over your peers and ready you emotionally and physically for the challenges ahead.
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