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How to Prepare for College in High School

In the not so distant past, high school was a voluntary activity that could help students prepare for adult life or decent employment after graduation. Your grandparents or great-grandparents might not have even gone on to high school—especially if they were needed at home. These days, high school is not only a legal requirement, but its primary purpose is to get students ready for higher education.

Technology and communication have increased learning opportunities in even the smallest communities. More than ever before in history, students have the chance to explore and pursue a wide variety of interests and begin figuring out what they are passionate about in life without ever leaving their homes.

While it may not seem important, the academic selections and activities you participate in during your four years in high school play a vital role in preparing you for college. It’s a glorious time to learn more about who you are, explore your many options, and begin making more independent choices than you have thus far. However, if college is in your future, You need to look hard at fulfilling the basic entry requirements while you are able. If you are trying to get into a college with a highly selective admissions process or win some scholarships, you will need to work even harder.

The additional expectations placed upon today’s young people have added much more stress and pressure than in previous generations. That’s why it’s so important that students (and their parents) get ready for college while they are still in high school. Many families might not realize the pivotal role that even the earliest years of high school can play when it comes to

moving forward with higher education.

In this article, we offer you 11 helpful tips to begin preparing yourself for college as early as your freshman year. If you start completing these now, you will be well on your way to a smooth transition later on.

1. Get to Know Your High School Counselor Right Away

This may be one of the most important steps you can take to ready yourself for whatever lies ahead. Don’t wait until your junior or senior year to develop a relationship with your guidance counselor. You will thank yourself later for getting to know this person as a freshman. They are there to support you through the challenges of the next four years and can help you set goals and make specific plans to help keep you on track.

Even if you are unsure of pursuing a college education, your counselor can help you create a plan for your future career or aspirations. They have the resources and connections that can make things much easier and will help you make choices that are realistic and make sense for you. Nothing needs to be set in stone just yet. Simply developing a solid relationship with your counselor will set the stage for smoother sailing.

2. Check out the Requirements for the Degree of Your Choosing

If you have a specific degree in mind already, you will want to find out the requirements needed to pursue that subject. Most universities focus on the core classes of English, math, science, and history, so make sure you cover these bases. However, depending upon your ambitions, you may need additional coursework like foreign language or advanced mathematics to gain acceptance into the college of your choice. Finding out the requirements well ahead of time can avoid any last-minute stress.

3. Break Things Down Year-By-Year With Your Counselor

Once you know the type of courses you will need for the degree you want to pursue, it’s time for an actionable plan. Sit down with your counselor and create a four-year blueprint to help you reach your goals. A multi-year plan will help ensure you have time to complete all the requirements necessary while still allowing you to enjoy your high school years.

Your counselor can help you draft a flexible strategy that will outline what you need to accomplish each year to realize your dreams. No student wants to be trudging through an endless schedule of educational requirements without a break. However, you also don’t want to fall behind and become overwhelmed with the coursework involved. A four-year master plan can break down the tasks you need to accomplish into bitesize steps that still leave room for having a life and enjoying other activities.

4. Engage in Extracurricular Activities

College applications that are rich with high-quality extracurricular activities are highly attractive to admissions officers. These electives help them understand who you are as a person and how you might contribute to the student body as a whole. They reveal your personality better than numbers, grades, and test scores ever can.

While many students think that playing a sport is an automatic ticket into the college of their choice, this is not usually the case. In fact, colleges don’t necessarily care what you choose for electives. Instead, they will use the information to understand qualities like consistency, leadership skills, passion, and your ability to influence the world around you.

There are hundreds of activities you can participate in that will meet this requirement. Nothing is too insignificant as long as it is something you enjoy and you can be immersed in. A few examples might be:

  • Community theater, dance, or comedy
  • Civil war reenactment groups
  • Civic activist groups
  • Boy scouts or girl scouts
  • Model railroading
  • Political interest groups
  • Martial arts
  • Skiing
  • Volunteering
  • Religious organizations
  • Music
  • Military
  • Photography
  • Academic Clubs

This list is just an example and is by no means exhaustive. Colleges want their student body to be diverse and exciting, so never think that something like your passion for jewelry making or your garage band doesn’t count. They do.

5. Check out Internships

While they are not necessary, internships can be a great tool to help you decipher your own preferences. An internship will usually involve having a mentor who can be a valuable resource for you as you see your future career in the real world. Not only will you get a glimpse into the realities of your chosen industry, but you will also gain a better understanding of the programs you want to apply for. This type of hands-on experience can help you narrow down your options even further.

6. Practice Note-Taking Skills to Prepare for College

Listening and note-taking skills will become even more crucial in college classes, where the number of students and distractions during a lecture can be even higher than in high school. During college courses, professors often speak quickly and expect you to follow along. Unlike high school, the instructors are not accustomed to repeating lessons and pausing to let students catch up.

While many students use their smartphones to record lectures, most experts say that taking manual notes is best. And while it may be tempting to type the notes on your laptop or tablet, they argue that even this has its drawbacks. Learning to take handwritten notes is the most effective way to retain information and will put you a step ahead of the game.

7. Develop Excellent Writing and Speaking Skills

You will be doing a lot of writing in college, and now is the time to take advantage of all the resources you can to learn how to be a better writer. Research skills and grammar are similarly essential too. If you can write a near-perfect term paper with impeccable grammar, you will be on your way to smooth sailing when it comes time for college writing.

If you still find yourself struggling with writing, take a few classes at a local adult education program or community college if you can. Sometimes all it takes is finding the right instructor to turn a difficulty into a genuine interest.

If the thought of speaking in public is terrifying for you, you are not alone. Most people get nervous when it comes time to speak up in front of others. Start by raising your hand more often to ask or answer questions in class. If you still find yourself tongue-tied, you might want to check out a public speaking class or try out for a small part in community theater to build up your confidence.

8. Work on Time Management

Up until now (and probably still to some extent), you have likely been relying on your parents to help you manage your time. But when you get to college, you will begin making your own schedule. Many students find that this newfound freedom is harder than it sounds. With nobody to remind them that it’s time to study or suggest they get some sleep, it’s easy to become undisciplined and overwhelmed.

Start managing your time now, and you will be well on your way to handling whatever adult responsibilities the future brings. There are lots of ways to do this. The old-fashioned way is to purchase a planner and use it to set aside blocks of time for each activity and then stick with it. In the digital age, however, many people prefer to use a time management app or draw their schedule up on their laptops.

Whichever way you choose to manage your time, the most important thing is that you are consistent and stick with the schedule. Dedicate specific times for studying and breaks so you don’t get burned out. Notice when you need extra sleep and be proactive by getting to bed early if you have a big exam at school the next day. Taking responsibility for managing your own time will not only help you grow but will demonstrate your readiness for the challenges of college classes.

9. Begin Looking for Colleges

The college you choose will depend on several factors. The requirements for admissions, its proximity to where you live, and cost are all considerations when it comes to the final decision. You will want to start researching schools sooner rather than later to avoid any last-minute surprises or disappointment.

This is where your high school counselor can really help you out. You might want to set aside a time to meet with your parents together with the counselor so that everyone is on the same page. It is crucial to find out what everyone’s expectations are when it comes to your continued education. Are your parents paying for all or part of your higher education? Can your family realistically afford the college of your choice? Are you ready to move several states away, or do you want to stay closer to home? What about student housing?

Once you have looked at all the pros and cons and made a few selections, you will want to visit your top choices sometime during your junior year of high school. Most colleges will give you the chance to tour the premises, check out housing, and explore the campus. This will help you get an idea of what it’s like there and let you imagine yourself attending. Many students find it helps to visit at least three colleges to get a feel for the atmosphere at each one.

10. Prepare for Testing

Most high schools require their students to take tests like the ACT, SAT, or PSAT during their junior and senior years. The majority of colleges will accept one or more of these as a requirement of entry. They look at these scores as a factor for admission, so you will want to get the highest marks that you can. Additional studying is essential, even if you feel like you have all your bases covered. There are lots of websites where you can take quizzes and practice tests to prepare you for these exams. When the testing day comes, you will be glad you took a little extra time to study so you can proceed confidently to the exam room.

11. Start the College Application Process Before Entering Your Senior Year

A lot of work goes into the college application process. At one time, experts recommended that students should start applying during their senior year. However, depending on your college of choice, some are now recommending you begin preparing even before you start school in the fall.

There will be essays, tests, recommendation letters, and a lot of paperwork to pull together to have your application completed. If you are applying to more than one school, that adds additional work to the list. Keep in mind that colleges can set their own schedules and will have different deadlines, so make sure you leave enough room in your calendar to get everything in on time—preferably early.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for college while you are still in high school takes time and discipline, but if you are truly serious about going on to school, now is the time to begin. By breaking the process down into manageable tasks, you will find yourself less stressed and able to fully enjoy your high school experience.

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How to Prepare for College