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How to Prepare for College Throughout High School

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Students just starting high school often feel like graduation day is far in the distant future, but in reality, the high school years fly by much faster than students anticipate. It’s important for teenagers to consider what they want their post-graduation lives to look like early on, especially if they have hopes to continue their education. Successfully planning for college is a time-consuming process that involves a multitude of moving parts along with expansive forethought. In order for students to increase the odds of getting into their sought-after schools, they need to focus on preparing for college as far in advance as possible. 

If you’re a student who wants to do everything you can to secure your academic future, here are important steps to focus on during each year of high school: 

College Prep During Freshman Year

It might not seem like there is much you can do during your first year of high school to get ready for college, but this is the perfect time to develop habits that will help you stand out to college admission agents later down the road. 

Important actions you can take as a freshman:

  • Focus on maintaining a high GPA. Admissions agents will look at your cumulative high school GPA to help determine whether or not you have the skills needed to succeed academically. A higher GPA sends the message that you’re a strong student who takes your classes seriously, which is the type of student colleges want to admit. By earning high grades during your freshman year, you will be able to lay the foundation to building an impressive transcript, so try your best to study hard and turn in all of your assignments on time. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can further demonstrate a willingness to push yourself by taking advanced placement classes.  
  • Consider finding an academic tutor. If you’re a student who struggles with school in general or with a specific subject, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out to an academic tutor is an excellent way to strengthen your comprehension and maintain a solid GPA. By getting help early in your high school career, you will be less likely to fall behind. 
  • Engage in extracurricular and/or volunteer opportunities. College admissions agents also look for students whose ambitions stretch further than getting good grades, as these students are more likely to go above and beyond to enrich the college community. Running for student office, joining a student club, becoming a peer tutor, or volunteering in your local community are all ways that can help you stand out among other applicants. Keep in mind that you are more likely to stick with something that you actually enjoy, so try to find opportunities that will keep you interested and engaged. 
  • Connect with your high school counselor. Your high school counselor can serve as a great college-planning resource. Sparking a relationship with him/her during your freshman year is a good way to build rapport and allow the counselor to come to know you in a more meaningful way. This can help him/her give you personalized advice and suggestions, such as recommendations for extracurricular or volunteer opportunities that cater to your interests and goals. 

College Prep During Sophomore Year

Your sophomore year of high school is a good time to start preparing for the SAT/ACT and considering what the college admissions process involves.

Here are a few ways that you can use your second year in high school to stay on track for college success: 

  • Build an SAT and/or ACT test prep strategy. Admissions agents look at your GPA to determine your likelihood of succeeding academically, and they look at your SAT/ACT score for similar purposes. Additionally, earning high scores on these tests can result in significant scholarship opportunities. By beginning your test prep strategy early, you’ll be able to master the content that the SAT and ACT cover. Taking a practice test can help you establish a baseline score and determine which content areas you should spend your time reviewing. More importantly, by taking both a practice SAT and a practice ACT, you can determine which test suits you better as they are different enough to allow students to focus on the test that offers them potentially higher scores. Then, by enrolling in an official test prep course, you can prepare for the SAT or ACT with experts who know these tests thoroughly, allowing you to gain an advantageous edge on both the test content and the test format. Keep in mind that you can take both the SAT and ACT multiple times, which is why taking the test early on gives you a greater chance to improve your score. 
  • Consider college admissions consulting. The sophomore year is an excellent time to research schools that cater to your interests, attend college fairs, consider financial aid opportunities, and address any weaknesses on your transcripts. Additionally, it’s important to use this time to thoroughly consider the steps that you need to take during your last two years of high school. This can be an overwhelming process for both students and their parents, so it may be beneficial to consider finding a college admissions consultant who can guide you through this process in a step-by-step manner.  

College Prep During Junior Year

As you enter the second half of your high school career, there are important steps to take in order to make sure that you don’t fall behind on your college planning checklist. These steps include: 

  • Taking the PSAT. The PSAT is a preliminary version of the SAT that is held every year in October. The PSAT score doesn’t count for college admissions purposes, but a strong result can result in merit scholarships. Additionally, the PSAT serves as good practice for the real test, and the results can help you modify your test prep strategy in the way that will be the most beneficial. 
  • Continuing with test prep. It may be tempting to close the test prep books if you obtain a PSAT score that you are happy with, but remember that doing well on the SAT or ACT can result in obtaining significant scholarship money. By continuing your test prep efforts, you will increase the likelihood of earning a score that qualifies you for debt-free college funding. 
  • Taking the SAT or ACT. Taking the SAT or ACT early affords you opportunities to retake the test and improve your score, so try to avoid putting it off until your senior year.
  • Visiting colleges that you are interested in attending. Visiting a campus can give you a feel for what the student experience is like and help you decide if a school’s culture suits you. Scheduling a visit early helps ensure that you don’t waste time applying to colleges that don’t meet your expectations. If you can’t physically visit every college that piques your interest, many schools make campus visits more accessible by offering virtual tours. 
  • Applying for scholarships. Many scholarships are open to juniors and seniors, and getting an early start on submitting applications is a great way to increase the likelihood of securing financial awards.

College Prep During Senior Year

During your senior year, you will see that all of the college planning groundwork you’ve established over the last three years has been worth it. Rather than trying to rectify a low GPA or research colleges at the last minute, you will be able to fully focus on the final steps of preparing for college, such as: 

  • Retaking the SAT/ACT. Taking advantage of every opportunity you have to retake the SAT/ACT means that you are more likely to keep improving your score and increasing the odds of being awarded significant scholarship money. 
  • Avoiding giving into senioritis. It’s natural to find schoolwork uninspiring when you’re so close to graduating, but do what you can to stay motivated. Working hard to ensure that you earn the highest grades possible in your current classes will make your GPA more appealing to admissions agents. 
  • Finalizing your list of colleges. The general guideline is to apply to five to seven schools, but narrowing down your list of colleges can be a difficult process. Working with a college admissions consultant can make it easier, as he/she can strategically help you determine which schools will be most likely to accept you based on your transcripts and college admission profile. 
  • Filling out applications. Avoid filling out applications at the last minute. It’s important to have time to thoroughly fill out the application, draft a meaningful essay (if applicable), proofread for errors, and obtain necessary documents such as letters of recommendation. 
  • Applying for scholarships and financial aid. Some scholarship and financial aid providers award funds on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll fare much better if you don’t procrastinate on filling out scholarship applications and the FAFSA form. 
  • Making your decision. Waiting to hear back from the schools you applied to is often more stressful than the college planning process itself. When you’re accepted to more than one school, deciding can be tough as well. A college admissions consultant can be helpful during this process, as he/she can assist you in deciding which school best serves your interests, budget, and lifestyle. 

Closing Thoughts

Preparing for college can be a daunting process, but it can unfold smoothly if you take the right steps throughout high school. Starting your college-planning journey early will be instrumental in keeping stress to a minimum and increasing the odds that you’ll be able to celebrate many acceptance letters from your top-choice schools. If you can manage to stay on top of these important steps from your freshman to senior year, you will be demonstrating the necessary initiative that it takes to become a standout college student!

Prepare for College with the Experts at CollegeDrive!

Planning for college is an exciting time in a young person’s life, but it can also be a stressful time that involves making major life choices. Here at CollegeDrive, we aim to reduce this stress by guiding students to make smart decisions that will help them achieve their greatest potential. 

Whether you are looking for effective academic tutoring to raise your GPA, expert ACT and SAT test prep to help improve your test scores, or experienced-based consulting that simplifies the college admissions process, we can help. 

Sign up for one of our services today, or get in touch with any questions. We are here to help you achieve your academic goals!


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