When preparing for college, the best advice I could give you is don’t wait until the last minute. Besides some obvious items such as preparing for your SAT test, there are several things that you could do throughout your high school years. Here are 10 steps to prepare for college that you can take beginning with your freshman year in high school, and all the way up to your senior year.
1. Plan Your High School Curriculum
Starting as early as freshman year, you should be on laying the groundwork for what is to come. You’ll need to plan out your curriculum so it meets the standards of most colleges, stay in touch with your teachers, counselors and parents and try to become an involved student.
You can’t wait to decide the classes you’ll take your senior year until your senior year. Since many colleges have stringent curriculum requirements for high school students, you need to plan ahead in order to stay in the game. For instance, many colleges require three years of a foreign language. If you do not begin this track in either your freshman or sophomore year, you’ll be unable to attend that college!
It’s important that you find out the courses available to you and pick those you need as well as those that interest you. College administrators like to see a diverse, well-rounded student with many interests and your class schedule should reflect this.
It is also advisable to take the hardest course load you can handle. College administrators also like to see that you are up for the challenging course load you will be expected to complete during college. Taking honors classes shows that you are, indeed, up for this challenge. Plus, you have the advantage of being thoroughly prepared for college level courses after taking a rigorous high school curriculum.
You can expect to have to take courses like the following:
English: Consists of courses like Composition, Creative Writing, American Literature and English Literature. You will need four years of English courses.
History: Consists of courses like U.S. History, World History, and Geography. You will need two years of History courses*.
Government and Economics: Consists of courses like U.S. Government, Civics and Economics. You will need one to two years of Government courses.
Math: Consists of courses like Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry and Calculus. You will need three to four years of Math courses.
Science: Consists of courses like Biology, Chemistry and Physics. You will need two to three years of Science courses.
Foreign Language: Consists of courses like Spanish, French and German. You will need two to three years of Language courses.
Electives: Consists of courses such as Art, Psychology and Music. You will need one to three years of Electives courses.
*Note: Each college has its own admissions requirements. Be sure to talk to a counselor about individual college requirements to ensure you take the proper courses throughout your high school education.
2. Discuss the next four years with your counselor
Don’t let your early high school years pass by without seeing a counselor. It may be a dreaded activity to you to schedule an appointment and sit down to discuss your future, but you’ll be glad you did.
Nothing impresses a guidance counselor more than a student that is prepared. By visiting them during your freshman year, you show initiative and a real drive to obtain a quality education.
If you have questions, be sure to write them down before you go into see the counselor. This also shows that you are thinking about your future and not just when you are asked about it. This sort of drive shows counselors that you care and will really pay off come time you need a recommendation letter.
Also, make an effort to let your counselor know who you are. While they attempt to get to know all of their students, counselors see many students each day and it can be hard to keep track of them all. Make yourself stand out by sharing your interests, your summer plans and goals. When it comes time to ask for a recommendation letter, your counselor will have a wealth of information to work from. A generic letter is far less impressive than one with personal touches.
It is also a good idea to bring along a notepad to your appointment. You’ll probably want to take a lot of notes. Keeping track of what your counselor says allows you to make better use of the time you spend together. You can better prepare yourself and come up with more detailed questions if you keep a record of the information you’ve already obtained.
3. Join clubs and extracurricular activities
Completing your high school education with a 4.0 GPA is impressive, but not as impressive as doing so while in a club or as a member of a sports team. Colleges look at what you do with your time outside of the classroom as well. Being a diligent student is one thing, but do you manage your time well?
To put yourself above other college applicants, you can join a club during your freshman year. Many high schools offer a wide range of activities and clubs to join, everything from foreign language club to golf. It may be difficult to balance your new high school curriculum and activities, but it can be done. It just takes a bit of discipline. Starting your sophomore year, make it your objective to take on a position of leadership in one of the organizations you’re involved with. Whether you’re a committee member or president, your efforts to lead your classmates will be noticed on college applications.
To stay on track try making a to-do list for everyday or buy a planner. Write down all of the things you absolutely must get done for each day in priority order. Many people also find it beneficial to keep track of the amount of time it will take to complete each item on the list. You can stay ahead in school and be involved on campus. It will just take some adjusting at first.
Why do colleges like to admit students that are active on campus? Because colleges want to have a well rounded student body that is active and involved. Also, showing such dedication and discipline while in high school makes it likely that you will be able to handle the rigorous demands of college courses alongside a job, activities and adult responsibilities.
4. Take virtual college campus tours
While you won’t be applying to colleges for a while, you can still get a leg up on the competition by taking virtual campus tours for colleges of interest. Knowing what campuses look like, what their buildings look like and where things are located can put your mind at ease. Plus, it shows you how beautiful some colleges really are.
The best part about it is you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Just visit the websites of colleges you’re interested in and click on the virtual tour link (or something similar). You’ll learn a lot and won’t have to spend a dime. Plus, it can be kind of fun to browse around these different campuses.
Above all else, you’ll be further preparing yourself for the college experience. Just the act of searching through college websites and locating the virtual tour section is a good exercise. You’ll need to become increasingly efficient when using college websites, or any website for that matter, as your high school career moves forward.
5. Volunteer over the summer
Just lazing the day away during the summer might sound nice, you should continue to work toward making your college application look appealing. You can do this by volunteering for a community organization.
Many students’ excuses range from they can’t find volunteer opportunities to they don’t know how to volunteer. Rest assured, the organizations you’ll be working with will be glad to have your assistance. Many high schools even post volunteer opportunities on campus. Check news bulletins and boards in the office for such opportunities.
You’d be surprised. There are plenty of organizations and companies out there that would absolutely love to have your help. All you need to do is ask. The added bonus is that doing volunteer work on your own time shows dedication, commitment and empathy for the cause of others. Plus, you’ll start up a good networking base that could lead to potential employment later on.
College administrators love to admit students that care about their community, can balance their schedules and work well with others. Add these excellent qualities to your resume by putting in some time with a volunteer organization.
6. Sign up for www.fastweb.com
While your primary focus should still be on your high school education, you can start planning ahead now. Sign up for http://www.fastweb.com. You’ll have to answer several questions about yourself, but once you do, you’ll receive scholarship updates, job opportunities and even internship opportunities. You can even opt to receive e-mail notification of these updates.
FastWeb is great because it allows students to get a heads up on scholarships they are eligible for. That’s why you answer all of those questions at first. The results you receive are completely customized to your background, ethnicity, interests, extracurricular activities and GPA.
You can expect to frequent the site often. It also offers excellent financial aid information and resources and articles to help you get abreast of what this whole college thing is all about.
Why sign up during your sophomore year? This allows you plenty of time to become familiar with FastWeb and all it offers. So, once it’s time for you to actually apply to scholarships you’ll know the requirements like the back of your hand.
Being prepared is the major theme here, in case you haven’t noticed. Make use of FastWeb and all of its resources and you’ll definitely have a leg up on your classmates.
6. Go to College Fairs
Many high schools have college fairs, so you can also go to yours and check out local college information. But, many other college fairs are held across the country. You can easily find a college fair near you by visiting the National Association for College Admission Counseling website at: http://www.nacacnet.org.
These college fairs give you an excellent opportunity to learn about many colleges all at once. It can be very expensive to visit all of the colleges on your list, so going to a college fair saves you lots of money on travel expenses.
You can even pick up brochures, applications and financial aid information for your prospective colleges. Be sure to have any questions you may have ready to ask the college representatives. Also be sure to bring a pen and pad of paper to take notes. You’ll be speaking to lots of people and you won’t be able to remember everything!
6. Begin your search for scholarship and financial aid money
Once you have signed up for FastWeb, you should be in the know about the types of scholarships you can apply for. But you can also contact your counselor about scholarships that may be right up your alley.
You should also discuss your financing options with your parents. College is a major expense and you need to start saving now (if you haven’t already). Becoming familiar with the other types of aid available can be helpful as well, so you know application deadlines and what information you need to pinpoint ahead of time. Check to see if you are eligible for a grant or scholarship. Also check to see if a loan is a realistic option for you.
Another financial aid option is work-study, where you will pay for your college tuition by working on campus. There are even tax credit programs for getting through college. Do your research and find the financing options that will work best for you and your parents.
Why make this decision now? Because before you know it, financial aid applications will be due. Stay ahead of the game by learning about all of your options now.
7. Visit colleges on your list
You can gain insightful information from virtual college tours, but before actually applying you should have a good idea of what campus life is like for each of your selections. Visiting colleges is something you might typically start the spring of your junior year and the summer before your senior year.
Most colleges offer campus tours for new and potential students. You need to check each individual school for information on their tour program. However, they do share many things in common. For instance, you will definitely want to attend campus tours on a weekday on a normal school day. Holidays, weekends and big campus events like graduation tend to throw a wrench in the works insofar as your ability to gauge what the campus is really like.
Spring break is a great time to get many campus tours out of the way because it will still be during the spring semester but you won’t have to miss any school. While the majority of your tour consists of walking around campus with a guide, you can do many other things as well to ensure you gain a well-rounded perspective of the campus.
For instance, you can stay overnight in one of the dorms to gain a sense of what it would be like to live there, what the students are like and the accommodations. You can eat in the cafeteria and you may even be able to schedule an interview.
You can also sit in on a class or two. What are the instructors like? What is the classroom dynamic? Does it feel like an environment you’d like to be a part of?
Have a list of questions prepared for each campus you visit. Keep a pen and pad of paper handy as you tour each campus, as well. You’ll be quite busy and it’s really easy to forget the details.
This is an excellent opportunity to interact with current students of your prospective schools. Are they a part of any on-campus organizations you’d be interested in joining? Ask about it! Do they enjoy their classes? Loathe their professors? Need a break? Regardless, ask current students questions to gain a real life perspective on each campus in addition to what the scheduled tour can give you.
8. Apply for private scholarships
During early spring of your junior year, make it a point to start applying for scholarships. You’ve had plenty of time now to sort through them, collect any necessary information and take note of individual deadlines. Now is the time to start applying.
You may luck out and find a scholarship or two that only requires you fill out a form for consideration. But many others require you to write an essay. “Not another essay!” you cry. Not to worry. Just think of the incentive of winning these scholarships? You’ll get free money to go toward your college tuition, books or other expenses that you never have to pay back!
9. Request recommendation letters from teachers and counselors
You’ve been visiting your counselor by your senior year. They should know you and have a pretty good understanding of your goals. Who better to ask for a recommendation letter? Many colleges require recommendation letters from persons in professional standing to comment on you as a student and a person.
While your counselor is an obvious choice, you can also ask your teachers, advisers, sports coaches and employers. If you volunteered for an organization every summer, you can ask the head to write you a letter of recommendation as well. Be creative in your choices!
A letter from your counselor and one from your community volunteer program leader looks a bit more impressive than two letters from teachers. Show you are a diverse and well-rounded individual based on your letters. Another thing to keep in mind is to be courteous to those you ask for letters from. Give them at least three weeks to write the letter and get it back to you. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a last minute letter request.
Also, a week or so after receiving the letters of recommendation, write the individual a brief thank you note. After all, your counselor or instructor took time out of their life for you. You can do them the same courtesy.
10. Call your new college roommate and get to know them
You should be notified sometime during the summer of your senior year who your roommate is and their contact information. Take some initiative and call them. 99% of the time, they’ll be glad you did.
Take this time to talk about yourself and ask questions about them. What are their hobbies? Where did they go to school? What are they thinking about majoring in? You get the idea.
Getting to know your roommate before you live with them can be helpful in eliminating some of the awkwardness associated with moving in day.
You don’t have to become best friends over the phone, but try to be open to one another and listen. These first initial talks can really shape your relationship down the road once you are roommates.
Try to stay away from controversial topics like religion and politics. Use your best judgment when asking questions and talking in general. It’s great to be open and honest, but don’t divulge your entire life story. This can be off-putting and make your roommate feel uncomfortable if they don’t wish to disclose as much as fast.
If, for any reason, you do not think you’ll be able to live with the person selected as your roommate, contact the housing department at your college immediately. They typically do their best to make new students feel as comfortable as possible. But be warned: the housing department must meet the needs of thousands of students. Don’t be discouraged or insulted if they cannot meet your request.