College Prep

Although you won't begin applying for university admission and scholarships until your senior year of high school, you should start preparing long before that. In fact, many students who are ultimately successful in getting into their dream school start preparing as early as the ninth grade. Your high school years are crucial in terms of boosting your resume, establishing an impressive academic history, and cultivating relationships with useful people. Below is a preparation schedule for those who hope to earn an undergraduate degree after they graduate from high school. If you're able to do everything on these lists during grades nine through twelve, great! If you're in grade ten or eleven already, however, it's certainly not too late. With a little effort, you can still submit a killer application by the time those deadlines arrive during your senior year.

Ninth Grade

Since so many of your peers are probably not even thinking about university at this point, ninth grade is the perfect time to get a head start on the competition. Following these tips during the ninth grade will lay the groundwork for the intense preparation that will take place during the rest of high school.

Get Involved:

  • College admissions committees love to see great grades, but they're also looking for individuals who are well-rounded. If you're not involved in any extra-curricular activities, now is the time to sign up. Academic clubs like math club and non-academic activities like intramural sports are both excellent options. Civic and social activities are also held in high regard by college admission offices. Consider volunteering at your local hospital, geriatric facility, or environmental center. Participation in such activities is always welcome news to college admissions personnel.
  • Take advantage of your less hectic schedule during the summer months to learn more about careers you may be interested in. If you're the sort of person who might be interested in caring for and treating animals, you might wish to seek an internship with a local veterinary office. You may be able to open the door of opportunity by asking your local vet if you can volunteer for a period of time or shadow the animal care technicians while they work. If you're interested in working with children, you can check with your local daycare center to see if they can take you on as an aide. Perhaps there are opportunities for summer school tutoring in the high school you attend. Whatever your interests, don't waste your time or miss an opportunity to add depth to your college prep resume.
  • If there is a company or business that interests you, ask if they need a volunteer. Most companies are more than happy to have some free labor, and you can chat with employees to find out more about the company and potential job opportunities. Again, summer internships may be the key to generating extra income and depth for your resume.
  • Playing with a sports team is a great way to show admissions committees you are about more than just academics. It is a good idea to sign up for at least one sport, even if you won't ever be the superstar of the team. If formally sponsored teams are all booked up, you can always look toward inter-mural competition. The key idea is to show that you are well-rounded; you're not expected to be an Olympic athlete.

Get Informed:

  • It's never too soon to obtain more information about areas of study in which you may be interested. Make an appointment with your guidance counselor. The guidance counselor should be able to tell you about salaries and major career opportunities in every field. A series of visits with the guidance counselor will help you steer a course through the high school curriculum to maximize your chances of acceptance into the right schools.
  • Find out more about standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. A good score on these admission tests increases your chances of being accepted by your school of choice. Some colleges use the ACT; others use the SAT; a modest few require neither. Find out early which tests are required at the colleges you are interested in attending. Buy your own practice guide to begin familiarizing yourself with the material and types of questions you may encounter on the tests.
  • It's a well-known fact that college prep is expensive. It is important to develop a financial plan appropriate to your individual circumstances. Now is the time to determine how much of a loan you will have to get when you go off to school. Ask your parents whether they have established a college fund for you. If so, you should also find out how much they have saved for your education and how much you will have to finance. This conversation might be a little awkward, but it's essential for you to have this information. College guidebooks often provide useful information about a given college's scholarship programs, grants, and other funding sources. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) family disclosure form is required by all colleges and most students will become very familiar with it during undergraduate study. Work-study programs may also be of interest to you.
  • Find out more about the possibility of pursuing an honors program track in high school by talking to your advisor or a trusted teacher. A word of caution is due, however. While an honors program may better prepare you for college, and is a great entry on an application, it can actually be a disadvantage in some ways. That's because some schools rank all students based on their actual GPA and do not take into account the difficulty of their courses. For example, an honors student with a 3.8 GPA may have worked harder than a student taking less difficult coursework who achieved a 4.0, but that additional level of difficulty for the student with the lower GPA will not be reflected in the school rankings. Keep in mind that class rank and GPA are often used as criteria for awarding scholarships and determining which students will be accepted to top schools. Finding out about your target school's policies before you submit an application will help you to address the admissions process.
  • Begin finding out more about schools that you might wish to attend. Viewing school websites and conducting broad Internet research is a good start. You may even want to look at online distance learning programs. Pay attention to your local newspaper to find out about which schools are considered the best in the area. Mainstream magazines often publish articles listing top schools in advance of the school year. These articles often tell why students choose these colleges and universities. Educational publishing companies regularly issue new editions of college guides which list data regarding the cost of schools, the percentages of students who get scholarships, information about the GPA range of accepted students, and other valuable data. First and foremost, it is important to find out whether your school is accredited. No matter what the college's website might say, degrees from unaccredited schools are generally not worth the paper they are printed on, so move on immediately if you come across a school that isn't accredited.
  • Make every effort to attend career day. Seek out individuals involved in the fields that interest you. Prepare a list of important questions about salaries, job opportunities, benefits, potential for advancement, and anything else you feel is important to consider when choosing a career.
  • Make an effort to learn about important current events. Since you will have a great deal of required reading in college, it is important to read as much as you can to increase your knowledge and improve your skills. Expand your vocabulary with word puzzles and vocabulary sections in magazines. You'll sound more intelligent when you speak, and you'll be able to discuss current events knowledgeably during your college admissions interview.

Boost your Resume:

  • One of the most important sections on any resume is the "references" portion. Begin cultivating a relationship with at least three teachers. When the time comes to supply the names of people who can attest to your worthiness, having the contact information for a few professional educators is a huge advantage. They will also be great people to ask for recommendation letters.
  • Often, the most difficult part of preparing a resume is remembering all of the activities in which you were involved. Make a list now of volunteer work, teams, and clubs, along with the relevant dates. That way, you'll simply have to transfer this information to your official resume instead of starting from scratch.

Raise your GPA:

  • If your GPA isn't where it should be, set some definitive goals and start working to achieve a more impressive score. Work hard in all your classes, even ones that may not seem that useful to your future, like Physical Education. Remember, each and every grade counts towards your GPA, so it's important you do as well as you can in all of your classes. Whether you enjoy sports or not, an "A" in physical education will add points to your GPA.
  • Review your latest report card to identify subjects that give you trouble. Work on improving your scores in these classes. Hire a tutor or ask your teacher about extra help sessions to help you with this endeavor. Don't ignore your weaker subjects in favor of the subjects you most enjoy. Your ability to work through subjects you may not particularly enjoy will demonstrate a steadfast readiness for college work.

Tenth Grade

You may have just started high school, but senior year will arrive faster than you think. Use the tenth grade to build upon the foundation you established the year before. The following tips will help ensure you stay on the right track.

Things You Should Keep Doing:

  • Strive to improve your GPA. Focus on weak areas, ask for extra help, and do your best in all of your classes. Remember, unless you have a 4.0 GPA, there is always room for improvement.
  • Keep up on current events and continue to expand your vocabulary. Being well-informed about the world around you and capable of discussing issues with poise and intelligence is always looked upon favorably by an admissions department. Take time to read during those idle times you spend traveling or even while waiting in line at the supermarket.
  • Talk to professionals involved in your fields of interest. Perhaps you will be able to count on these professionals at a later time when you need letters of recommendation.
  • Stay involved in sports and academic programs - they're invaluable additions to any resume.
  • In addition to your own school library, you can join and visit the local public libraries. If there is a college in your town or city, you can inquire about using those resources as well. Libraries are a good place to learn how to research and reference the information you will need to complete your college papers, compositions, and essays. Librarians are a valuable resource in learning how to develop data and information.
  • Stay connected with those teachers who will eventually provide you with references and recommendations. Not only will they help you get into college, but their insight and knowledge could benefit you in unexpected ways.

New Considerations:

  • You may be familiar with what the SAT and ACT entail, but now is the time to assess how well-prepared you are for these important tests. Take the PSAT and Pre-ACT tests. Afterwards, review your scores with a guidance counselor to determine how you can improve. Ask about prep courses and useful books or websites that can help boost your score.
  • Narrow down your possible career choices. Your guidance counselor can help you with this step. If you have no idea what you'd like to do, ask your counselor about career and personality tests. Guidance counselors can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction. If you're uncertain about your future career, you can focus on foundational academic skills which form the core of many different professions.
  • Strengthen core skills like reading, writing, and algebra. They will be critical to your success in college, no matter which field of study you choose.
  • Find out more about the schools you are interested in attending. Ensure you will be able to meet all of their entrance requirements. Visit local campuses to experience college life firsthand, and attend local college fairs. If you plan to attend a military school, you will likely have to start the application process during the tenth grade. The service academies, like those at West Point and Annapolis, require referrals by members of Congress, so it behooves you to become familiar with your state's senators and House members.
  • Put aside all of the extra money you can for college. Getting a part-time or summer job can help you earn some extra cash, and it will also make a good impression on your college admission official. Check in with your parents and request an update about your college fund if you have one. Remind your parents of income tax advantages on interest earned in college savings funds. If they can afford it, your parents may want to insure themselves against future college cost increases by pre-payment plans offered by many colleges. This is a viable option for some people, but only if they are certain they will be accepted at a specific university. If there is any doubt at all about your ability to continue at a particular university, it is imperative to discuss the possibilities for refund of future payments should you not, for any reason, be able to continue at the university you have chosen.
  • Begin gathering information about scholarships for which you may be eligible. This (virtually) free money can help you cover tuition, books, and living expenses, so take some time to really dig deep and find all of the scholarships you can. Your local school guidance office is the place to begin. From there, the trail leads to the admissions offices of prospective colleges. But don't restrict yourself to one or two sources of information; an Internet search will bring up a plethora of agencies and organizations which offer scholarships or grants within specific categories. You should explore the ones which may apply to your own circumstances.
  • Enroll in more challenging classes. They'll better prepare you for the rigorous coursework of college, so they're definitely worth the extra effort.
  • Find a mentor who can help you reach your goals, and evaluate whether you are on the right track. Parents are a poor choice because it's difficult for them to be totally objective about their children. Instead, choose a trusted teacher, guidance counselor, or respected member of your community with whom you have a good relationship.

Eleventh Grade

If you haven't started thinking about college yet, you definitely shouldn't put it off any longer. If you began your preparations in the ninth or tenth grade, use this year to continue your preparations and stay on the right track. With twelfth grade just around the corner, there is no time to waste.

What to Keep Doing:

  • Continue your pursuit of academic excellence. Aim to improve your GPA if possible, and keep up the hard work if you already have a 4.0.
  • Keep up with current events, and continue to strengthen your writing, reading, and algebra skills. Add new words to your growing vocabulary to make a good impression during your entrance interview.
  • Keep saving. Figure out how much you have saved and schedule regular financial meetings with your parents to get periodic updates of your financial position.
  • Talk to professionals who work in fields you are considering.
  • Stay involved with academic and non-academic organizations.
  • Attend college fairs and visit nearby colleges and universities as often as possible.
  • Find a summer job or part-time employment to further strengthen your college application.
  • Take challenging courses that relate to your future field of study. Don't feel as if you have to take the most difficult course in every subject area. For example, if you plan to pursue a degree in business, taking advanced drama will probably not benefit you significantly. Drama 101 may fulfill the same curriculum requirement and accomplish the same purposes.
  • Stay in touch with the teachers with whom you have built relationships, so that they will be accessible when it comes time to ask for recommendations.

Some New College Prep Things to Consider:

  • Narrow your list of schools. Consider costs (tuition, room and board, transportation), location, and the reputation of the school and the program. Ask your guidance counselor to help you create a shortlist of potential schools.
  • You've already taken the PSAT and pre-ACT tests. Now is the time to try the real thing. If you don't do as well as you'd hoped, don't despair. Review your scores with your guidance counselor, study the material, and take the test again. Hire a tutor to explain any particularly difficult concepts, and make use of study guides and books. By registering for these tests in the eleventh grade, you're giving yourself lots of time to improve and obtain an impressive score.
  • If you're an athlete interested in playing Division I or II sports in university, you should begin the certification process during the eleventh grade.
  • Review the information you have collected about potential scholarships. Read the rules carefully, request more information if necessary, and ask for clarification to determine exactly which scholarships you are eligible to apply for.
  • If you were successful in finding a mentor during the previous year, meet with them to gauge how well you are progressing towards your educational goals.
  • Begin requesting applications for schools and programs that interest you.
  • Some colleges may require you to attend entrance interviews during the eleventh grade. Ensure you are thoroughly prepared and well-groomed for all interviews. Always send a short note to the individual who interviewed you to thank them for their time and consideration.

Twelfth Grade

Congratulations! You made it. After years of college prep, you are finally ready to apply to the program and school you've always dreamed of attending. You'd think that after all this hard work, now would be the time to sit back, relax, and reap the rewards of your labors. Instead, you should prepare yourself for a hectic, exciting, but very satisfying school year. Keep up the efforts you've been making all along, take care of some new details, and you should have that acceptance letter in your hand before you know it.

Efforts to Continue:

  • You narrowed down your school choices last year. Now is the time to consult with your guidance counselor once again and pick the one school you are most interested in attending. Hopefully, you'll be able to get into this institution, and you'll want to focus most of your efforts on trying to do so. To be safe, however, choose a few other schools. These will be your "back-ups" in case you aren't accepted to your top choice.
  • You've taken the SAT and ACT examinations, identified your weak areas, and possibly retaken the tests to improve your scores. Take those important tests one last time, and have your absolute best scores sent to the admissions department at your preferred colleges.
  • Stay involved with both academic and non-academic programs at your school.
  • Continue putting forth your best efforts at school to make sure you graduate with an impressive GPA.
  • Have a final meeting with your guidance counselor and mentor. Review your overall plan, and inform your mentor about the goals and plans you have finalized for yourself.
  • Take a final inventory of the funds you will have at your disposal when you begin college. Consider any money your parents have saved and the cash you have been putting away for yourself during the summers. Figure out if there are any extra expenses you may not have considered, such as the costs associated with joining a fraternity.

Last Minute Essentials and Considerations:

  • Even if you have completed most of the courses you need to graduate, resist the urge to take fewer classes during your senior year. As tempting as it might be to take a much-deserved break, this practice is often viewed unfavorably by those in charge of college admissions. Finish your high school career on an academic high note.
  • You feel the performing arts program at your college of choice is your best option. That may be so, but take some time to examine all aspects of the school. Evaluate the costs of attending and how much it will cost you to live on campus or off. Be realistic when deciding whether you can afford to go to the school you've chosen. On-campus housing is a fixed predictable cost compared to off-campus housing, where unforeseen costs may occur. Research the school using unbiased sources to determine whether it has a strong reputation for academic excellence.
  • Find out how you rank in your graduating class. Your ranking on this list may influence whether you will receive scholarships and if you will be accepted by your dream school.
  • Submit your completed applications to your top school and alternates. Double-check due dates and make sure your application packages are sent in plenty of time. As an extra precaution, keep a photocopy of sent applications in case they get lost. Always use registered mail to send these important documents.
  • Check in with the colleges to which you are applying, and double-check that the contact information they have on file is correct.
  • Ask the teachers with whom you have been building relationships for the past several years for letters of recommendation. They should be able to prepare a thorough account of your achievements, academic successes, and personality, because they have known you for several years. Be sure to send a card thanking them for their efforts. After all, they will likely play a crucial role in helping you get accepted to college.
  • If there are college-prep classes being held in your town or city, sign up to attend them. They'll help prepare you for the very different and substantially more challenging world of higher education.
  • Don't miss or be late for scheduled interviews at the schools to which you applied. Plan your interview day from top to bottom so that you are ready to meet the college admissions personnel conducting the interview. Follow up with a letter thanking the interviewer for their time and reiterating your interest in attending the school.
  • Decide which scholarships you are going to apply for, and ensure that all applications contain the required information and are submitted well in advance of the deadline.
  • In the likely event that you will require a loan to fund your higher education, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA.
  • Get a notebook or planner to keep track of deadlines and tasks. Without it, you may become overwhelmed by everything that must be accomplished during your senior year, in which case you will risk missing crucial deadlines. Consider using a computer software tracking program to monitor the status of your application packages.

Last Updated: 04/24/2014

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