Published March 19, 2024

Person walking across a gap between two bouldersApplying for and getting into the college of your choice doesn’t happen overnight. It requires careful planning and preparation. College prep during high school can also help you develop the skills necessary to succeed once you start your first year.

Learn how to start preparing for college while you’re still in high school. The work you put in now will be key to feeling confident as you take the next steps toward your future.

Why You Should Prep for College

Preparing for higher education can help high school students lay the foundation for a successful college experience. Such preparation allows you to:

Explore Multiple College Cultures

Every college and university campus is different. Participating in pre-college programs and courses provides an invaluable opportunity to experience everyday campus life. As you immerse yourself in the distinctive culture of the institution, you will gain insight into your preferences and the type of setting that might work best for you. That knowledge can help you assess other schools as you embark on your college search process.

Learn What it Means to Be Independent

The journey toward a college education represents a big step in your transition to adulthood. Independence becomes a defining attribute during this period, encompassing not only academic responsibilities but also personal growth.

By enrolling in a pre-college summer program, you can begin to understand and navigate the intricacies of independent living. This new sense of self-reliance will help you find success in college and beyond.

Discover Your Goals

While you don’t necessarily need to know your major before you arrive at college, your efforts to prepare can help you better understand your interests. Pre-college programs give you the time and resources to delve into topics that excite you, including potential majors and even career paths. Getting an early feel for your academic goals can help you select suitable courses to take while still in high school—knowledge that will carry through to your college years as well.

Steps to Take in High School for College

When preparing for college in high school, academics, as important as they are, aren’t the only element you’ll need to be aware of. Here are some tips for success in your college search process and beyond.

Develop Relationships with Teachers

Since you’ll almost certainly need teacher recommendations for your college application, take the time in high school to develop relationships that allow teachers to get to know your strengths. You won’t need recommendations from every teacher you have, so try to focus on those you have an easy rapport with or who teach subjects you’re considering for your major.

Focus on Academics

Prioritize your academic journey by selecting courses that align with your college aspirations. If you know what you’re going to study, take subjects that align with your goals. For example, make sure to take biology or chemistry if you plan to apply to colleges on a pre-med track. For maximum impact, you should take the most challenging courses your school offers, provided that you can do well in them. A solid academic foundation not only enhances your college application but also equips you with the knowledge for your chosen field of study.

Tour Campuses

Immerse yourself in the college experience by touring campuses. This first-hand exposure will aid in narrowing down your college choices. Assessing campus environments, facilities, and overall atmosphere will guide you in making informed decisions about your future academic home. After each tour, be sure to write down your impression of the school, the pros and cons of attending, and any important admissions information you learned on your tour. Especially if you visit multiple schools, it can be hard to remember the specifics as time goes by.

Engage in Extracurricular Activities

Engaging in sports, clubs, volunteering, and other extracurriculars offers an opportunity to explore your interests, develop skills, and participate in activities you enjoy. But extracurriculars also provide an opportunity to show colleges that you can persist or excel in an area of interest, can experience personal growth, and can demonstrate leadership skills.

You may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet of your activities and update it throughout high school. This will prevent you from having to scramble to remember specific activities, dates, and accomplishments when you fill out your college applications. It will also give you an easy way to get an overview of your extracurriculars through the years so that you can identify areas you may want to develop further.

Prepare for Standardized Testing

Many colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies in recent years, which means that you may apply to colleges without submitting standardized test scores. Check to see the test submission policy for each of the schools you plan to apply to. You may find that you submit test scores to some schools on your list, but not to others. If you decide not to submit test scores, schools will make their decision based on the other elements of your application, including your grades, the difficulty of the classes you have taken, essays, extracurriculars, and reference letters, so be sure those parts of your application are strong.

If you plan to submit SAT or ACT scores, consider enrolling in test prep classes or seeking out free online test prep resources to optimize your performance.

Research Financial Aid and Scholarships

Now is a great time to begin considering your options for need- and merit-based financial assistance. Familiarize yourself with the FAFSA process and use tools like the Federal Student Aid Estimator to get a feel for how much aid you might receive. You can also explore scholarship search engines to identify potential sources of financial support. Keep in mind that some schools will require you to fill out a FAFSA form in order to receive merit-based aid.

For some schools, you may also be required to fill out the College Scholarship Service, or CSS, profile. A CSS profile is used by colleges and scholarship programs to award institutional aid that is not federally funded.

As always, read your prospective schools’ guidelines carefully before applying.

Speak With Your School Counselor

Your school counselor can help you assess your progress toward college, explore your options, and conduct your college search. Your junior and senior years are good times to discuss any concerns or challenges you’re having and to ensure you are choosing an optimal slate of courses in high school. Your counselor can also provide valuable guidance on extracurricular involvement, teacher recommendations, and overall preparation for your academic future.

Try a Pre-College Summer Program

A pre-college summer program can be a great way to gain academic and campus life insights, boost your resume, connect with academically advanced peers, and even earn college credit. For insights into the benefits of summer programs, be sure to read the Summer at Hopkins blog post “Are Pre-College Programs Worth It?” The Summer at Hopkins Blue Jay Bulletin also has additional news and information you may find helpful.

Learn How Summer at Hopkins Can Help Your College Prep

Visit Summer at Hopkins online to learn more about how our Pre-College Programs and Summer Term undergraduate courses can help you prepare for college.

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