A Convenient College Planning Checklist for Freshman Year
Welcome to high school! You have four transformative years ahead of you. This is the time when many students discover their passions, set their future goals, and start building their resumes and achievements.
Although you have a few years before you need to start putting together your college applications and taking standardized tests, you can begin planning now and set yourself up for success later on. We at CollegeVine have developed a comprehensive checklist to help you make the most of your freshman year.
1. Take Advantage of New Opportunities
Now that you are in high school, you will find yourself exposed to a wide range of new opportunities to which you may not have had access a year ago, such as after-school jobs, more advanced clubs and organizations (e.g., Key Club and High School Speech and Debate), or even community service projects you can lead.
Take advantage of as many of these opportunities as you feel you can without being overwhelmed. After all, your extracurricular activities are going to be very important for your college applications. Admissions committees want to see that you not only participated in a wide variety of activities, but that you also made a difference in those activities.
When joining activities in high school, try to branch out; try a new activity in an area about which you don’t know much but would like to explore, and see if you enjoy it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. Drop it and find something else you’re interested in.
If you do like it, however, try to make a difference in the club or activity. Get to know your fellow peers, ask insightful questions, and take initiative to make the organization or activity better. This last point may be more difficult for a freshman since you will be among the youngest in most of your activities, but helping out as much as possible now can show others that you are a hard worker and have what it takes to be a leader later on.
Taking advantage of new opportunities in high school is also a great way to make friends and expand your social network, as well as hone your interests and passions. Finding your talents now will help you down the road when you have to decide what major or career you want to pursue.
It is better to explore different activities now rather than later because there is no pressure; you can always quit or change your mind later. You have plenty of time.
2. Lay the Groundwork for Future Academic Accomplishments
By the time you apply to college, many universities will expect you to have taken at least three or four AP or other advanced courses and have an excellent GPA. And in order to make that happen, you need to start working now.
If you haven’t been taking your schoolwork seriously, start doing so now. If you do well in your classes now, not only will you have a strong foundation for the more advanced courses that come later in high school, but you will start out with a strong GPA.
Furthermore, be mindful of what classes you take during your freshman year. Many junior- and senior-level honors and AP courses have prerequisite classes that must be taken before you can enroll in the advanced course. Look ahead at the advanced courses you want to take later on in high school and make sure you are signing up for those prerequisite courses now. You can use these courses to gauge whether you are good at the subject and enjoy the material enough to work hard in the future.
3. Find an Enriching Summer Activity
You may be too young to find a job, take driver’s ed, or volunteer at some organizations during the summer after your freshman year. Therefore, you should start thinking about more creative ways to spend and justify your summer break now.
To get you started, talk to your school guidance counselor or a leader in your community. They may have some suggestions about summer opportunities that you did not know existed. Whatever you choose to do with your summer, however, be sure it advances your goals in some way.
Think you might want to be pre-med in college? See if your local hospital takes volunteers at your age. Have you always wanted to work with kids or go into education? Look into summer camps for which you might be eligible to be a counselor. Click here for more information on activities to try in the summer.
Some common activities students choose to get involved in during the summer after their freshman year are community service initiatives at local libraries or food banks; working at a family business; starting their own neighborhood business by babysitting, mowing lawns, and so on; or participating in an academic camp or activity at a local college or university. Remember that it’s still early, and you have many more summers to earn money or get an internship.
Want a free guide to freshman year?
In this free guide, we'll explain how to set up a solid foundation for the rest of your high school experience. Enter your name and email below to download the guide.
4. Start Exploring Your College Needs and Preferences
College may seem far in the future, and in many ways it is. You’re probably not ready to take the SAT or ACT, and you definitely don’t need to start filling out college applications just yet. However, it is never too early to start doing research to figure out what you may be looking for in your future college.
Do you have a dream school? If so, look up that college and figure out what about that university makes it so appealing to you. Then find other colleges that have some of those same characteristics and keep them in mind as for when you apply. Also remember that your interests and what appeals to you may evolve over the next couple years, so try not to get too set on one school just yet.
If you do not already have a dream school in mind, start looking up different universities that you have heard of to help figure out what might be a good fit for you. Would you be more comfortable at a small or large campus? Do you thrive in competitive or more cooperative environments? How close to home do you want to be during college?
It’s a good idea to talk with alumni of the universities you think you might be interested in to hear about what their experiences were like. They can clarify any questions you may have from your research and give you a unique insight into what it is like to attend that university. If you can, talk to a wide range of alumni to gauge what sort of things you can do to gain admission.
To find alumni, look in your local community and see if anyone attended the specific colleges you have in mind. You can also go to college fairs and various networking events the university may host throughout the year to speak to experts. These events tend to be geared towards juniors and seniors, but most will let freshman and sophomores attend.
5. Take Care of Yourself While Transitioning to High School
This should be every student’s first priority. Too often, high-achieving students damage their health or get stressed out during their freshman year by trying to do too much while adjusting to high school, and it burns them out before they have even started the harder classes. Remember that out of all of the goals on this list, your health and peace of mind are most important.
We at CollegeVine encourage every student to pay attention to their physical and mental health while they are adjusting to the rigor of high school curriculum and extracurriculars. Be sure to eat at least three solid meals per day, get eight hours of sleep minimum (that big test you have tomorrow is not worth the all-nighter in the long run, I promise), and remember to take a break now and again to relieve yourself of stress.
Some healthy ways to relieve stress and calm yourself down are to take a walk, make time to hang out with your friends (study sessions don’t count), watch an hour or so of television, or spend some time with your family. Whatever takes your mind off of school and your obligations for a little while should work. The key is to relax.
It is worth noting that establishing healthy study, sleep, and eating habits now will pay off in the future. If you get used to maintaining your health now, you will be more inclined to have healthy habits when AP courses, SAT/ACT tests, internships, and jobs come your way in the future.
6. Know What to Expect Later in High School
Your high school career has just begun, but it is important to note some major tasks you have ahead of you: PSAT and PLAN tests, SAT/ACT tests, AP courses, AP exams, SAT subject tests and college applications. You do not have to tackle any of this just yet, but it is coming up faster than you might think.
It can be helpful to learn more about each of the tasks above and what each will involve. For instance, some students who aim for National Merit Scholarships start studying for the PSAT after their freshman year or early in their sophomore year. Learn about what you need to do to achieve your goals now so you can plan ahead for the rest of high school.
Do not worry too much, though. While colleges can see what you accomplished during your freshman year, they do not usually weigh it as heavily as they do the subsequent years. You still have plenty of time to get it all right.
Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.