What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Successful High School Students Do These 10 Things


Success in high school isn’t easy to quantify. Is it earning a 4.0 GPA? Getting elected class president? Simply being happy and generally successful? Success might look different for every student, but the tools for achieving it are generally the same.


In this post, we outline ten things that successful high school students do to maximize their learning opportunities and prepare for the future. Doing these ten things will not only help you to become a successful high school student, but a successful college student as well. Lay the foundation now for the mindset and work habits necessary in college and you’ll not only optimize your high school years but also hit the ground running when you graduate.


Want to learn what many successful high school students already know? Check out these ten things successful high school students do.


Are you applying to schools and want to know your admissions chances? Calculate your chances right now and understand your odds before applying.


1. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals


Goal setting is a skill that develops over time. In fact, it can even be described as an art. To become a successful goal setter, you’ll need to get to know your own work habits and motivators. Setting unrealistic goals gets discouraging quickly.


Instead, set realistic long-term goals and work backwards from those to set smaller short-term goals to act as stepping stones. Then, make a plan to achieve these goals. Break your work down into manageable chunks and find a way to hold yourself accountable. Sometimes it can even help to coordinate with a group of peers so that you can help to hold one another accountable too.


For example, if you want to self study for the Human Geography AP exam, you should set some smaller goals to help prepare for it. By setting a deadline for ordering study books, joining online study programs, and completing tutorials, you break the big task down into smaller, more manageable pieces.


2. Master Time Management


In order to optimize your performance across multiple aspects of your life, you’ll need to develop strong time management skills. This means making and sticking to study schedules, developing systems of organization that work well for you, and learning the art of multitasking.


For more information about effective organization to boost your time management, check out our post Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School. Here, you’ll learn important systems like how to use a planner, to-do lists, and prioritization to maximize your free time and leverage your organizational systems to your advantage.


3. Select a Balanced Course Load


Many students struggle with finding balance. If you commit to the most challenging track of classes and then load up on uber-challenging electives on top of it, you might overextended yourself, and your grades could suffer. On the other hand, if you don’t take on a course load that is challenging enough, you might feel bored, or find yourself with limited options when it comes time to apply to colleges.


Early in your high school career, try to identify the right balance in course load for you. Freshman year is a great time to experiment with different levels of challenge and different subjects to figure out what works best for you personally. Try to take the most challenging level of core subjects that won’t overwhelm you and then balance it out by selecting electives that truly interest you.


Course rigor is an important factor for getting accepted to a top school. See how course rigor affects your chances of admission with CollegeVine’s admissions calculator.


For more about selecting classes, see An Updated Introductory Guide to Course Selection.


4. Be Active Outside the Classroom


Successful high school students don’t disappear outside the walls of their classroom. They are also engaged members of their community. Get involved with issues that impact your student experience. Educate yourself about the issues facing your community and learn to use your voice productively so that people will listen to your ideas.


Successful high school students are ones that are capable of speaking up and effecting change in a positive way. To learn more about this and how colleges evaluate your involvement in social issues, check out our post Community Service, Reimagined: MCC’s Recommendations for High School Service.


5. Participate in Class


You might think that this one goes without saying, but many students seem to think that if they study and achieve high grades, their participation will be a secondary factor. Successful students know, though, that class participation is a means towards the end. Students who participate in class are more engaged in their learning and are better able to encode information in their memories, since thoughtful questions and consideration lend context to new information.


In addition, participating in class shows your teachers that you’re listening and thinking about the material that’s being presented. Teachers are more likely to think of you as a dedicated student when you participate regularly in class discussions. For more information about staying engaged, check out our post 5 Ways to Actively Learn During Class.

A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

6. Take Good Care of Yourself


Sometimes, when you are committed to being a strong student, a dedicated participant in outside activities, and a model of effective prep for standardized tests, you might forget that you also need to be committed to yourself.


Getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking good mental care of yourself are all necessary to success. When any one of these fall by the wayside, you are unable to perform at the peak of your ability no matter how prepared you are otherwise. Put yourself first to ensure that you’re capable of following through on the rest of your commitments.


7. Find Your Passions


High school isn’t just a time to prove your intellect and capability of tackling college level work. You should also think of it as a unique opportunity to figure out what makes you tick. Students who can identify their passions and pursue them are more engaged and motivated to succeed. Experiment with different extracurriculars and pursue the activities that truly interest and fascinate you. You can’t fake passion and your authentic motivation to pursue these activities will shine through and could even lead to a future college major or career.


To learn more about choosing extracurriculars and their importance, take a look at these CollegeVine posts:


How Much Do Extracurricular Activities Matter in College Admissions?

How to Determine Which Clubs to Join: A Guide for Freshmen

A Guide to Extracurricular Activities: Grade 10

A Guide to Extracurricular Activities: Grade 11

Is It Too Late to Join a Club Junior or Senior Year?


How do your extracurriculars affect your chances? Find out with CollegeVine’s free chancing engine.


8. Learn to Say No


Academics aren’t the only area in which you risk overcommitting yourself. Dedicated students and active members of the school community also risk overextending themselves in activities and outside commitments. Of course you’d like to chair the homecoming committee. Running a fundraiser for the food pantry is right up your alley, and tutoring your friend for the Spanish AP exam just seems like the right thing to do. If you do all of these things, though, will your other commitments suffer?


Successful students know how to say no in a way that is both graceful and humble. Saying something along the lines of “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but I don’t think I have the time to do justice to such an important role right now. Please do check in again, though,” lets people know that you appreciate the opportunity and might be available sometime in the future.


9. Earn Leadership Roles


What’s more impressive than playing on four varsity sports teams? Many admissions committees would argue that they’d rather see you advance in one sport from JV to team captain over the course of four years, or even to team manager if you don’t make varsity. This advancement into a leadership role shows that you are a dedicated hard worker who is respected by your peers.


The same can be said for other activities, too. Instead of spreading yourself thin and participating in many activities, try to focus on a few and advance to leadership roles. Successful students know that this focus and determination sets you apart more than simply a commitment to attend many weekly meetings.


10. Build and Use a Support Network


You might think that juggling all this by yourself is the marker of true strength and independence, but successful students are those who know how to use the resources available. Build strong relationships with teachers and peers, establish connections with learning resources like the writer’s center or study hall teachers, and connect with mentors to ensure that you have a support system in place, even if you never use it.


Further, don’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate resource should you need a hand. Don’t wait until you’re drowning to call for help; instead let others know when you’re worried or confused and let them help you out before it gets over your head.


Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.