With more people attending college than ever before, the competition for admission is fierce, especially if you’re hoping to attend a top-tier school. That’s why you need to give yourself a head start. Many aspects of your academic profile will require dedication and growth through high school, and being conscious about your efforts will help you in the long run. Moreover, if you start working on your plan of attack now, you’ll be less stressed senior year when you actually apply.

 

Read on to learn about which areas you should address when making an action plan for getting accepted to your dream colleges. However, remember that this is a plan, not a legally binding contract. Things will happen that may be beyond your control, or you may change your mind and develop different goals and interests along the way. That’s okay! High school is a time to explore, so it’s natural to alter your plans.

 

Identify Academic Strengths and Keep Your Grades Up

 

You probably already know some of your strong suits, but you may discover a passion for something to which you haven’t yet been exposed. Early in high school, start identifying your strengths. When you develop particular interests or passions, you’ll be prepared to choose which areas you should pursue at higher levels through AP, IB, or honors courses, as well as which electives might be worth exploring.

 

Colleges like to see specialized students, meaning they want candidates who have a passion for and dedication to a particular area. Learn more about specializing in Well-Rounded or Specialized?.

 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue challenging courses in subjects that aren’t your particular favorites. You should always strive to challenge yourself, even in areas that aren’t your speciality. Check out Is It Better to Get a B in an AP/IB/Honors Course or an A in a Regular Course? if you’re trying to figure out whether it’s worth pursuing a high-level course in a subject that is challenging for you.

 

Of course, you may encounter courses that are especially difficult for you. While you can’t prepare for every obstacle you encounter, you can think about what you’ll do if you have trouble with a certain subject or class. Check out What If I Just Can’t Bring Up My Grade in That One Challenging Class? for some advice.

 

Work With Your Guidance Counselor

 

Depending on the size of your school, your guidance counselor may be responsible for a handful or hundreds of students. That’s why you need to start working with him or her early. Not only will he or she write your college recommendation, but your guidance counselor can be a great resource for other aspects of your high school life, such as finding extracurriculars and choosing courses. Try to meet early on in your high school career and schedule routine meetings.

 

However, sometimes, your guidance counselor won’t be able to give you all the time you need. If that’s the case, look for other sources of guidance, such as a mentoring program. Read What to Look for in a High School Mentoring Program to find out how a mentoring program can help you.

 

Keep Tests in the Back of Your Mind

 

If you’re a freshman, you don’t need to take the SAT or ACT yet, but it’s worth thinking about what you’ll need to do when the time comes. Start thinking about when you’ll take each test and when you’ll need to begin practicing.

 

It’s also worth taking the PSAT as a sophomore to gauge your starting point. But remember that you’ll accumulate more knowledge and skills each year, so don’t assume that your PSAT score necessarily reflects how you’ll perform on your SAT as a junior. Consult our guide for our suggestions about when to take the SAT and ACT.

 

When you decide the time you’ll take your standardized tests, make sure to schedule in practice sessions. Commit to a certain number of hours each week in the months leading up to your first sitting, taking into account your other commitments to make sure your goal is realistic.

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Our mentorship program helps students in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade discover their passions, build their resumes, and get guidance throughout high school.

Form Relationships With Teachers

 

Your teachers aren’t just there to give you grades. They can help you a lot with many aspects of your life—extracurriculars, jobs, and more—throughout high school. They’ll also be the people who will eventually write your recommendations, so you want some teachers to know you well and write about your strengths knowledgeably.

 

Build Strong Extracurriculars

 

In 9th grade, join as many activities as possible so you can try out different interests, but set a deadline for whittling down a list. As with your courses, try to specialize in certain areas. You can always take on more activities as opportunities arise, but remember to consider what meaningful contribution they will add to your profile and life in general before you commit to too much. Consult A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 9 and Why Colleges Want to See More Than Class President on Your Applications for more ideas about how develop your extracurricular interests.

 

Plan Your Scholarship Search

 

College is expensive. While financial aid can alleviate some of the financial burden, it’s a good idea to look into scholarships as well. Some, but not all scholarships require you to be a high school senior when you apply; however, starting your search early can be a great help when the time comes to actually apply. At this point, start searching for scholarships and determining for which ones you meet the eligibility requirements and are geared towards students with your demographics. Read up on what kinds of materials you’ll need to gather and applications or essays you should complete. Then, when senior year rolls around, you’ll have done a lot of the legwork already and won’t have to worry about filling out entire scholarship applications along with all your admissions applications. Read Getting a Head Start on Your Scholarship Search for more tips on what you can do now.

 

Manage Your Stress

 

High school is a stressful time, but remember to take care of yourself. Build blocks for unwinding and spending time with friends and family into your hectic schedule. Also pay attention to your physical health. As we discuss in 5 Reasons to Prioritize Health and Fitness in High School, your physical and psychological well-being are closely linked, and keeping yourself healthy will support your mental health and ability to succeed academically.

 

If you find that your stress is unmanageable, you may be overcommitting. Try to avoid this preemptively by balancing school, extracurriculars, and downtime. If you do think you’re taking on too much, consider pruning your activities. Check out The Dangers of Overcommitting: How Taking on Too Much Can Hurt Your Applications for advice on relieving some of the burden.

 

Application season will be an especially hectic time, so try to get as much done in advance as possible. Keep in mind that some stress is normal for any student, but if you’re problems are interfering with your schoolwork or personal life, seek help from a professional.

 

Remember: You Don’t Have to Have It All Figured Out

 

High school is a time to grow and develop your interests and talents. You don’t need to have everything figured out just yet! Planning out some ideas for how you’ll succeed later will help you when the time comes to apply to college, but remember: it’s just a plan. Things change and people change, so be open to new ideas, and remember that occasional setbacks and struggles are normal.

 

Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for their high school mentees.

 

Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills to help maximize their chances of success in college, business, and life.

 

For more advice on getting a head start on college planning, check out CollegeVine’s posts:

 

A Convenient College Planning Checklist for Freshman Year

How Important Is Freshman Year of High School?

10 Real World Study Tips to Improve Processing and Retention

How to Build Your Killer Admissions Team

What is the Ideal Timeline for the College Application Process?

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine

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