Jump Start Your College Planning

College Degree Finder

If you want to have a successful and fulfilling college experience, one of the best things you can do is begin planning for college early. If you’re still in high school or junior high, it really is the perfect time to start considering what it is you want to do with your future. The decisions you make while you’re in high school will affect which college you can attend, whether or not you’ll receive scolarships or financial aid, the course of study you end up pursuing, or whether or not you’ll even be able to attend college. The following are tips and suggestions to help point you in the right direction and jump start your college planning.

Get Involved

Academic performance is one of the biggest factors affecting a students ability to get accepted to the college of their choice. College admission boards and officers want to admit students they know can excel academically and handle college level courses and curriculum they’ll be facing if admitted. But they’re also looking for students of substance–students that are not just well-rounded by excel in one or two areas outside of academics. When you’re in high school, getting involved in a few extracurricular activities will greatly improve your chances of being admitted to the college of your choice and qualifying for scholarship opportunities. The following are just a few extracurricular activites you may consider getting involved in while in high school.

  • Student Government – Getting involved in student government is an effective way to show college admissions officers that you’re an exceptional student, with a lot to offer their institution. Some common positions you might consider running for include Student Body President, Vice President, Treasurer, Public Relations Director, Secretary, etc. Not everyone is going to run and be elected student body president. What’s important is that you shine in whichever position you achieve.
  • Performing Arts – If drama and theatre are your gig, go out of your way to become as involved as possible. Try finding good roles in both high school plays and community productions. Get involved in local theatre and dance groups. Attend summer programs in drama and take voice lessons. These are just a few of the things you can do to show that you’re deeply involved and dedicated to drama and the arts.
  • Music – Learning to play a music instrument is a popular and excellent extracurricular activity. Becoming proficient, let alone learning how to play a musical instrument, is quite an accomplishment–and many higher education institutions with music departments (of which there are many) are looking for individuals with musical talent. But don’t just stop with learning a musical instrument. Get involved in your high schools plays and musical productions. Seek leadership positions within the musical department. Really shine!
  • Volunteer – By 2000, nearly 70% of high school students reported that they had regularly volunteered throughout their years in high school. A student who has not volunteered much during high school may be at a slight disadvantage to candidates that have demonstrated through community service that they have volunteered. Volunteering during high school will increase your attractiveness to admissions officers and it will enhance your social circle and world perspective.
  • Contests and Awards – Participating in contests and/or receiving awards is something that colleges really take into consideration when evaluating a applicant’s candicacy as a student and eligibility for scholarships. Competing in the science fair is beneficial, receiving an award in a science fair is even better. Most high schools and school districts host a large number of competitive events each year. From music to science to debate to business to forensics, there is a never ending list of competitions high schools can get involved in.
  • Student Clubs – From biology to automotive to debate to social justice, most high schools offer a large select of student groups to get involved in. Find a group that is in line with your interests and get involved! If you have thing for science, join the science group. If you like drama, join the drama team. If you like to talk a lot and try to convince others of your point of view, join the debate team. What club you join isn’t nearly as important as joing a club and getting involved. Again, pursue leadership roles and pursue any opportunity that helps you stand out from the crowd.

Whichever extracurricular activity(ies) a student chooses to pursue, colleges are looking to see that the student has excelled, devoted significant time to the activty, demonstrated initiative, and assumed leadership roles. It’s also important to keep a detailed record of time allocations and dates for important activites. Most college applications include a table that must be filled out detailing time spent each week, weeks spent each year, and any awards or recognitions received. Keeping track of these items as they’re performed is much easier than trying to remember 4 years later while you’re filling out college applications.

Take Challenging Courses

College admissions boards, panels, and officers aren’t stupid. They are well aware that it takes a lot more effort and intelligence to earn a B+ in AP Chemistry than it does to get A in Home Economics. Admissions departments are going to look at your grades, including your overall GPA, but they’re also going to consider the difficulty of the courses you took. It’s okay to take a few easy courses here and there, but it’s going to go a long way to getting you into a good college and qualifying you for scholarships if you take hard courses in high school that show what type of a student you really are. College isn’t as easy as high school, and admissions officers know this. They want to see that you’re already capable of succeeding in a college level academic environment. Do yourself a favor. Take AP classes while in high school. Take advanced level English, Science and Mathmatics courses that show you’ve got what it takes to succeed in college.

Get Help

High school can be challenging and frustrating–both academically and socially. If you’re struggling in school, take advantage of the many resources that your high school provides. Most schools will provide students access to free tutors that can help you with difficult subjects, counselors that will assist you as you prepare for college, and administrators that are there to ensure a safe and fulfilling experience for all students. Never hesitate to sit down and meet with your teachers, academic adviors, and/or administrators. They’re there to make sure you succeed.


One of the areas where most high school students struggle is reading. When you arrive at college, you’ll be expected to read at a college level. This means reading quickly, understanding what you’ve read, remembering key messages from the text, and being able to respond to questions and develop analysis based on what you’ve read. We highly recommend that outside of your regular school work, you take some time each day (a half hour) to read. Read fun books. Read hard books. Read books and material that challenges you and helps to improve your reading comprehension. Not only will be better prepared for the rigors of college, you’ll also be better prepared for the standardized tests you must pass to get into college.

Don’t Delay

One of the worst habits to develop in high school is that of procrastination. Procrastination makes it difficult to succeed in high school and impossible to succeed in college. Learn early not to procrastinate. This is especially relevant when it comes to taking all the necessary standardized tests required for college admission. It’s not uncommon for high school student to put off taking their ACT or SAT test until it’s almost too late. If you wait until the last moment to take standardized tests you’ll (1) be stuck with whatever score(s) you receive and (2) may end up delaying the admissions decision at the colleges you want to attend. Prepare ahead of time and take your standardized tests sooner rather than later. This will provide you the opportunity to retake the tests (which many high schools and colleges allow) and you’ll make sure that your college applications are completed and submitted in a timely manner.

We also recommend thinking about the standardized tests you’ll be taking as you sign up for your high school courses. Underwater basket weaving is fun, but its not likely to improve your SAT score or get you into a good college. Take classes covering the major subjects in the standardized tests you’ll be taking (e.g., math, science, reading, etc.)

Get the College-Bound Facts

Even though some college applications have been standardized, not all colleges are the same. You should approach the college application process as if you’re were applying for a job. Make sure you know everything about the college you’re applying to. Spend some time conducting research to better acquaint yourself with the admissions process and college life in general. You can learn more about college from the internet, college alumni, or counselors at your local college. Getting to know each college you’re applying to will help you put your best food forward.

Involve Your Family

Be sure to involve close family members as you prepare to attend college. Regardless of whether they went to college or not, they can support you as you begin this new journey.

Look for a Mentor

As you begin your college journey, seek mentors to answer your questions and lend support when needed. If you need information about a particular major, take some time to meet with somebody that has expertise in the subject.

Confront Personal Roadblocks

Do not hesitate to seek assistance if you are struggling with any problems after you have begun college. Speak with the necessary people to help you or seek additional services provided by the college.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. There’s not substitute for hard work. Learn how to study and work hard before you enter college because you will have to work very hard to complete your degree. One of the biggest difference between successful college students and those that struggle is their work ethic. Student who know how to apply themselves, have strong work ethics, and can postpone immediate gratifaction for future gain (i.e, homework first party after) will have a huge advantage over other students.

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