Before College: Four Meaningful High School Years

Starting on day one, your actions have an impact on your chances of getting into the best colleges.

Here at Admissionado, we get asked a LOT of questions about timing.

  • “When should I start applying?”
  • “When should I start looking at schools?”
  • “When should I start thinking about college?”

Sensing a theme here? People want to be prepared for what’s coming. Whenever you’re starting a new part of your life – high school, college, a new career – you want to have a plan. Why? So you don’t make any big mistakes and blow the whole thing.

So, what makes high school so special? Well, because it’s the FIRST step. When you’re in elementary school or junior high, of course you want to do well and have a great academic record, but it doesn’t REALLY matter until you start high school. From Day 1, your actions will have an impact on your chances at getting into the best colleges out there, so it’s time to get serious.

Now for the plan. Let’s have a look at this year by year so that you know what it takes to crush your high school career and build that solid foundation for the future:

FRESHMAN YEAR

If you haven’t been serious about your grades yet, NOW is the time to start studying. If you come into your first year a great student, chances are you’ve placed in advanced placement classes, which already gets your application track off to an awesome start.

So, what should you do? Start taking challenging classes. If you have a choice between a regular level class that you’ll ace or an advanced class in which you might only get a B, take the advanced class. This is also the time to start looking into activities that excite you – clubs and sports that you can really commit to over time. This isn’t just about filling in some profile that’ll look good to a college, this is about becoming a well-rounded person, which benefits both you AND your prospective college.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

You’re a year in, now it’s time to set your balance. Your first year you were feeling out the challenges, now you’re growing to manage them. Don’t overwhelm yourself with overly difficult or time-consuming classes or activities, as you’ll burn out quickly. At the same time, don’t make things too easy on yourself, otherwise you won’t be prepared for the challenges ahead. It’s about equilibrium, dude.

This is also where you’re going to learn the value of quality over quantity. What’s that mean? Well, it means being getting more involved in a few clubs instead of showing up twice a year to 15 clubs. It also means that you’ll start looking into taking more responsibilities in those activities – maybe become a leader? Academically, quality means building relationships with your teachers and starting to look into colleges. Talk to alumni at different schools, start looking into standardized test prep, and (if you’re not a native English speaker) start working on your conversational English. That said, it’s WAY too early to start applying. Hold your horses, buckaroo.

JUNIOR YEAR

Believe it or not, THIS is your most important year of high school. This is the year that college adcoms look at most closely, not only to see that you’ve been steadily improving and growing over the years, but because this is when you’re going to start taking AP classes and potentially accruing that ever-so-precious college credit before setting foot on a university campus. That’s right, folks, that means taking the AP tests, NOT just taking AP classes. This is also when you’re going to be taking your standardized tests, so don’t procrastinate on it.

This is the time in your high school career that you’ll be cementing those teacher-student relationships with two or three of your closest teachers. These are the folks you’ll be looking to for LORs, so remember – quality over quantity. This is also the time you’ll start figuring out where you’ll be applying. Find the right balance of places to apply, and aim high. You want to attend the best school you can get into. Start developing your essay topics and your writing skills to maximize your chances of crushing the app essays.

SENIOR YEAR

Wait, before we start talking about senior year, let’s talk about the summer before senior year. This is the time for you to do something meaningful, both personally and globally. Take your talents and your passions and apply them to joining a summer academic program, a sports/activities camp, a volunteer organization, or even an international trip. Make it special and meaningful, because it will help you grow into the kind of person that will succeed in college. Whatever you do, DON’T slack and sit on your butt for the summer. DO something.

Now, for your last year of high school, don’t loosen up just because your junior year was the “important one.” Finish strong and aim high; your first semester grades will be going along with your college apps, so don’t let them slip. If you need to retake any of those standardized tests, now’s the time. You’ve been maturing for over three years, now it’s time to apply that to your school choices. Decide where you’re going to apply and do it right. Set up checklists and make sure you do everything you have to do complete those college applications. You’re not a kid anymore, so step up and go for it.

School Profiles: UIUC