In the same way that middle school and junior high are the preparatory stages for high school, students must realize that high school is the time to plan for college. Senior year is too late; junior year is too late. Students should begin planning for college beginning in the ninth grade: freshman year.
Things aren’t as bad as they seem, however. The reason students should look four years ahead when they are freshmen is the simple fact that universities and colleges begin caring with a student’s ninth grade performance. They don’t ask for transcripts with senior years only, because they want to know all four years of high school. So, to prepare for college, students should think like colleges think: they should prepare in the ninth grade.
How can students plan for college? If they get started early, it’s very simple. Students must take challenging, yet diverse courses. If Advanced Placement is available, they should pursue a track that will net them at least one AP course (and, of course, for students with higher ambitions, they should look at many more; having a senior schedule with all AP classes is very impressive on applications). Students, however, should not be pressured into taking merely academic classes: colleges now look for well-rounded students. A student who is involved in music or theater, therefore, is still on the right track. Many colleges, furthermore, require (or at least, strongly recommend) students to take two years of a foreign language.
Of course, all of these things don’t have to happen in school! Extracurricular activities are vital to the college process, and because colleges look back as far as freshman year, students should get involved in clubs that interest them as early as this. Extracurricular activities, beyond distinguishing applicants, are excellent sources of awards, scholarships, or even essay topics: all things that will be necessary in the preparation for college.
When a student plans this early, however, he should also document his activities. Students should learn how to create academic resumes with their GPA, ACT and SAT score information, core academic courses, electives, and any awards that they receive. Starting early is not a requirement, but if students wait, they may find that they can’t remember everything they did several years ago.
With these tips, college applications (and raising money for college) should be a snap. Seniors who have been diligent in their preparations over the years won’t have to sweat over the application process in the fall, so they can continue doing their best at school.