The High School Freshman’s Guide to College Prep

Ryan Crawley Published on October 9, 2019

college prep

High school is supposed to be one of the best times of your life. As an incoming freshman, you may think you have four years of coasting to do while you make friends, go to parties, and find dates to the dances. But perhaps you should take high school a bit more seriously, if you have dreams of going to college.

In fact, you can almost think of high school as “pre-college,” because what you do during these next four years will greatly affect your college experience. After all, when you finally walk up on stage in your robe and hat to receive your high school diploma, you will have already laid all the important groundwork for college and beyond.

Here are the main things that high school freshman should be aware of as they start thinking about college prep.

Grades Matter from Here on Out

If you earned a poor grade in one of your classes in grade school, that is water under the bridge. College admissions offices will not go back and look at the grades you received in elementary school, middle school, or junior high. However, your high school grades will be another matter entirely!

Don’t think for a second that no one will notice that C you earned in Language Arts during your freshman year in high school. Being a freshman can be difficult as everything is brand new, and it can be easy to overlook your studies for a few weeks. But any slacking that you do during these next four years will be noted on the grades sent to your college of choice.

In fact, when I was a high school freshman, I did a bit too much coasting and received a few Cs on my report card. I thought I was safe because I earned all As during my last two years in high school. No such luck. My college of choice called me out for my poor grades from back when I was a freshman. They didn’t want to hear about how it was difficult moving to a new school district that year or how my father had to be hospitalized with health issues. They cared about the grades and the grades only. So keep your grades up, otherwise you may be forced to go to your second or third college choice, like I had to!

Colleges Like to See Your Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars are activities that you do outside of the academic curriculum in high school. These extracurriculars can be done through the high school or, if you are lucky, through your city or town that offers these programs to teenagers. And here is a little secret about extracurricular activities. College admission boards love to see them!

Whether it is music, band, mixed martial arts, theater, miming, glass blowing, auto mechanics, or painting, the powers-that-be want to see more than just good grades. They want to see what you are all about as a person. If you enjoy writing and have been published before, include it in your college application. If you like to get on stage now and then and do a bit of acting, make sure the college admissions board knows this.

These four years in high school give you an opportunity to explore activities that you may enjoy doing the rest of your life. Make sure you take advantage of this time!

Volunteer

There is nothing that says “You have been accepted to our college” more than when admissions officers read an application filled with volunteering experiences. Volunteers, through their actions alone, prove that they have a big heart, and other people admire them for it.

Go volunteer at the local animal shelter every week. Coach that basketball league at the local Boys and Girls Club. Serve food at the homeless shelter every chance you get. Not only is this all good for the soul, but you will better your chances of getting into your dream college.

Take Advanced Placement Courses When Offered

Usually advanced placement (AP) courses are only offered during junior and senior years, if the student has been performing well up to this point. These courses involve a bit more work than usual ones (sometimes), but it can pay off as frequently they are counted as college credit or as a double-weighted course.

If you are interested in preparing for college, these courses will give you an idea what is in store for you. Taking them also tells colleges that you are ready for an academic challenge.

Don’t Wait to Take the ACT/SAT Until the Last Moment

Your score on the standardized test, whether ACT or SAT, can play an important role in determining if you can get into your dream college. Most colleges appear to have a cut-off score, where anything less than that makes it tough to get accepted. Rather than wait until the last few months to take the test, you should try your hand at it much earlier.

In fact, you can take the test near the beginning of your junior year. You actually have a few opportunities to take the test, so if you don’t do so well the first or second time, perhaps the third time will be the good luck charm.

Only your best score will be recorded, so there's no harm if your score happens to go down instead of up. In any case, you don’t want to risk your acceptance into college because you waited until the last second to take the test.

Know the Career Field You Want to Enter

If you know for sure in high school the career field you want to spend your working years in, then prepare for it now. Take all the courses you can in this field during these next four years. If you don’t, there is a good chance you may just have to take similar classes in college. This would not be a good thing since in college you would have to spend serious time and money in taking it when you could have just knocked it off years earlier.

Remember: It’s High School!

Besides keeping all of this information in mind, don’t forget to have fun in the process. You only get to experience your high school years once, so enjoy them while they last. There may be some dark times during these years, as everyone will experience some sort of drama in high school, but in twenty years, nobody will remember it.

What you will remember is how you were able to prepare for college ahead of time, land that game-changing scholarship, raise a loving family, and have a wonderful and fulfilling career in your field of choice. High school is where it all begins!