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College Prep for High-Schoolers: From Freshman to Senior

Written by: Patty H.

As you as you enter high school, the concept of college will appear in your life, and if you do go this path, there’s a lot to prepare for it. That’s why it’s important to start getting ready from day one in your first year as a freshman. Today, I’ll go over some tips on how to go down this path starting from this point until you reach your senior year.

Freshman (9th Grade)

To start with, think about the hobbies you do. What do you like to do in your spare time, and what do you devote a lot of time in? How much knowledge do you have, and are you willing to take this to a new level after high school? If so, are you willing to relocate? If you have something in mind, start to find colleges that offer said hobby as a major, minor, or even something like a double major. A major and minor are self-explanatory, but a double major is something in a new field. It requires about 5 years, while doing two majors at once. For this article, I will use music as a primary example. Let’s say a musician wants to major in both music AND computer science. That’s possible within many colleges and universities, so it’s good to keep this in mind. Attend college fairs that have your “hobbies” as majors, minors, double majors, etc.
Make a list of colleges, universities, conservatories, and other places to study any “hobbies” you want to study beyond high school. The earlier the better. You can group them into three categories to sort your
list: Safety, Realistic, and Reach. Safety schools are schools that you are confident that you’ll get into. They may be lower than your expectations, but do not underestimate them. They may have some tight competition. Realistic schools are those that feel appropriate to your needs, in the academic and merit standards. You will develop skills in the best way in these schools, and they would be more appropriate than a safety school. It would put you out of your comfort zone, but that is something you might want to get used to. Reach schools are typically a long shot, but are possible. These schools are as competitive as sports games, and consider yourself lucky if you get in. However, you will maybe/only be focusing on your major and nothing else in these schools. So, if you’re SUPER serious, consider a reach school. Of course, these terms are only categories, based on certain factors that will be explained later in this timeline.

Sophomore (10th Grade)

As you start to go through the years, you want to start getting more experience involving your major. Particularly, start thinking about how you will be involving it as you transition from high school to college. Also, keep a good eye on your college list. Sometimes, you might lose interest in a school or find a new one to put on your list. It’s ok to have it change at this stage, but enjoy it because it won’t be so easy at the end. At this point, it might be wise to start to visit your schools too. Even though it might be a junior-senior thing, again, the earlier the better. Either a virtual info-session or an in-person campus visit (wherever available) will benefit you greatly. Begin to gather further information on your schools, such as their credibility, the faculty, the diversity of the students, and the college’s social media outlooks. This may be something you want to do as a freshman, but the report should be more critical during sophomore year.
Like before, there’s more than just colleges. There are universities, community colleges, conservatories, trade or vocational schools, the works. What you choose depends on your choice of hobby, which should be called a career at this point, interest in the faculty, financial affordability (another thing to look into), location and size, and the curriculum options provided. If you already have a couple in mind, start to take them seriously and attend workshops, presentations, etc. that they provide and are up your career alley.

Junior (11th Grade)

Junior year is when things. Get. REAL. Taking SAT’s, ACT’s, and AP courses are always the advice given, but planning out your normal core classes is also important. Sometimes, you won’t need to take any more courses next year, depending on how many credits are required to graduate. Even though it’s Captain Obvious speaking here, keep an eye on your grades. At this point, doing so is EXTREMELY crucial. If they’ve improved, keep that streak up. If declined, consult with your teachers, counselors, and parents to find a way to boost them. When it comes to tests, you can submit your score next year in the application process. Some schools may want only the SAT or ACT scores, while other schools are test-optional. This means you don’t HAVE to submit your scores, but you can if you want. That would save the embarrassment of exposing a score you’re not proud of.
Meanwhile, here it’s time to think more about your major area of focus. Your passion for it, what the industry demands, and its competition. Competitiveness in the field, financial stability, job locations, and many more factors contribute to your overall choice. What will the application demands be for your graduation year? As your list develops, keep these questions in the back of your mind. While you’re at it,
go through the financial aspects of in-state and out-of-state schools and deduce whether its worth it to go to college in your home state.
If your major requires something more than applying your test scores, like the fine arts specifically, an audition or portfolio may be required. So, knowing some of the audition repertoire or portfolio requirements beforehand is CRUCIAL at this point. It’s best to be learning it in your sophomore year, but junior year is like polishing year: part one. It’ll also make memorization audition repertoire a LOT less hectic.
Overall, keep both sides of your life in good standing. It’s harder to make it to college if your high school prep fails or lacks focus and attention to these factors.

Senior (12th Grade)

Here we are: senior year. The big boy (and girl) year has arrived, and everything is on the line. Application deadlines, test score admissions… everything. Your list should be fortified at this point, so give a final visit to your schools. Tours, open houses, and self-guided visits all apply. If a letter of recommendation is required, compile a list of individuals to send a formal request to. Tell them what schools you will be applying to, and provide them with:
• Name of schools and upload links
• Notification that schools will send request forms
• Admissions Office deadline to receive the letters
• Stamp-addressed envelope with school address if hardcopy has to be sent in
Next, think about early admission. There are three types, with one rare one: Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, and Early Restrictive Action.
• Early Action is non-binding: you can apply to other schools to decide which one to commit
• Early Decision is binding: you HAVE to commit and can’t apply anywhere else
• Regular Decision: Self-explanatory, similar to getting into high schools
• Restrictive Early Action: Similar to Early Action, but you can only apply to other schools via Regular Decision
Early Action is the most recommended, but if you’re 100% sure about a certain place you want to go to, Early Decision can work. If you’re not sure about both, or if a place doesn’t offer Early Action, Regular Decision is the next choice. Restrictive Early Action, or REA, isn’t common, but it does exist so be prepared whenever it appears.
After a while of receiving your admission decisions, results for auditions, or other notifications, you may have found that you were accepted, waitlisted, or declined. Accepted and rejected are self-explanatory too, but being waitlisted is to be put on standby until someone already accepted decides not to attend the school. It’s like having a limit in a pool and waiting until someone leaves to go in.
Importantly, make sure to fill in your FASFA and CSS Profile (if needed). Schools will offer need-based and merit-based aid. Need-based will depend on your FASFA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and basically is what it sounds like. Merit-based aid mainly applies to something that would require an audition or portfolio, and merit aid depends on this aspect.
Then it comes to the big decision. How do you choose the school you want to go to? Well, here are some factors to keep in mind:
• Do you think you will be accustomed to the location the school is in?
• Is the financial aid satisfactory for you?
• Is there Any faculty you have good connections with?
• Where do you see yourself developing your career in?
If you have a (single) answer to all of these questions, or if you applied Early Decision to one college, you have your school! Whatever happens next is up to what goes on during your years at college.
Briefly, let’s talk about degrees. For the first time, you will go for a Bachelor’s Degree. This is an undergraduate study and lasts four years, just like high school. Next up is the Master’s Degree, aka the graduate study, and requires two years. Afterwards, there are degrees like the Doctorates, Artist Diplomas, etc. These are the highest degrees someone can earn, and are generally those that professors hold. But you can teach with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree too!


I hope this has given you an outlook on preparing for college life beginning from 9th grade and going until 12th. For seniors, this may have been like a checklist to see if you gotten everything in. For freshmen, this may have been notes to keep in mind as you go through high school. And for sophomores and juniors, this could be a progression log of choosing your colleges, obtaining your application materials, and polishing everything for the big year. Maybe this would make no sense to you as a middle schooler or elementary schooler. But trust me, as time goes by, this information would be something to remember.
So good luck, and always keep your head held high! Your dreams will be there for you!




February 22nd, 2021


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