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Timeline: Making high school count

What should I be doing to get ready for applying to college?

This article discusses those activities you can pursue to make the most of your high school experience in preparation for college.  
This timeline-view gives you a guideline as to when in your high school career each activity is particularly relevant. Activities with a single checkmark (for instance, under winter of 10th grade year) are generally one-time or short-term endeavors. Activities with multiple checkmarks (for instance, every summer from 9th through 12th grade) represent ongoing commitments.


High school classesTiming
Take college-prep courses: take challenging courses in high school (Honors, AP, IB, HS/college dual enrollment), focusing on the core academics: English, Math, Science, History, World Languages. Rigorous courses that go beyond the minimum graduation requirements will make you a more impressive applicant and can even earn you college credit while in high school!Fall through Spring 9-12th
Focus on your grades: your high school transcript is one of the most important parts of your college application, and good grades will distinguish you from many other applicants.Fall through spring 9-12th
If possible, meet regularly with your guidance counselor: Get to know your guidance counselor early in your high school career to talk about your plans for high school classes, college, and career.Fall through spring 9-12th
Extracurricular and leadership activitiesTiming
Explore several extracurricular activities: freshman year is a great time to try several different extracurricular activities to see which ones are most interesting to you.Fall through spring 9th
Commit to a few extracurriculars: decide on a small number of extracurriculars that you like, dedicating more time to fewer activities in order to become deeply involved.Fall through spring 10-12th
Find a summer volunteer opportunity, job, or internship: summer is a great time to earn extra money for college while exploring different career fields.Summer 10-12th
Standardized testsTiming
Take the PSAT: take the PSAT as a junior to practice for the SAT and qualify for National Merit Scholarship program.Fall 11th
Prepare for the SAT and/or ACT: begin preparing for the SAT and/or ACT at the start of junior year. Expect to take the test of your choice 2-3 times. To choose which test is best for you, take a full timed practice test of each—then, compare the results!Fall through summer 11th, and fall 12th
Take the SAT and/or ACT: take the SAT/ACT for the first time winter of junior year. Plan to retake the test in the spring of junior year or fall of senior year. If you are worried about the cost of the test, ask your guidance counselor for a fee waiver!Winter and spring 11th, and fall 12th
Take SAT Subject tests: SAT Subject tests, which are required for some colleges, are best taken in December or May - immediately after taking the relevant class and while the material is still fresh in your mind.Winter and spring 11th, and winter 12th
Take AP exams: AP exams, which provide an opportunity to earn college credit, are offered each year in May.Spring 11-12th

Want to join the conversation?

  • duskpin tree style avatar for user Nikky Okpamen
    I'm about to enter 7th grade and I don't know why I'm so worried about college.
    Is it true that whatever I do in 8th grade will highly effect high school?
    (28 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user MadiGhor
      It depends on placement tests and similar stuff. I had to take placement tests to determine my placement in my classes like math and English. It depends on your school mostly and however their system is. It's okay to be worried about college, just be prepared because high school counts! :)
      (17 votes)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Chad
    My son is a Junior this year. He Maintains an unweighted GPA of around 3.5. However of 8 possible classes each year he takes 5-6 honors or AP classes. Which is more important, a higher GPA, or taking the tougher classes and perhaps not maintaining a GPA that's as high as other students with whom he's competing for college spots and scholarship money?
    (9 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Andrea
      The GPA is important, but that's not to say that the admissions staff do not look at and consider the level of difficulty. It is important to show a level of commitment to education and learning, more than a commitment to getting good grades. If your son can do well in the AP classes, and shows his work ethic in that regard, I think that is more important than his grades as compared to his peers taking the easier classes. While colleges look at your GPA and potentially your class rank to evaluate your worthiness, there are a LOT of other factors that go into their decision-making process. I found this video from Amherst College (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-OLlJUXwKU) very informative in terms of the process
      (24 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jenna
    I am in 11th grade, and although I perform fairly well in school (I have a grade point average of 4.0-4.25 from previous years) I am really worried about the SATS because I have testing anxiety. I am also worried that I am not taking enough rigorous classes, because I am in 11th grade and I am only taking my first AP class (AP Chemistry and Lab). Our school offers others as well, but only one other I could possibly take this year in addition to classes needed for graduation requirements. I am so confused as well as to how "deeply" is defined when describing dedication to extracurriculars. Ugh the junior year frustration is real.
    (10 votes)
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  • leafers seedling style avatar for user Ivan Gautama
    To be honest, the more I dig deeper into this course the more frightened I am at the prospects of getting into College. I was homeschooled since I'm around the ninth grade, up until now, and I'm not really sure of my capabilities in competing with students coming from public schools, both my mental maturity and my 'prestige'. Of course, several vids do comfort me a little, but I am still concerned.
    (7 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Emerald Queen
      I have been homeschooled since 2nd grade (I'm in 11th now) and in talking with many public/private school students, I have found that I am at the same or above their level. It really depends on the classes you take and their rigor. You will probably do well. Just have confidence in yourself!
      (14 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Curtis Lee
    On the chart it says for freshmen to explore as many activities as possible. I, being a freshman, am nearly done with this school year and have only joined two extracurricular activities. My question is, during my soft-more year, would it be better to commit to the two extracurricular activities that I currently have or should I do what I should've done during my freshman year and explore as many extracurricular activities as possible (or maybe do that now since I still have a quarter of my freshman year left)?
    (6 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Jon Frank
      Completely agree with AnnietheBear (and love that name!) The reason activities are important in college admissions is because it shows the colleges who you are and what you love! No one wants you to join 100 clubs just to join 100 clubs. You should be joining activities that you enjoy doing, and once you find those, you should absolutely stick with them throughout high school. As you go through sophomore and junior and senior year, you'll have the opportunity to get MORE engaged, to take on leadership roles, to have an impact, and to progress. And THAT is what colleges want to see!

      Here is some helpful information about WHY extracurriculars are important and how best to get involved: http://admissionado.com/college/tuesday-qa-do-i-need-extracurriculars/

      At the end of the day, if you love the stuff you're involved with already... stick with it! And continue to find opportunities to get MORE involved and MORE engaged. But if you're not feeling those, then sit back and think about what you love/care about, and then find ways to get involved in things that tie to your passions. Not only will you get to spend high school doing things that you love, but you'll also be benefitting your future college applications. And that's the best way to do it :)
      (10 votes)
  • duskpin tree style avatar for user giuliareyes
    Im really worried about college, next year, I'll be entering High School, and I don't even know what to study for; if I want to be a lawyer, if I want to be a seismologist, if I want to be an architect… What do I do?
    (4 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user kendra
      Hey! First, don't stress yourself out by worrying about college! You still have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do with your life. This isn't to say that you shouldn't start thinking about it, though, the sooner you start considering possible careers, the better. But at this point in your life, it isn't a do or die decision. When you think about possible careers, ask yourself three questions:
      1.) What do I enjoy doing?
      2.) What am I good at?
      3.) What can I see myself doing for the rest of my life?
      Once you have answered these questions, the list of possible careers won't be super long! After you have answered these questions, see what kind of careers would suit you.
      Do you like math and science and helping people? A medical career might be right for you!
      Do you enjoy history and reading? Maybe you should look into law or politics.
      Is there one subject that you absolutely love, and you enjoy being around kids? Maybe you should consider teaching.
      Do you enjoy being around people and helping them? Maybe you should look into counseling.
      Do you love working outdoors or with animals? You could research being a zoologist or marine biologist.
      These are just a couple of ideas. Let me know if you need anymore help!
      BTW, you could also take a career test! There are a ton out there, but I would recommend the Sokanu career test. It is pretty long, but worthwhile! I've attached the link below for you.
      (12 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user CC
    What's the benefit of attending an all women-college compared to a coed college?
    (6 votes)
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  • starky tree style avatar for user Rylie
    Under the section titled "High School Classes" this timeline talks about how you want to get good grades. I'm home schooled (a 9th grader), and don't get grades in the same way as those who attend traditional school. How would this work with applying for college?
    (8 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user sujit.mahapatra2010
    As a middle-schooler(I am in 7th grade as of this message), What can I do to prepare for college
    (2 votes)
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  • hopper happy style avatar for user MIKA
    Im about enetr 6th grade, and i want tobe worried about college but i dont exactly know what i even want to be when i get older. Should i be worried about this?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user grahambgriffin
      If you're in 6th grade, worry less about most of the future. If you should be considering anything, you should try and find out what you enjoy doing and, by extent, what careers you would enjoy. Of course, there's no need to be set in stone about what you want to do in 6th grade either.
      (9 votes)