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Preparing for College: Your Ultimate Guide

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Last Updated on April 25, 2024 by Miranda Zavala
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Written By Miranda Zavala  |  College, High School  |  0 Comments | April 25, 2024

I want to tell you a secret: preparing for college doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, with the right mindset and a solid plan, you can totally rock this whole college prep thing.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “But there’s so much to do! How am I supposed to keep track of it all?” 

Don’t worry, we’re going to break it down into bite-sized pieces you can tackle one piece at a time. 

Table Of Contents:

Preparing for College During High School

The college application process is getting more competitive by the day. If you’re a high school student with your sights set on a top school, it’s never too early to start preparing for college. 

Your freshman year is the perfect time to lay the groundwork for academic success and explore your interests. Here are some key steps to take: Freshman year, your primary focus should be on academic success. 

Work with your school counselors to create a four-year academic plan. If your school offers AP or IB classes, consider taking them to earn college credit.

Develop Good Study Habits

College courses are more rigorous than high school classes. To prepare, start developing good study habits now. Create a dedicated study space and schedule regular study time. 

Developing these skills now will make the transition to college much smoother. Colleges look for well-rounded students who pursue their passions outside the classroom. Join a club, play a sport, or volunteer in your community.

Not only will this make you a stronger college applicant, but you’ll also develop valuable leadership and teamwork skills.

Start Your College Resume

Create a college resume that includes your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and any awards or honors you’ve received. Update your resume regularly throughout high school. This will make it much easier to fill out college applications when the time comes.

Research Career Interests and College Majors

Use your freshman year to start exploring potential careers and college majors. Identify your strengths and interests with career assessments. 

Steps for High School Students Preparing for College

Your high school counselor is a valuable resource in the college application process. Schedule regular meetings to discuss your college plans and get advice on course selection, extracurricular activities, and standardized tests. Your counselor can also help you identify scholarships and other financial aid opportunities you can apply for.

Take the SAT or ACT

Most colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Take practice tests to familiarize yourself with the format and content. Many students take the SAT or ACT for the first time in their junior year.

Develop a Test Strategy

In addition to the SAT or ACT, you may need to take SAT Subject Tests or AP exams depending on your college choices. Develop a testing strategy with your school counselor. Determine which tests you need to take and create a study plan to prepare. 

Start researching colleges early to determine where you want to apply. Attend college fairs and visit campuses to get a feel for different schools

Consider factors like location, size, academic programs, campus culture, and cost. Create a balanced list of safety, match, and reach schools.

Completing College Applications

The college application process can be daunting, but starting early can help reduce stress. Create a spreadsheet to track application deadlines and requirements. 

Give yourself plenty of time to write essays and gather recommendation letters. Proofread your applications carefully before submitting them. Reach out to your school counselor or a trusted teacher if you need help.

Don’t Forget About Financial Aid

College is a major investment, but there are many resources available to help make it more affordable. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible to qualify for grants, loans, and work-study programs. You can explore scholarship opportunities by checking with your school, contacting local community organizations, and searching online scholarship databases even small awards can add up over time.

Exploring College Options and Making Informed Decisions

With so many college options available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Here are some tips for exploring your options and making informed decisions: Start by casting a wide net and researching many different colleges. 

Use online search tools like the College Board’s BigFuture or the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. 

Visit Campuses IRL or Virtually

Take a campus tour, sit in on a class, and talk to current students. If you can’t visit in person, many schools offer virtual tours and online information sessions. Take advantage of these resources to learn more about the schools on your list. 

When researching colleges, pay close attention to the academic programs and majors offered. Consider the curriculum, faculty, research opportunities, and career outcomes for each program. 

Consider College During High School

Some high schools offer dual enrollment programs that allow students to take college courses for credit. Talk to your school counselor about dual enrollment options in your area. Be sure to check with your prospective colleges to ensure they will accept the credits.

Utilize College Search Tools

There are lots of different online tools to help with your college search. Here are a few to check out:

  • College Board’s BigFuture: Provides college search tools, scholarship information, and application advice.
  • U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard: Offers data on college costs, graduation rates, and post-college earnings.
  • CollegeXpress: Features college rankings, lists, and search tools based on your interests and preferences.

Utilizing these resources can help you make informed decisions about where to apply and enroll.

Key Takeaway: 

Start preparing for college early in high school to stand out. Focus on academics, develop study habits, get involved in activities, and build a resume. Explore careers and majors, meet with counselors, ace standardized tests, maintain a strong GPA, and research colleges thoroughly. 

Developing Life Skills

College is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. That’s why developing key life skills in high school is so important. Get to know your teachers and counselors, they can write recommendation letters, connect you with resources, and be a valuable support system. 

I remember my high school English teacher, Mrs. Flores. She saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. 

She encouraged me to do well in the class and helped me by writing me a recommendation letter. Those relationships matter. She became a memorable part of my junior and senior year of high school. 

Having a Productive Summer

Take a summer class at a local college, volunteer, get a part-time job, or do an internship in a field you’re interested in. These experiences will help you grow, learn new skills, and boost your college applications. 

Student Hires connects students to valuable job opportunities that will help them get their foot in the door. The summer before my senior year, I got to help with student hires and their summer program for kids. Their summer programs offer a variety of employment opportunities and enriching STEAM activities for the kids. 

Building Your Life Skills

In college, you’ll juggle classes, studying, extracurriculars, and a social life. It’s a lot to balance, so start honing your time management skills now. 

Use a planner, make to-do lists, and prioritize your tasks. Learning to manage your time will make the transition to college much smoother.

Understanding the College Application Process

The college application process can seem daunting, but breaking it down into steps makes it manageable. Here’s what you need to know and do.

File the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your key to financial aid. Fill it out as early as possible in your senior year. 

The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. Many colleges also use it to award their own aid. Don’t assume you won’t qualify – fill it out no matter what. 

Most colleges require either the SAT or ACT as part of the application. Start preparing early. 

Applying for Various Scholarships

Scholarships are free money for college. Start searching and applying for them early and often. There are scholarships for everything from academics to athletics to community service. 

Don’t limit yourself – small amounts can add up. I applied for every scholarship I could find, from the big national ones to small local ones. Missing one can mean missing out on your chance to attend your dream school. 

Make a list of the deadlines for each college you’re applying to and give yourself plenty of time to complete the applications. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Gather Required Documents

For college applications you’ll typically need: – High school transcript – SAT/ACT scores – Letters of recommendation – Personal essay(s) – Application fee or fee waiver.

Start gathering these materials early so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Request transcripts and letters of recommendation well in advance.

Preparing for the Academic Rigor of College Courses

College classes are a big step up from high school in terms of difficulty and expectations. But you can start preparing now to hit the ground running. Many high schools offer dual enrollment programs that let you take college courses for credit. 

Focusing on Academics

Your high school academic record is the most important part of your college application. Colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself and succeeded in rigorous courses. 

Take honors and AP classes if available, and aim for the best grades you can. When you’re choosing high school classes, don’t just go for the easy A. 

Colleges would rather see a B in a challenging course than an A in a blow-off class. Choose courses that will prepare you for your intended college major. If you’re interested in engineering, for example, load up on math and science.

Developing Effective Study Habits

In college, you’ll be expected to do much more independent learning outside of class. Start developing good study habits now. 

Find a study method that works for you, whether that’s making flashcards, joining a study group, or teaching the material to someone else. 

I was always a crammer in high school, waiting until the last minute to study. That didn’t cut it in college. I had to learn to study a little bit each day, not just the night before the exam.

Key Takeaway: 

Start prepping for college early by building key life skills, bonding with mentors, and understanding the application process. Nail down time management and stay healthy to tackle academic challenges ahead. Dive into those FAFSA forms, scholarship hunts, and SAT prep without delay.


The key to preparing for college is to start early, stay organized, and not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

It’s okay if you hit a few bumps along the way. Eyes on the prize, always. March forward without looking back.

And if you ever feel like you’re in over your head, just remember: you’re not alone. You’ve got a whole toolbox at your disposal for nailing success, stretching from the guidance offered by high school counselors to the bustling hubs of advice found in online forums. So don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support you need.

At the end of the day, preparing for college is all about setting yourself up for success. And with a little bit of hard work and determination, I know you can do it. So what are you waiting for? 

Student Hires helps offer assistance to students alike helping prepare them with job experience, resume writing, or even just advice. 

Last Updated on April 25, 2024 by Miranda Zavala

About Miranda Zavala

Miranda Zavala is currently a student at California State University of San Bernardino earning her degree in Design with a concentration in marketing. Miranda enjoys inspiring students, and helping them find their passion just like her.

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