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Getting a Jump on the Competition: First Steps for High School Freshmen and Sophomores

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Even if you have just started high school, it’s not too early to be looking forward to the next step. Thinking about college can be overwhelming, though, especially when you’re just beginning to wrap your mind around it. What do you do? Where do you start? Here are a few concrete tips to get high school freshmen and sophomores headed in the right direction:

Read about college and universities. Starting with the information on StateUniversity.com, educate yourself about several schools that appeal to you. Of course it’s interesting to learn about dorm life, social activities, athletics, and the menu in the dining hall, but you should also read the pages for the academic departments, including descriptions of classes and requirements for majors. You don’t have to pick a major for years, but the more information you have and the more time you give yourself to consider it, the better choice you will eventually make.

Visit colleges and universities in your area. They don’t necessarily have to be the ones you think you’ll be interested in applying to—but visiting a variety of schools, going on tours, and talking with some of the students there will help you form an idea of what you want and why you want it. If you can go on to write about your interests in an application form when you’re a senior, so much the better.

Talk it up! Where did your parents go to school, and why? How about your teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends’ parents? Have conversations with a variety of adults about their colleges and what they did (and didn’t) like about them. They will almost certainly give you ideas to consider that might not otherwise come up.

Make yourself distinctive. It’s normal to focus on the aspects of development that you know a school will look at: grades, advanced level classes, test scores, athletics, and extracurricular activities. The truth is, however, is that if you do well in these areas you still face stiff competition from the large number of other students who excel in school. Admissions departments look for students who stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to explore unique niches—if you’re interested in the biology of plants responding to climate change, African literature, or something else that your friends think is “weird”, follow that interest as far as it can take you! If you can find an internship in your unique area, so much the better.

Choose challenging high school classes. It can be tempting to take easy classes for a guaranteed “A”, and of course you want to keep an eye on your grade point average. But college prep classes are exactly that: they prepare you for college level work. Most schools would rather see an applicant who pushes him or herself with a good (if less-than-perfect) result then someone who always plays it safe.

Get involved in your community. Schools want to accept students who will go on to become graduates they will be proud to claim. Demonstrating early involvement in making the lives of others better will do exactly that. If you can demonstrate maturity and initiative by organizing a project without adult help, it will be guaranteed to catch the interest of admissions departments.

As you can see, there are lots of steps you can take to put yourself on the road to a successful college career, even in your early teens. So go ahead… jump in!

Follow @stateu on Twitter for more helpful college prep advice!


Elisabeth Bailey+

Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

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