The path to college readiness: Start early, finish strong

Planning for and applying to college takes time. Countless hours of research, writing, and test preparation all contribute to successful applications. But, if you are starting this process junior or senior year of high school, you may have already missed opportunities to strengthen your application. For best results, it’s wise to start planning for college during the first year of highschool, or even as early as middle school.

In middle school students begin to have opportunities to choose classes and participate in extracurricular activities that can continue through high school. For students serious about getting into a good college, middle school provides the opportunity to get on the right track. Middle school students should choose challenging courses by taking advanced math and enrolling in honors programs. For example, students serious about college should take Algebra I before starting high school. Enrolling in a magnet school also helps, since they provide the proper environment to find niche interests. They should also work hard to keep their grades up. Middle school transcripts will not be included in college applications, but grades in middle school classes can determine which courses are available to students in their first year of high school. The earlier you start planning and preparing for college, the more doors will open up along the way.

In the transition from middle school to high school it is important to sustain the practice of extracurriculars such as sports, affinity clubs, and service organizations. College admissions officers appreciate evidence of long-term commitment and demonstrated passions, so discovering interests early can offer an advantage. Even if middle school activities don’t stick, the experience will help students determine what they may want to do for extracurricular activities in high school. To learn more about course options, college tracks, and available activities, families can reach out to their school counselors for information specific to a given middle or high school. Counselors should be able to provide an overview of available courses and help students work out a pathway to graduation that includes competitive courses for college readiness.

Now in highschool, balance becomes the name of the game. While holistic students often represent the ideal admissions people are looking for, a pro tip on extracurriculars is that these should always be in service of education. Extracurricular activity must be a space for you to make connections with what you’re learning in school and enhance the kinds of questions, issues, and skills necessary to excel. If extracurriculars and school work each need to battle for your time, then something has to be tweaked to get the formula right. Both should work to gel together hobbies, passions, and academics.

At this point, mostly around sophomore year, trying to establish good polyrhythmic routines among all your interests is basically all you can do. Taking challenging courses and maintaining high grades is crucial. High school students should seek out honors courses, AP courses, enroll in IB programs, and language courses if offered. Then, beginning with the summer from that year to your junior year, students must train for standardized tests and start to research the kinds of institutions they wish to apply to and that suit their academic track record the best. This includes identifying counselors and professionals in the education industry that may offer consultation and advice throughout the process. They will help to organize your portfolio and articulate your background for an admissions audience. Ultimately, the lesson is to think ahead and reach out to those in the community of educators for assistance during this phase.


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