Preparing for college in high school is a must, and your guidance counselors will back me up. After all, there’s a lot more that goes into your college application than the application form itself. Take any of the following, for example:
- Transcripts, which need to show four years of decent or improving grades and challenging coursework
- Standardized test scores, which you’ll only raise by studying and taking practice tests
- Personal essays, which require you to brainstorm, write, and revise
- A résumé, which must showcase your involvement in at least one extracurricular activity, job, or volunteer organization over an extended period of time
- Letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, or mentors—and you can’t build those relationships in a day
Do you see the pattern here? Nothing about your college application can be completed overnight. It’s not a challenge; it’s a fact. You need time to prepare your college application, but preparing for college in high school also comes with plenty of fringe benefits that your high school counselor might not even realize.
What I discovered, for example, was that preparing for college early meant that I could make decisions about my future with confidence. It all started with a book I found in my local bookstore when I was a sophomore in high school: The Princeton Review’s Complete Book of Colleges. Each page profiles a different North American college, and I loved imagining how I might fit in at every school I read about. When it came time to finalize the list of colleges to which I was applying—and ultimately choose the one I wanted to attend—I didn’t second-guess my decision-making. The planning paid off.
I asked other college grads to weigh in, too, so that you don’t have to rely on a lecture by your guidance counselor. Here’s why they think it’s important to prepare for college in high school:
You’ll have more time for fun.
“There’s a lot going on senior year, so if you start preparing for college early, you have the chance to savor those last few months of high school.” – Nathan N., 27
You’ll better understand yourself and your interests before you arrive on campus.
“Make decisions early, before starting college, and you won’t waste time and money in college trying to decide what you should do.” – Devin C., 30
"College is a great time to try new things, but exploring interests in depth in high school during the summer or through extracurriculars is a great way to hit the ground running and jump right into activities and classes that interest you." – Tom R., 27
You can lock down a mentor.
“If you take time after class to talk with teachers and administrators that challenge and inspire you, you will not only have better odds of receiving awesome letters of recommendation, you’ll also have the opportunity to develop mentoring relationships that can last into college and beyond.” – Megan R., 30
You’ll aim higher and have more time to achieve those goals.
“I took the SAT twice and got drastically different scores; I’m talking hundreds of points higher the second time. It made me rethink my college plan and where I was applying mid-application cycle because I now had a shot at higher caliber schools. I was scrambling a bit in December to finish up all of my submissions. I hate to suggest it, because no one loves taking standardized tests, but the earlier you take them, the more time you’ll have to improve and the more open your choice of schools will be.” – Megan C., 26
“Throughout high school I really buckled down and applied myself fully to my schoolwork. I made sure to take as many college credit courses as possible. This extra effort really set me ahead of a lot of other college freshmen, allowing me to focus more on the total college experience: building relationships, exploring new opportunities, and figuring out what my major should be.” - Sarah N., 28
You’ll learn to be more responsible.
“You should prepare in high school because [...] it’s the biggest lesson for the rest of your life. Preparation is the key to getting what you want out of an experience.” – Chris C., 27
You might come to realize that you want to pursue a different path altogether.
“Going to college is a great time to expand your horizons and to learn how to be a person for some people. And for others it’s a great time to [instead] go out and work, travel, or to do things that you wouldn’t have time to do otherwise. Thinking ahead is a good way to figure out which path is right for you..” – Ben C., 28