In the increasingly-competitive world of college admissions, it’s never too early to start preparing for college, especially if your student is set on attending a top school. Thinking about acceptance criteria earlier in high school gives students the opportunity to decide how they want to meet those criteria, but preparing for college is about more than that. A student’s academic and extracurricular choices help them to build the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed once they’re in school, as well as the independent living skills they’ll need when living on a college campus.

High school is a time to explore and discover, and the best way for students to prepare for college is to make the most of their high school experience. As you and your child look toward the future, consider these five recommendations.

5 Recommendations for Preparing for College Admissions

1. Choose the Right Courses

While the early years of high school can be dominated by basic academic requirements and prerequisites for advanced classes, students begin to have more choices as they advance. While it may be tempting to pack a student’s schedule with high-level classes, it’s important to take their authentic self into consideration! 

At its best, your student’s academic schedule is a form of personal enrichment as well as a tool for college preparation. Students should personalize their schedule to their interests; don’t just add AP classes just because they are available. The courses selected should be challenging, but make sure to consider how sustainable their schedule is. The goal is for students to excel as well as be challenged. Platforms like Coursera offer free courses that can help expose your student to subjects unavailable at their high school, which helps them to refine their major. 

2. Prioritize Extracurriculars

When choosing extracurricular activities, beware of spreading your student too thinly. Like curriculum choices, it may seem wise to cast a wide net. However, highly-selective colleges want a well-rounded class, not necessarily well-rounded students. That means that students should select one or two areas where they can make a contribution, not just to their own learning, but also to the broader community around them. Go deep in extracurriculars, not broad. This could look like launching a new school club or self-publishing a book on Amazon. 

Some colleges are asking for STEM supplements and research papers to better understand the capability of student work. For requirements and asks like this, it can be helpful to get a research opportunity, such as one through our Emerging Leader Program

3. Networking > touring

When students are considering a school and preparing for college admissions, a tour may seem like the logical first step, but a walking tour won’t give you an insider view. Instead, students should approach the college search process like an exercise in networking. Networking is a way to build bridges with others, and creating these relationships will allow your student to learn about the school’s culture before they apply, especially to their top-choice colleges. Examples of people to reach out to include professors, alumni, current administrators, and current college students. Members of the college’s community will provide more insight than any walking tour. 

4. Consider pre-college programs

While not a necessity, your student may benefit from a pre-college summer program. These programs are held at colleges and universities throughout the United States and overseas, and often focus on one area, like STEM, the performing and visual arts, or humanities like history, politics or writing. Pre-college programs give students a chance to experience life on a college campus, to live in a dorm, to check out a specific school and to learn some of the independence that will be required once they attend college. Some pre-college programs offer college credit and/or community service, and these programs can also provide helpful networking opportunities.

5. Make a standardized test plan

While 96% of colleges currently do not require test scores, ‘test-optional’ still means ‘test-preferred.’ Adopting a ‘test-optional’ policy is an easy way for a college to claim equitable admissions practices while maintaining the status quo, but test-takers still have a leg up when it comes to admissions. I recommend that all my clients take at the SAT or ACT. Due to the SAT’s variability in scoring over the years, I advise the ACT to most of my clients. As your student prepares for their test, build a schedule with deadlines using ChatGPT or other resources. 

College can seem very far away, but you’ll be shocked at how quickly the school years pass. Following these recommendations throughout your student’s high school years will make their college admissions process smoother, the transition to college easier, and their college experience more enjoyable.