high school student holding books

How to Start Thinking About College as a High School Freshman

At some point soon, if it hasn’t happened already, someone is going to ask you about college: “Where do you want to go to school? What do you want to major in?”

Hopefully that someone is a teacher or a high school counselor and not your older cousin over Thanksgiving dinner (although, full disclosure: we are 100 percent that cousin). However, when these questions come your way, take comfort in knowing you have plenty of time to figure things out.

I repeat: You have plenty of time to figure things out. You’re just a freshman!

That being said, if you are ready to start thinking about college now, we can help. Our best advice? Start thinking about you! The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to make those big decisions later on.

Here are three suggestions to get you started:


high school students studying a robotic arm

1. Really explore your interests.

Why do people go to college? Because they want to become knowledgeable enough about a particular subject area to make a career out of it. So finding a major you care about is key.

Think about the classes you’re taking and the activities you’re involved in (or those you want to be involved in). What gets you excited? What sparks your curiosity? College majors are vast and varied, so chances are any interests you have can easily be translated into a major.

Once you’ve determined your interests, consume them with gusto through classes, extracurriculars, camps, volunteer work, jobs, and more. All of this exploration will help you better discover the opportunities that come along with your interests and whether you can see yourself pursuing those opportunities as a career.

An added bonus? College admissions counselors like to see you have experiences related to the major you choose on your application, so you’ll have that going for you later on, too.


friends smiling with each other in a discussion section

2. Start thinking about what’s important to you.

There are around 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. That number is certainly intimidating if you aren’t sure how to go about narrowing them down.

Again, your goal right now should be to get to know yourself better and the kind of college experience you’re looking for. With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I looking to get out of my college experience (a strong education, social opportunities, a good support system and resources, career preparation, etc.)?
  • What do I care about most when it comes to a college experience?
  • What don’t I care about when it comes to a college experience?
  • Would I rather attend a big school, a small school, or something in between?
  • Am I looking for a city environment, a college town, or a small-town setting?
  • Do I want to stay close to home or venture farther away?
  • Does beginning at a community college make sense for me?
  • What role will financial aid play in my college decision process?

Recognizing your priorities when it comes to college can take some time, so don’t worry if you can’t answer all of these questions right now. Just having them in the back of your mind as you begin to look at those college emails inundating your inbox is a helpful start.


students talking with a counselor

3. Make sure you’re doing everything you can now to succeed later.

Last but not least, set your later self up for success. This is an important one, but no more soul-searching is required.

Start by meeting with your high school counselor. Talk to them about your interests and goals. Your counselor can be an amazing advocate as you work toward college, but in order to best advise you, they need to get to know you.

Your counselor can also help you make sure you’re taking the right kinds of courses. Many colleges, including Illinois, require you take certain classes in high school, and they like to see that you’re challenging yourself.

Finally, work hard to make good grades, even as a freshman. Although much more goes into reviewing an application than just GPA, many colleges do look at your entire high school transcript. Bottom line, it’s always worth trying your best!


Hopefully these suggestions have not only proven helpful but also reassured you that this is your time to explore. The next time someone asks you about college, remember “I’m just a freshman” is a perfectly acceptable response.

Illinois Admissions

Illinois Admissions

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