1. Talk to your high school counselor about your college goals.
Chances are that your counselor is one of your high school’s best-kept secrets. Even if it’s not required, talking to your counselor is a great way to start envisioning the path toward your ideal future. Know exactly what you want to do but aren’t sure how to get there? Talk to your counselor. No idea at all what you want to be when you grow up? A counselor can help here, too.
2. Take challenging classes that meet college admissions requirements.
Here’s the thing: Colleges are impressed when they can see you’re not afraid to challenge yourself and that you’re genuinely interested in learning. Taking high-level classes is one of the best ways to say, “Hey, I can handle a college workload!”
3. Get involved in extracurricular activities, taking on leadership roles when possible.
Is it sometimes tempting to get home from school, faceplant onto your bed, and watch Netflix until it’s time to sleep? Yes. Is that the best way to showcase your talents and stand out on a college application? Tragically, it is not. But getting involved in extracurricular activities can be just as fun and even more rewarding than bingeing a full season of Stranger Things. You’ll make friends, gain valuable experience, and impress the colleges you apply to, all at the same time. All extracurriculars are valuable, so pursue what interests you!
4. Explore your academic interests, looking for opportunities related to potential majors.
Now it’s time to identify your favorite subject in school and start researching what exciting careers your passion could lead to in the future. Whenever possible, talk to people in that field. Job shadow if you can! Ask lots of questions! If you put yourself out there, you might be surprised at what real-world opportunities and experience you can get before you’re even out of high school.
5. Start researching colleges.
Here’s a fun one: Now it’s time to find your dream schools. There are so many universities out there that no matter what you want—a big school, a small school, a school in your hometown, or a school across the world—there’s an option for you. Find schools that speak to you (and that offer majors you’re interested in), and take note of them.
6. Visit colleges you’re interested in.
Another fun one! Visiting colleges is one of the best ways to make sure a school is right for you. Take a tour, talk to current students, and learn what a university is all about. You’ll feel a lot more confident applying to schools if you’ve had a taste of what life there might be like and can picture yourself on campus.
7. Register, practice for, and take the ACT or SAT.
Okay, fun’s over. Time for standardized tests! But in all seriousness, standardized tests don’t need to be a big source of stress. There are dozens of resources, study guides, and practice tests out there to help you prepare. It also might interest you to know that many universities have gone test-optional, so you may not need to take that test at all. Make sure you double-check a university’s admissions requirements before you throw out your ACT practice book, though!
8. Talk to your family about your options and finalize your college list.
Run your college list past your family or friends and see what they think. Anything you overlooked? Are there any other options you might not have known about that would be a perfect fit for you? Getting a second opinion never hurts (and might help you make your best possible decision).
9. Fill out college admissions applications.
Filling out college applications can feel daunting, but look at it this way: You’re just letting these schools know how great you are, and who knows that better than you? It can be helpful to apply to a range of schools, including schools where you’re confident that you’ll be accepted, schools where you hope to get accepted, and schools that might deny you. Applying to a range like this is a good way to keep your options open.
10. Apply for financial aid by submitting the FAFSA.
More paperwork, but only a little, and it’s for a good cause: You! Filling out the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website will make you eligible for all kinds of financial aid, which can go a long way toward making college affordable.
11. Search and apply for local, state, and national scholarships.
FAFSA is an important first step, but you’re probably eligible for even more funding if you know where to look for it! Seek out scholarships that you might be eligible for, and you could get a significant discount on your college price tag. If you’re not sure where to start looking for scholarships, ask your high school or college admissions counselor!
12. Evaluate the colleges you’ve been admitted to and accept the offer of your choice!
Woohoo! You did it! You put in the work, and now you can officially begin your college experience. You’re going to love it!
- Talk to your high school counselor about your college goals.
- Take challenging classes that meet college admissions requirements.
- Get involved in extracurricular activities, taking on leadership roles when possible.
- Explore your academic interests, looking for opportunities related to potential majors.
- Start researching colleges.
- Visit colleges you’re interested in.
- Register, practice for, and take the ACT or SAT.
- Talk to your family about your options and finalize your college list.
- Fill out college admissions applications.
- Apply for financial aid by submitting the FAFSA.
- Search and apply for local, state, and national scholarships.
- Evaluate the colleges you’ve been admitted to and accept the offer of your choice!