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Preparing for College: A Roadmap to Your High School Career

By Christopher R. Rand
Director, tutoring center in Richmond, VA. We offer SAT/ACT prep courses along with tutoring in various subjects ranging K-12

So you're a high school student. You have attended class, you have performed well in the eyes of your peers and teachers, and you are reasonably confident that you are college bound; at least, that's what you've been told is what is supposed to happen after you graduate. But contrary to what your friends or even your parents might say, going to college isn't something that simply happens to you. Gaining admission to the school of your choosing is a privilege, and no privilege comes without a good amount of persistence, strong decision making ability and effort in both your academics and elsewhere. Don't let college simply happen to you. Choosing the school that fits your own personal tastes is a decision that will affect the rest of your life, and the work involved in gaining that privilege begins well before the last semester of your senior year. Welcome to your high school career; a career that ends with your successful admission into not just any college, but your college.

The key to realizing your college potential lies in understanding that academic and extracurricular prowess is accumulative: while colleges will not look at grades from 8th grade and below, earning high marks early on will yield higher placement during your final years in high school. 8th graders should begin joining extracurricular clubs such as student government and volunteer organizations. Begin documenting this activity. Your efforts will serve as a means to "sell yourself" when entering high school, yielding more responsibilities that will look good to college admissions boards. Academically, high placement in math courses and mastery of narrative, descriptive, expository and persuasive writing techniques are key. Higher placement early on will make you eligible for advanced courses in your later years.

While many students believe that freshman year "doesn't count" when it comes to college admission, 9th graders should keep in mind that grades from the early years will still factor into their overall GPA. Furthermore, slacking during the first 2 semesters of high school can prevent students from taking more challenging, more impressive courses later. In math, freshmen taking geometry with competency in Algebra I have a greater chance of rising to the upper tier of their class. Freshmen should start reading books from the College Board's "101 Great Books" list, whether or not they are assigned. Continuing volunteer work and extracurricular activities and continuing to document this progress is essential. Be sure to choose organizations in which you can maximize your responsibility; fewer groups with greater responsibility are better than ostensibly joining a large number of groups with little or no participation.

The truly competitive universities will begin assessing your eligibility by looking at your academic performance during your sophomore year. College-bound 10th grade students must realize that high placement during junior and senior year depend on their performance as a 10th grader; in a sense, 10th grade is your "last chance" to raise the bar. Continue taking challenging coursework and documenting extracurricular activity. By now you have hopefully found your niche in the organizations of your choosing; continue to excel in your efforts there. Additionally, sophomores should take the PSAT in October and address any areas of weakness immediately. After your academic performance, colleges look at your SAT scores, and it's never too early to begin preparing. 10th grade is also the time to begin talking to a counselor at your school about identifying possible career paths, as well as colleges that will allow you to cultivate your own particular skills and interests.

You've probably already heard that junior year is the "hardest" year of high school. But instead of becoming frustrated, look at your junior year as an outstanding opportunity to show the admissions boards what you're truly made of! It's true that junior year is demanding: college-bound 11th grade students should begin taking honors and AP courses, get ready for college admission tests and essays, continue to excel in academics and extracurricular activities, prepare for AP exams in the late spring, and amidst all of this find a date to Homecoming and Junior Prom. Just remember that nothing looks better to an admissions board than succeeding under pressure. Continue reading from the "101 Great Books List." These books will be a useful supplement during the application process to boost your favorability. By the summer after your junior year, you should already have a few colleges in mind and be well on your way to admittance. Start thinking about SAT and ACT test preparation, and which test is best for you. Taking both is never a bad idea, but each test addresses different skills-the SAT favors logic and reasoning, while the ACT favors knowledge and application-and knowing where you stand is always a benefit. Take a prep-course for the tests you intend to take, especially if you are not satisfied with any previous scores. Identify the requirements for the colleges you selected and take note of your deadlines. Get a general idea of how you would like to go about beginning the application process. Also, begin touring the colleges of your choice. While location may be secondary to the rank of your selected colleges, it's always good to like where you live; at the very least it can affect your academic performance! By the time summer is over, you should have already completed your SAT/ACT testing and begun the application process; early as it may seem, you'll be grateful when your peers are struggling to meet deadlines they ignored until the winter of their senior year.

While many graduates look back on 12th grade as a period of blissful inactivity, there is still a great deal of work to be done in the fall that will hold sway over your successful acceptance into the college of your choice. Having completed all SAT/ACT testing, it is now time to begin what many consider the triage of the application process. Three degrees of colleges should be established: "dream" schools, "probable" schools, and "fallback" schools. Certainly, everyone wants to go to the school of his or her dreams, but having a few good chances will at the very least relieve some unneeded stress. In the unlikely event that a student is not accepted into any of his or her "probable" schools, having a few fallbacks lined up can be a lifesaver. Assessing which school belongs to which category begins with taking note of how competitive the school is in comparison to others, how well your own strengths fit the most prominent fields of study within the school, and whether or not the school is in the state you live in. Successfully send in your applications along with any required documents on time and you've done it! Enjoy your spring break and the rest of your senior year, and, most importantly, enjoy watching those letters of acceptance start arriving in your mailbox. You've got four years of fun and discovery ahead of you, and, if you keep putting in the effort, the promise of a successful career in the field of your choosing afterwards. Keep up your studies, have fun, and most importantly, never stop learning.

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