What You Should Be Doing Each Year in High School to Have a Successful College Admissions Experience


Growing up, I used to watch a lot of TV. Even though the heat didn’t work in my basement and the room gave me shivers that went to the balls of my feet, a show or two was always on my daily agenda. With age, the shows I was interested in shifted from wanting to watch the PBS Kids nightly specials to recording every Disney Channel and Nickelodeon original movie that was ever mentioned on a commercial. I was one of those that can still sing both the Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2 soundtracks by heart. Still can, actually, and still with no shame. With my introduction to Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows, my different visions of the high school life became brightened like Christmas lights, and I was becoming more than excited to go. While I knew I would never be acting at (the fake) Hollywood Arts High School or living on a Cruise Ship, I wanted to know how I could make my years of high school as productive and entertaining as possible within a more traditional high school experience.

Because of the lack of older siblings or other family to help give me advice, I turned to YouTube. At the time, I had already learned a lot through the site, like that cats can do absolutely anything and oranges are extremely annoying when they talk. However, when I tried to do research on how my four years had to go in order to have a competitive college application, I was only able to salvage a few genuine responses, as 95% of the knowledge I gained from the videos were identical advice regurgitated with different wording, advice as common and bland as a saltine cracker. With the help of some exceptions, including YouTubers (Katherout, Annemarie Chase, and Joi Wade), I was inspired to try some things for myself, and found what worked and when I needed to start things.  I worked for you to avoid the mistakes that I’ve made during high school, and a good timeline to follow to prepare yourself for the college admissions process.

Freshman year


Academically, freshman year of high school is an adjustment period. Some people, like myself, find the adjustment easy, and others find it more difficult. However, it is a year that goes on your transcript so it’s important to start the year focused and stay focused throughout the year.

Extracurricular Activities:

Get overly involved in activities. If you have any slight interest, sign up to get alerts and go to the first couple of meetings. It’s easier to join some activities then quit them after freshman year, if you don’t like them, than to try to join clubs, sports, etc. as an upperclassman.


This should be an area you are least concerned with. Because most of you won’t have the math skills or have built up the English language skills that are crucial to the ACT/SAT. Don’t do more than the practice tests your school may require you to take.


  1. One of the best ways of getting through the stresses of high school and the college admission process is having friends or a community that will support you through both your successes and failures. Freshman year is a great time to establish your “crew” that will be there for you. While these people may not stay with you throughout your entire high school journey, at least having a past connection is a great support mechanism to make the high school experience both fun and rewarding.
  2. Set both short and long-term goals for yourself academically, within your extra-curricular activities and socially. These goals can range from making the varsity lacrosse team, to getting a 3.8 unweighted GPA, to getting into your state school. Writing these goals down and keeping them somewhere where you’ll read them often can help you maintain your focus throughout the school year.

Sophomore Year


Keep grinding. Stay focused. If you slipped into bad habits freshman year or were not happy with your academic performance, don’t dwell on those mistakes. Use them as motivation and a learning experience for this year and going forward.


By the summer, talk to your parents/guardians and determine how you’ll be preparing for your standardized tests (the ACT/SAT), whether that’s with prep courses, private tutors, or self-studying, in order to get ahead of your peers. If you think prep courses or private tutoring are paths you’ll need to go on, it may be a good thing to pursue during the summer as you have more free time to do the practice.

Extracurricular Activities:

By sophomore year, continue to search for the extracurricular activities you really enjoy. There is no shame in quitting or joining activities this year. If you want to have the possibility to gain leadership in one of these activities, make sure to attend as many of the events/practices/meetings for the activity, in order to show dedication to the advisor or coach.


If you’re interested in doing some more unique things during college, like playing a sport, joining an ROTC program (which you can read about here http://www.goarmy.com/rotc.html) or studying the performing arts, talk to your guidance counselor and see what sort of preparations you’ll have to do before-hand. The last thing you want is to find out when you’re applying that these programs aren’t available to you because you waited too long.

Junior Year  

Junior year is the year you’ve got to get your head in the game. This is the most looked at year by admissions committees on a college application, so you need to.

If this year is getting too stressful, make short-term goals. Sometimes it’s easier to look at getting through a stressful week than a well-known stressful week.


  1. For those of you who decide to apply to colleges at the early deadlines in November, the end of this year is the last impression colleges will have of you when you apply, so you need to push yourself academically. Try to do the absolute best that you can academically.
  2. Since you most likely got all of your graduation requirements done with, this is a year to establish a schedule in areas of interest. For example, if you want to be pre-med, it would be beneficial to double up on science classes, to show your dedication to your major to your colleges of choice.


Try to get all of your testing out of the way as early into junior year as possible. Start doing prep and taking actual exams by December to give an adequate amount of time to improve your score. If you believe you are going to be applying to a college that requires or recommends SAT subject tests, make sure to plan for those as well.

Extracurricular Activities:

  1. If by this point you have found a few activities that you really enjoy, try to dedicate a bunch of time to them. If you love playing the trumpet, you can play in a myriad of bands, mentor beginner trumpet players, and go to intensives in the summer to help you improve your craft. This sort of strategy allows you not only for tremendous improvement in what you do, but shows colleges your dedication to the activities you involve yourself with.
  2. Look into possibly pursuing leadership in the things that you’ve been involved in. No matter how much you doubt yourself about getting a leadership position, just do it. While one of your volleyball teammates with an ego bigger than the Pacific thought they were guaranteed being captain BS’ their speech and is basically not going to be considered, you’ll wish that you had written a speech yourself.


  1. If affordable, try to visit some of the colleges that you are interested in. If the visit list is still limited, maybe take a week and go to a couple of concentrated areas with lots of colleges, such as Boston or LA, because there are a variety of different colleges that you can visit in order to get a feel for the type of environment that you would like in a particular college.
  2. Stay sane and socialize. Go to a couple of football games. Go to Homecoming, prom, girls ask guys dance. Go to a party, even if you have a lot of homework due on Monday. It will keep your mind clear and sane. You’d be surprised by how much screaming the lyrics of your favorite song can take you out of the stresses of the world and into a happy place.

Senior Year


  1. If you end up applying to any regular decision deadlines, you will have one-two marking period grades that will be sent to colleges. Just like junior year, it’s another time to impress colleges and show another strong academic record.
  2. Remember that even after a college accepts you, they can take back their acceptance if your academic performance is not where they would like it to be, so try to stay focused enough where you can achieve grades of a level that is near your highest performance in high school.


If your standardized testing is not already completed, work on getting it completed in the September and October dates.

Extracurricular Activities:

Enjoy being on your sports teams, orchestras, and unique clubs while you can. If you aren’t interested in pursuing these at a collegiate level, this year will be the last that you’ll be able to experience them. Make that last year count.


  1. Make sure to dedicate time nightly for your college applications. You don’t want to fall behind on these and not have them at the quality that you like.
  2. Visit the colleges that you got accepted to if possible, to help make your final decision of where you’ll be attending college easier.
  3. Have fun! Treat yourself for the hard work put in you put in the past 3 ½ years.



How to Create the Perfect Kick-Butt Resume


There I was, sitting in my first college class. The teacher had just given us our first big assignment….to create a resume. As a dual enrollment student, I was struck. What exactly is a 17-year-old supposed to write about on their resume? I knew this assignment was very important. After all, a resume is a key to success. You use it for jobs, internships, scholarships, and college. But many teens like myself may have little to no work experience. Creating a resume doesn’t have to be difficult, though. With careful reviewing and processing, anyone can come up with a resume that’ll leave future admission officers and employers in awe.

Personal Information

Begin your resume by providing your background information. Don’t, however, provide your race, social security number, or age. All resumes should include your contact information. This should include your first and last name, your email, and a phone number you can be reached at. Be sure to make sure that this information is as current as possible because you never know when someone may call to offer a position or admission!


Next, you need to include your highest level of education. List where you attend or have attended school and when you graduated. If you are still in high school, put down your anticipated graduation year. If you are a dual enrollment student, be sure to put the name of the college you are currently taking classes at. Your GPA and class rank may also be included next to your school’s name if it is appropriate. You should also list any awards or recognition you may have received. This can include Regional Science fair awards, academic honor roll, art competition awards etc.



Now this is the important part! Listing the activities you do outside of the classroom gives others a view of you as a person (test scores only tell so much). It gives future employers and admission committees a glimpse of your interests and passions. You may want to begin by listing the activities that you have gained valuable skills and experience from that are school related. When writing these experiences on your resume, be sure to spell out the names of clubs or societies like National Honor Society. Even though you know it as N.H.S., others may not know what it stands for. Also, include a brief description of the club if it is unique. For example, you may need to describe what clubs like Key Club are. It is also important to include any leadership roles you have taken on. Taking a leadership position is a great way to show others that you are capable of having many responsibilities. When you are describing what your responsibilities are, avoid using “I “or “me”. Instead, use action words like “organized” or “cooperated”. Having a commitment to a certain activity also shows colleges what type of person you would be on their campus.



One of the most important parts of your resume is your work experience. As usual, having more experience makes you look more favorable to whoever is looking at your resume. However, as teens, we may have less than stellar experience. But that’s normal for people just entering young adulthood, and colleges and employers will know that. So don’t worry if you don’t have much to put in this area of your resume because that’s where your involvement in extracurricular activities will benefit you!

If you do happen to have work experience, that’s great! Work experience can mean anything where you put your skills to work. Specifically, on a part-time job, at an internship or through volunteer work. Keep in mind that even a simple after-school job can leave you with a positive effect on future employers and admission officers. It shows your maturity and ability to handle responsibility. You also get bonus points from admission officers when your part-time job or internship relates to your intended area of study.

Even though it may seem as if you won’t need a resume until you are out of college and looking for work, that’s not the case. Many colleges are recommending students to send in resumes along with their application for review. So if you use these tips, you’ll be well on your way to getting accepted or landing a job!



The Juggling Act: Advice On Selecting High School Courses


Deciding on what classes to take in high school can be a daunting and intimidating process. It seems like any wrong choice can come back and haunt you when it comes time for college applications. Truth is, there's no secret formula into getting into college. Not even a perfect score on the SAT or a GPA or a 4.0 GPA can guarantee admittance to the nation’s top schools.

So, if even being in the top 1% of test takers can't guarantee you admittance to Harvard and Stanford, then what are college admission officers looking for?

Here's some advice on how to take classes that interest and challenge you, while still being a competitive applicant in the eyes of an admission officer.


What Does The Holistic Approach Mean Anyways?

Your high school transcript is one of the most important parts of your application, but let's not forget, it's not the only thing admission officers take into consideration when deciding whether you’re a right fit for their college. They look at everything from test scores, extracurriculars, grades, teacher recommendations, GPA, class percentile, essays, extenuating circumstances and many other factors when deciding to admit or reject students.

According to College Board, you should aim to take:

  • 4 years of English
  • 4 years of Math
  • 3 years of a lab Science (4 for the most competitive colleges)
  • 2+ years of Social science/ History (4 for the most competitive colleges)
  • 2+ years of a Foreign language (4 for the most competitive colleges)

Keep in mind that these requirements are the bare minimum for high school, but depending on the specific colleges you intend to apply to, they may change. Regardless, even if you're not sure where you want to go to college, you should strive to take the most classes in each core subject if you can.

If you're not sure if you're on track toward your goals, it's a great idea to visit your guidance counselor to help map out your high school plan. This can help you meet your high school and college requirements and also see if you need to take any prerequisites for certain classes.

So What Classes Do Colleges Like?

Colleges want to see you taking the most rigorous course load within the context of your high school. So whether if you go to an inner city high school that only provides 3 AP courses with no IB (International Baccalaureate) program or a top-notch private school with 15+ AP classes and strong IB program, colleges will focus on what resources were available to you and if you took advantage of them or not.

For example, Yale's admission Q&A page stresses how much they take context into account, when they view your high school transcript: “We know you did not design your school’s curriculum... Different schools have different requirements that may restrict what courses you can take. Again, we only expect that you will excel in the opportunities to which you have access.”

You should be spending your time in high school challenging yourself more and more each year with an increasingly load of honors and AP classes. Each year you should try to push yourself a little farther in the context of your abilities, keeping in mind your extracurriculars and time availability.

Better Grades VS Harder Classes

When it comes down to taking better grades or harder classes, harder classes should always win. Colleges can tell when you're not pushing yourself if on your transcript all they see are standard classes. The best advice I can give you (from personal experience) is that it looks way better to push yourself and take an honors class and get a B or an AP and receive a C, than a standard class and receive an A. Why? It shows that you're taking initiative and not afraid of a challenge, it also shows that you love to learn for the sake of learning and that's something you want colleges to notice about you.

When it comes to the number of AP classes you should take, think QUALITY over QUANTITY. There is no magic number of AP’s you should take during your high school career. YOU have to decide what YOU can handle. Remember, every high school is different, as is every applicant, so they will access your rigor based on the context of your high school, community and circumstances.

What If Your School Lacks Rigorous Classes?

If your school lacks rigorous courses, try to look into a dual enrollment program at your nearest community college. Classes and books usually are free, but check with your guidance counselor to make sure. Another option is to take online classes during the school year or summer classes during vacation.

If you’re given the opportunity to explain your circumstances on the application, TAKE IT. Communicate to your colleges that you came from a low-performing high school and explain the lack of course selections and programs available, to explain any holes in your application. Believe it or not, college admission officers play close attention to details like these it’s part of the holistic process.

Choosing Electives

You should take classes that interest you and not what you think colleges want to see you take. If you enjoy math or a foreign language, take the most classes you can in that subject. The reason for this is that admission officers want to see you begin to develop interests and passions, during high school because it gives them an idea of who the student/person is that they are admitting.

Your electives are a place on your transcript to demonstrate strengths and should show interest and passion. If you're taking challenging classes in your core subjects, then you can have more freedom when it comes to choosing your electives.

Whether you decide to take classes such as theatre, psychology, computer science and the visual arts, you should find what you enjoy, show commitment in that area and pursue that interest to the highest level of your ability.

What Extracurriculars Should I Take?

One of the best advice I've ever heard about the college admission process, went something along these lines:

“Colleges don’t want well-rounded students, they really want a well-rounded class of individual people, but in order to make that class they need people who are highly specialized in a certain field or area”

This is basically motivation for you to do what you love, whether it’s swimming, traveling, double-dutch, coding or parkour. You should pursue whatever it is that makes you happy. Remember, there might be 30,000 applicants, but no one has your experiences and insights.  It’s your job (and to your benefit) to show the admissions committee how unique you are and why they need you on their campus.

There's no guarantees when applying to college, because each university is looking for different types of people who they believe will thrive at their school and bring something special to campus. But if you try your best and be true to yourself and who you are when you apply, it’ll make all the difference and your authenticity and talent will shine through in your applications.