Ahead of the Game: Preparing Yourself for the College Admissions Process


“So this is it,” you think as you walk through the crowded hallways on your first day of high school, “this is where I’ll spend the next four years making some of the most important decisions of my life and determining the rest of my future career. My whole life lies within the palms of these classrooms” Ok, maybe not. You'll probably be stumbling through the halls filled with tall, intimidating upperclassmen while struggling to find your next class within the unfamiliar campus. Your mind will be too occupied with the pressure of being the little fish in this giant ocean of sharks and dolphins. College and your career will probably be the last things on your mind as a high school underclassman, but as time progresses, you'll realize that time flies faster than lightning, and your future is much more imminent than you think. Here’s how you can grasp and shape your future before time does it for you.

It’s Never Too Early

So many high school underclassmen, including myself, make the mistake of believing that “it's too early to be worrying about the future.” I mean you barely just got to high school… you still have plenty of time, right? Well, yes, you have 3-4 whole years, in fact. But like I said before, time will fly, and if you leave the idea of preparing for college on the back burner for the first couple years, you might find yourself lost and struggling to make rash decisions as upperclassmen. You don't have to know exactly what career path you'll want to follow right away, and you don't have to have your list of top ten dream colleges on your first day of freshman year either; these things you'll figure out within your time in high school. You just have to be mindful of what you are building for yourself as you continue your academic journey. The smallest things will make the biggest differences in the long run when it comes to college preparation.


Freshman Year: Getting Involved

As a freshman, something that will doubtlessly help you determine what you want to do with your future is getting involved with school. Whether you are involved in athletics, clubs, student council, or community service, participating in these kinds of groups will give you an idea of the things you like and don't like. Don't be afraid to try things that are unfamiliar or new; freshman year is the perfect time to test different waters. This way, you'll discover activities that you love and will be able to pursue those passions in your remaining years of high school, and possibly decide your intended career path through these experiences. However, you should remember to not put too much on your plate and wisely choose activities that you think you'll enjoy. It's better to be completely involved and passionate about a few things than to be slightly involved in an abundance of activities. The great thing about exploring different things in freshman year is that you'll have plenty of wiggle room to change your mind in later years. Being involved in extracurricular activities can also help you build lots of new friendships, which is a great way to get more comfortable with high school. Extracurricular activities are an essential part of college applications, so starting them right away will definitely be beneficial to your application process in the future.

Sophomore Year: Taking Initiative

Sophomore year is definitely one of the most exciting and relaxing years of the high school experience. You've adjusted well enough to the aspects of high school, you're finally comfortable with your atmosphere, and plenty of new opportunities that weren't offered to you as a freshman will be provided to you. Though it may not seem like it, you have lots of control over your future within this school year. You're not yet an upperclassman but you're no longer a freshman, so it's the perfect time to fix any mistakes you made last year, and set yourself on the right track for the upcoming years. If you didn't do so well with grades in your freshman year, now would be a good time to step up your game, and put a little more effort into studying. Sophomore year is also a perfect time to begin the college search. Yes, it may seem a little early, but like I said previously, the smallest things will make the biggest differences. Doing a little research on potential schools won't hurt you. You should start by thinking about the kinds of schools that you would have a good chance of getting into based on your current transcript (GPA, classes), extracurricular activities and potential career path. Though you may not have that much information, and these things can always change as you continue high school, it's good to have a general idea of where you could possibly end up. You should then look for schools that you want to go to or “reach schools”. These are schools that exceed your current grades but you still would love to attend and have a small chance at getting into. The thing about looking into reach schools as a sophomore is that you still have chances of improving your academic performance in your junior and senior years and raising your average GPA. This way, you'll have more motivation to progressively do better in school.

Starting on the Right Track

As an underclassman, especially freshmen, you may not worry too much about getting a 4.0 GPA right away since it's only your first year and you'll have plenty of room to grow. This is exactly right, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try your best to get the grades that you want. You'll later realize that freshman year is the easiest year, so take advantage of this and excel in all of your classes. Since your transcript is the most important element of college applications, it’s better to start off on the right track than to realize too late that you could've done better. But of course, if you don't do so well, you still have plenty of years ahead of you to make up for it. Colleges like to see that your GPA moves in an upward trend as you get older; they like to see that you're progressively getting better and consistently trying to do your best.

Point out Your Flaws and Fix Them

The first two years of high school can be a sort of trial and error experience. You might have difficulties determining who you are and what you want to do with yourself at first, which is perfectly fine because that's exactly what the whole high school experience is all about. But once you start junior year things will get so much more legitimate and serious, so it's important that you consider lots of things before you become an upperclassman. The summer after every school year, you should make a list of things you succeeded in as well as a list of things you wish you could've done better in. You could then have an idea of the things that you want to continue next year, things you want to improve on, and things you want to try next year. Doing this will really help you prepare for every new school year and will keep you ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way. As said before, improvement is something that college admissions officers pay close attention to.


Building a Relationship with Your Counselor

You may not know it as an underclassman, but your guidance counselor is one of the best resources for the college search and college admission processes. Discussing these things with them at an early stage will be nothing but beneficial to you. You should go to them with any questions or concerns that you have about college or your future in general and frequently update them with any information that you come upon while doing research (such as an interest in particular schools or career paths). Keeping in touch with your counselor can also be beneficial to your application itself as they can possibly be writing you a recommendation letter in a couple of years.

Being Aware

The main aspect of being prepared for the college admission process before it comes to you is to simply be aware of the whole situation. Being mindful that your future is a lot closer than you think will definitely prepare you for the challenges that are to come to you in the long run.


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College Search Websites You Need to Be Using


If you are a high school student in any grade, you most likely have been asked about college.  For example, ‘Where do you want to go?’and ‘What do you want to do?’.  Presumably, unless you are a senior in your second semester, you do not know the answers to these questions.  Luckily, these websites and apps are here to help.  Whether you are looking for colleges that match the criteria you want or majors that might interest you, at least one of these websites will have what you are looking for. Not only is it important to find what you want in a specific college, but it is important to get your name out to colleges.  Signing up with these websites will put you out there, and colleges that are interested in you can get into contact with you, making it easier to have an idea on where to apply senior year.

I started signing up for websites like these ones the summer before my freshman year of high school.  That way, when I wanted and needed to start looking into colleges, I already had a basic account set up with all my information.  Because I signed up for websites, I started receiving letters and emails from colleges that were already interested in me, before I had even started high school!  I highly recommend all of these websites, as they are great ways to fuel your college search.

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Big Future (bigfuture.collegeboard.com)

CollegeBoard is the owner of the Big Future website as well as the SAT, PSAT, and AP tests and classes.  Big Future has a college search engine where you put in factors that you want in a college, for example: size, location, majors, selectivity, and diversity.  It goes through all the schools in it’s database and picks out the ones that match what you want.  After you search, you can then pick specific schools to look more in-depth in.  Big Future provides average GPA, average test scores, what the campus life is like, average cost, deadlines you need to know, and more.  Big Future also provides inside looks into different careers and majors, planning tools to help you get on the right track for colleges, and has information about financial aid and affording college.

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Cappex (cappex.com)

Cappex is a great way to connect with colleges.  Colleges can send you messages through this site and if you state that you are interested in a specific school, Cappex will connect your profile with that school.  Cappex is interesting because you can see your chances of getting into a certain school.  Cappex provides statistics for average test scores, an admissions scattergram, campus life, your fit at that school based on criteria you enter into your profile, and tuition and costs.  Cappex also has a quiz you take to see what majors or careers are right based on your personality and a tab where you can find scholarships.

College Raptor

College Raptor (collegeraptor.com)

College Raptor also has a college search engine. You put in information such as GPA, test scores, financial information, and intended major and it matches you to schools that have what you want.  It also provides if the school is a reach, target, or safety school.  (Safety: a school you will probably get into for sure, target: you have about a fifty percent chance of getting in, and reach: it is a stretch to get in, but it might happen.)  This site gives you an approximate percentage of the chance you have getting into a school and you can add schools you are interested in to your college list.  College Raptor also provides statistics for each school and has a blog page and a YouTube channel.


Niche (colleges.niche.com)

Niche (formerly collegeprowler) has many great factors including a feature called “Chance Me”.  Chance Me basically allows other students to look at you GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and basic information to determine how good of a chance you have of getting into a certain college.  Niche also ranks the colleges with scores ranging from A+ to F.  You can find scholarships you are interested in and compare colleges side by side with their compare tool.  They also give you recommendations of colleges you might be interested based on your profile and schools you have already added and connect you with the colleges you are interested in.

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Raise.me (raise.me)

Raise.me can also be a considered a college search engine, but is actually a scholarship website.  This website gives micro-scholarships for simple things you have completed in high school, such as getting an A in a class, scoring well on the ACT/SAT, participating in an extracurricular activity, volunteering, and participating in a college event.  If you choose to go to a school that participates with Raise.me, they add the scholarships into your financial aid package.  Not every college participates, but many are being added every day.  (One school has given me $45,030, which is $11,258 per year!


Schoold (get the app at schoold.co)

Schoold is an app that can also aid you in your college search.  It is not very in-depth, but if someone mentions a college, you can quickly look it up and learn some information about the school.  If you add them on Snapchat, they give snapchat tours of different colleges and give away scholarships.  You can also find careers, majors, and scholarships right on the app and Schoold gives you an approximate percentage of your chance of getting into different schools.

It is important to take the college admissions predictions from these websites with a grain of salt. Do not let yourself be discouraged if a website tells you that you do not have a good chance of admission at one of your dream Universities. It is important to still apply and see what happens, you never know.