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How to Plan for College in High School

Navigating high school AND planning for college at the same time can be tricky.

There’s lots to consider and it can be really hard to figure it out all on your own.  

There are some things it’s just, well, pretty essential to understand when you want to make sure you are…

  1. academically prepared for college and

  2. setting yourself up to be ready to take advantage of many options.

So I’d like to give you a hand with that.

Here are some of the top questions that I get from families about preparing for college while still in high school.

1. What matters most for getting into college?

The process definitely has subjectivity in it, but there are certain things that are almost always going to carry most weight with college acceptances.  These are:

  • The rigor of high school courses 

  • GPA in grades 9-12 (first semester of 12th grade if you are applying in the regular cycle, but just through 11th grade if you are applying in one of the early application options. 

  • SAT or ACT scores (unless the college is “test-optional” - though in most cases even test optional colleges care about test scores)

  • Well-written, authentic essays

  • Strong teacher recommendations (from teachers math, science, language arts, social studies, or foreign language classes)

  • Stuff students do outside of the classroom (sports, theater, science clubs and other school-based extracurricular activities, community service, work, hobbies).

And of course, it depends on the selectivity of the college. More selective colleges are going to want to see more rigor in the curriculum. Rigor means Advanced Placement (AP) courses, International Baccalaurette (IB) courses, and/or honors courses.

Speaking of selectivity….


2. How selective are most colleges?

This varies... wildly.

But first, a “selective” college is a college that accepts a fairly small percent of the students who apply. The lower the percentage, the more selective the school is.

Stanford is a super selective college -- in 2017 they accepted just 4% of applicants.

On the opposite end are schools like Evergreen State College (in WA state) - in 2017 they accepted  98% of students who applied.

A small group of highly selective schools admits less than a third of applicants.

But most colleges admit most of their applicants.... over 50%.  That means that your chances at the vast majority of colleges may actually be quite promising.

The average acceptance rate for all four-year colleges in the U.S. is about 66 percent (according to a 2017 report from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling).


3. How do colleges view algebra and biology (and/or other high school level courses) taken in the 8th grade.

Most high schools will put 8th grade core classes on their transcript. Check with your high school to see if they do. If they don't, the student can explain and list her grades in the "additional info" section of their college application.


4. Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA. And, do they recalculate the GPA?   

Different schools will look at GPA differently, there is not a set standard. Generally, however, colleges DO recalculate. This means they take away all non-academic courses (such as PE, music, art) and use just the academic solids to calculate your GPA.

Colleges also tend to strip away the weighting that's been given to AP and/or honors courses so that they can compare apples to apples (since not all high schools weight grades). You will need to talk to specific colleges (those you are interested in) to see how they handle weighted grades. 


5.  Are colleges more interested in kids who do one thing well, or kids who do lots of different things? 

What matters to colleges is that the student’s interests are genuine.

Enrolling in every activity under the sun as a way to “look good “ to colleges is a game that can be pretty evident to admissions officers reading applications… and it’s not highly regarded!

Does your student have to be “passionate” about their hobbies? No. Most 17 year olds have not found their "passion".

It’s fine to be involved in many activities; that’s usually how we learn what we truly enjoy. 

However, admissions officers might like to see that a student has had sustained involvement in at least one activity.  This shows commitment and, when a student stays with something for awhile, they usually grow from the involvement. 

It doesn't matter what activities the student pursues and the activities don’t have to be school-based.

If your kid bakes and decorate cakes for a hobby and can show that, can show how he's done that consistently over time, and express why this is a joy, or is meaningful, how it contributes to his life or that of others… that counts!


6. My student has a very average GPA; does he have a chance of getting into a 4-year college?

Yes!  There are hundreds of wonderful colleges across the country.  And, as mentioned above, most of them accept a fairly high percentage of applicants.

Colleges take many factors into account when determining admissions, including grades, the rigor of the classes taken, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, recommendations, and essays.

Getting Bs won't prevent students from being accepted at  excellent  schools. 

Of course, the better the grades, the more college options a student will have.


... if your student is still in the early years of high school you will definitely want to encourage him to make the next few years strong (and know that an upward trend in grades is impressive to colleges).

That means taking  the most challenging courses he can handle, being sure to take five academic solids each semester (math, science, English, social studies, and foreign language).

Keep in mind that the stronger the student's academic profile, the more likely she will be to qualify for financial aid (both merit and need based aid).  

There will be great college opportunities for B students… but don’t coast!  

Students should work hard not "for colleges" but because it’s good for them.


Keep these tips in mind and you'll be better prepared to make high school a solid stepping stone on your way to college success!


If you'd like help with college admissions, consider joining my online program that walks you through every single step in the process. 

Roadmap to College Admissions Online Program

Happy planning! ~ Faith 



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