How High School Students in Any Grade Can Plan for College

By Sylvan Learning

Test Prep

For parents, planning for college is a long and challenging process that starts earlier than you might think. A successful college application reflects the years of hard work that help make your child among the most desirable applicants possible. Whether your child is in the midst of application season or is still a freshman in high school, there are a number of steps you can take to lay the foundation for a strong application.

1. Have Your Teen Take the PSAT

One strong strategy is to have your teen take the PSAT as a high school freshman and sophomore. Most high schools offer PSAT testing, and if your teen achieves a great score, there is often opportunities for honor societies and scholarships. If not, it’s a practice test that helps your child get comfortable with the format, and can help identify areas of weakness, giving you a chance to look into test prep programs. The SAT score is one of the most important numbers in an application, and it pays to get started early.

It’s best for juniors to take the SAT in June. That way, if the score needs improvement there is plenty of opportunity for retesting. If you think your teen could use some extra help with preparing for the SAT, consider Sylvan’s proven test prep programs! Our tutors are the best at building confidence and raising scores.


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2. Think About Fit

No two colleges are the same. This is particularly true when it comes to academics and areas of strength. If your teen wants to be an engineer, or a specific type of engineer, that narrows your search criteria. If your child wants to study a particular segment of medieval European history, there may be only a handful of schools offering that specialization. Some students have very focused academic interests, which allows for a smaller, more targeted list of colleges.

3. Consider Extracurriculars

Depending on your teen’s specific strengths, these can round out an application or be the centerpiece. Colleges look at extracurriculars as a way to see what makes your child tick. Plus, if the school has a specific need (a starting position on a team, a seat with the band, etc.), your teen’s extra talents can make a big difference at admissions time. The important thing is to pick a few extracurriculars and stick with them. Schools want to see a few specific activities where students excel rather than a laundry list of clubs with minimal involvement.


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4. Be Unique

If colleges wanted to, they could fill their entire class with students who have 4.0 GPAs and perfect SAT scores. One reason they don’t is because that would not make for a well-rounded and diverse campus experience. Schools want a little bit of everything: athletes, musicians, writers, and yes, maybe a legacy or two. Figure out what makes your teen stand out from the crowd and make sure that talent is highlighted in the application. Someone who stands out is much more likely to receive a thick envelope in April.

Getting ready for college is a long process. Thankfully, with some planning and effort, your high school student will be ready to wow admissions officers when the time comes to apply!