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Told by High School Seniors, Leah C. & Leah S.

We know the college/university preparation journey can be stressful, but the earlier your teen begins, the less stress it can be!

We chatted with two seniors, who are well on their way to college acceptance and success, and asked them to share some of their real-world advice! Here are their words of wisdom to freshmen that they wish someone had told them when they started high school/secondary school.

What I wish someone told me about extra-curriculars …

As a freshman, I tried everything I could to figure out what I liked and what I was interested in the most that I could get the furthest with in the coming years.

It’s important to step out of your comfort zone freshman year and explore your interests because you do not have to be committed to anything yet! Go ahead and try theater club, nature enthusiasts and Spanish club. You’ll start to gravitate toward one of your choices, and that’s when you’ll know you’ve found something you WANT to be involved in the next three years.

By sophomore year, narrow your focus and continue with one or two of your interests.

Tip: I suggest picking a couple extra curriculars that you can stick with consistently, stay heavily involved with and most importantly, work toward a leadership position in the coming years!

What I wish someone told me about planning for classes later in high school/secondary school …

Even though it might feel like junior and senior year are EONS away—they’re not. The next couple of years are going to fly by, so it’s not too early to start thinking about your junior and senior year class schedule.

It’s important to make a plan freshman and sophomore year for what classes you want to take every year in high school/secondary school. Some classes may have prerequisites that you have to have before taking the class. So, you’ll want to make sure your schedule allows time for those prerequisites, so you don’t miss out. Planning to take AP classes is also important because you do not want to take too many in one year!

What I wish someone had told me about the college/university application process …

Look at the range of scores schools require and figure out if they’re SAT/ACT test optional. Check out the average acceptance rate of students with what you think your SAT/ACT score will be.

Want to take a practice test? Sylvan Learning allows you to take FREE full-timed tests! Find the Sylvan nearest you!

The Common App is also another great resource to start early. It’s one application done online that can be sent to multiple colleges/universities of your choice. Your guidance counselor might have some application examples as well. Knowing what’s on these forms early in high school/secondary school can help you understand what you need to do the coming years, what courses to take, how much importance to place on extra-curriculars, etc.

Tip: Do some research on the Common App website to figure out what you’ll need. You should only need to make an account when you’re ready to start filling out applications. We also learned what we needed from websites like Naviance or actual college/university websites!

What I wish someone had told me about researching colleges/universities …

Sign up for some of your ideal schools’ emails or blogs! They provide advice to help you along the college/university admissions journey. And, they’ll keep you in the know about what’s happening on campus, new majors and minors you might be interested in, what the school clubs are doing, how the sports teams are playing, etc. You’ll be able to get a feel for what the school’s culture is like!

Tip: Consider having a separate email that you use for college/university inquiries and applications versus using your primary email. Once you give out your email, you will get inundated with lots of follow-up content, and it can be daunting to sort through all the mail with your current school and personal emails. I liked this approach because it helped keep my inbox more organized and it also helped when I set aside time to focus on college planning to just check that inbox separately!

More tips: I did use my main email for my #1 and #2 priority schools so I could immediately get information from them. Schools do track your engagement with emails so they know what to send you next. You clicked on the article about the group of biology majors who went on a study abroad to Africa? Great! They’ll probably send you more information about their science department and study abroad opportunities. Tracking engagement is definitely important, and I don’t think a lot of high schoolers know that colleges/universities do this.

What I wish someone had told me about getting real-world (unfiltered) information about schools …

Understanding what kind of college/university is a good fit for you is really important! Aside from talking to your counselors and people you know, there are a lot of websites that offer quizzes to help you narrow down your focus and figure out what type you might be more suited for.

We all know a school’s website and social channel will only show the very best, but if you want the real story and information not directly from the school, we recommend you watch YouTube videos from students themselves to get the scoop on real campus life. We searched for “What do Georgia students do for fun?” or “What are the dorms like?” Kids post dorm tours. Also check out TikTok #college hashtags or Instagram tagged posts or places.

And, make sure to find out if there are any connections you have to get a real-world information. Family, friends, co-workers—see if your high school/secondary school has alumni and if they’ll give you a real-world tour that’s no-pressure!

(Stay tuned, they’ll have more tips for your sophomores and juniors, too!)

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