US students should prepare for college early on in their high school, ideally in their Freshman year. Why so early? Well, if you want to be admitted to a highly selective school, you need to develop a strategy to be successful. You need to ensure that you are planning to take the right courses in all four years of your high school and that you have planned for including extra curricular activities, sports, music, community service work and internships to make you look strong amidst a pool of highly talented candidates. Good grades alone may not get you in!!
Make sure that you are planning to take or have taken the minimum required courses in English, Foreign language, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Remember, good colleges always want to see that you are taking difficult classes and not just coasting along. Make sure that you are taking upper level classes, including Advanced Placement classes, if they are offered in your high school.
Your high school GPA includes your grades from your Freshman to your Senior year. Develop good study habits early on and get involved with extracurricular activities as early as possible. Keep a wide range of interests, read magazines, novels, listen to public radio and acquire a wide range of knowledge. Learn to put limits on time you spend on your phone, text messaging, watching TV or playing computer games. Some play is good, but it must be in the context of achieving success in your overall academic and personal goals.
By your Junior year, you must be deep into your college selection and preparation process. Visit college campuses, attend college fairs, meet with college reps, talk with siblings and also siblings of friends who may be in college now. Find out what interests you most and what college may be most appropriate for you. You must have your own voice and you need to be knowledgeable in making the decision that is right for you. In your Junior year, you should be taking the SAT/ACT, subject SAT and AP. You should also be practicing writing college essays in your English class.
In your Senior year, make sure that your SAT/ACT scores are enough to get you into the type of school want to attend. Repeat any tests you want to but make sure you are aware of the college application deadlines. You must have all required information submitted to the colleges before this application deadline. Teacher recommendations, sending of test scores and transcripts can take time and you must plan ahead. If you are applying for financial aid make sure you have completed the FAFSA/CSS forms. By April you should hear from the colleges and by May you will be required to make a tuition deposit.
Remember, Early Decision candidates and Early Action candidates have dates that are much earlier than regular decision candidates!
This is an exciting time for students and you should make the most of it. Good luck and seek help whenever you need to.