4 ways to prepare for college in high school

Closeup of hand taking notes, colored pencils nearby

High school is likely one of the most-memorable times of our lives. There’s a reason why movies and television shows depicting locker meetups and football games under the stars get made over and over again. But, even if your high-school experience looks a little different, there’s no doubt it’s a time of growth, big decisions, and oftentimes a place where your authentic self begins to solidify. It’s also a time when you talk a lot about the future, and where you want to go after you graduate. For many students, there’s a lot of talk about college by parents, teachers, and counselors — long before senior year hits. And, while you have plenty of time to decide on majors and application deadlines, there are a few things you can do right now to help set you up for success in your college application and beyond.

#1. Start thinking about who you want to be

This is the fun part. Who do you want to be? What do you see yourself doing regularly that’s fulfilling and meaningful? High school is both a time to be in the moment and start dreaming about the future. There’s very few restrictions or rules at this point. Do you want a job that takes you all over the globe, or a job that allows you to stay in your favorite town to start a family? Do you want to work in a creative field or a scientific field? Take a moment to write down even your loftiest dreams for the future, then start to google jobs in those areas, subjects, and places. What classes have you loved so far in high school? Write down your favorite classes, then do an internet search like “what majors are related to _____ classes?” and “what jobs can I get with a degree in _____?” Your starting point here is easy and exciting.

#2. Make a list of dream colleges (and why they interest you)

As you start to narrow down your dreaming, make a new list of colleges you might see yourself going to. You can start by looking at colleges in the area or areas you’d like to be in someday. At this point, just write down anything and everything you have an interest in. Then, take a second look, and try to explore why you wrote each college down. Is it because of the location? Is it because a friend or parent went there? Is it because of the size of the college? You can look for colleges that are known for the majors you’re considering. Or by size colleges can range from a few hundred students to tens of thousands. You may want to determine if a college is public or private, which could mean a big difference in overall cost. Every reason you’re attracted to a college is valid, but this is the point where you can figure out if those reasons are enough for you to make a decision on. Take some time, come back to the list, and make sure it’s got all your big college dreams. Then you can start to knock off the ones that might not make the final cut. Try to winnow the list to 10 or less, then you can start the real research, including searching college websites, student clubs, the locations, and so much more. Many college admissions websites will have quizzes that can help you narrow your interests, too.

#3. Take some challenging-and-exploratory high school classes

Most high schools offer quite a bit of flexibility with your electives throughout the years. You’ll often get to choose from a variety of foreign languages, art mediums, electronics, and a wide array of focused STEM classes. Take this opportunity to both explore what interests you and what might show the college admissions teams you’re preparing for success in college. Explore recommended coursework lists that can help guide you in your class selection, too, as it can help keep you on track or ahead when you get to your college coursework. Take the harder math class, take the advanced literature workshop, explore a semester of engineering. Your transcripts will show you made the best of your time and didn’t let an intimidating curriculum stop you.

#4. Reach out to your top schools as soon as possible

Remember that dream colleges list we talked about earlier? Take that baby out and reexamine it. Which colleges made the cut? If you’ve narrowed your list down enough, it’s time to reach out to your favorites. Sign up for the mailing list there is usually a form on college websites under “request information or “contact us” and the college will send you some introductory info about the school. There’s a chance you’ll even be assigned your own admissions counselor, who can help lead you through the process, answer even your most-niche questions, and introduce you to majors, classes, and clubs you might not even know about. Oh, and, get excited. This is the beginning of it all.

Ready to get more prep in?

Take a look at this article about steps you can take to prepare for college in high school by year. From freshman to senior, we’ve laid it all out for you.


Prairie Smallwood

Prairie Smallwood is a writer and content creator for the Office of Admissions at Colorado State University. She is passionate about education and exploration, and knows that going to college can be both an adventure and an overwhelming experience. She aims to create content that helps students through that journey — the wonderful, the scary, and everything in between.