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If college is in your post-graduation plan, it’s never too early (or too late!) to check in with yourself about where you’re at in your preparations. No matter what grade you’re in, there’s plenty you can be doing to make sure you’re in the best position to apply when the time comes.

But hold on. Before you get too ahead of yourself, remember that whole part of life that involves relaxing and having fun? That’s important too. Don’t sacrifice your sanity in a frenzy to get ready for college. Rather than signing up for every club and extracurricular activity at once, choose wisely and space them out. “Aim to participate in 3 to 4 extracurriculars across a number of years rather than 20 in a short period of time,” says Victoria Otto, a PE teacher and coach at Highland Park High School in Illinois. “It’s not about how many activities you’re in, it’s about the commitment, longevity, and leadership in those activities,” says Dr. Sharon Sevier, a retired high school counselor in Wildwood, Missouri.

So take a deep breath. Then use this infographic to check things off your college prep list and navigate what to do next.

The college prep checklist: How to get on track. FreshmenSophomoresjuniors

Seniors

Freshmen

  • Make a plan. Find out which classes colleges require and sign up for the prerequisites.
  • Branch out. Join clubs, sports, or specialty activities that excite you.

Sophomores

  • Make an appointment with your school counselor to discuss course options and colleges that interest you, as well as to do some planning.
  • Sign up for Advanced Placement (AP®) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes in any areas you excel in.
  • Look into taking the SAT Subject Tests™. Choose those that match your strengths and the areas that interest you. These show colleges which fields you specialize in.
  • Keep a record of your extracurricular accomplishments so you can easily discuss them in application essays or interviews.

Juniors

  • Start looking into colleges. Get a feel for the school culture, the city or town, and the areas of focus that the school specializes in.
  • Check out community colleges too! They’re affordable, close to home, and often have open admission.
  • Take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT®), a practice version of the SAT®, which is one of the two tests required to apply to many colleges (the other option is the ACT®).
  • Practice, practice, practice! Take short, online practice tests on the SAT® and ACT® websites.
  • Take the SAT®, ACT®, or both. You’ll have a chance to retake the test(s) if you aren’t happy with your score.

Seniors

  • Apply to your top-choice schools first, then work your way down the list.
  • Get recommendations early. Ask teachers, school counselors, or coaches for recommendation letters at least one month before application deadlines.
  • Create a brag sheet, a list of your academic achievements, work experience, and extracurricular activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Reread your essays, brush up on your talking points, and learn everything you can about the school.

As of the 2016-2017 academic year, 38 percent of all undergraduates were enrolled in community colleges.

49 percent of all students who completed four–year college degrees in 2016 had also attended community college previously.

In 2018, nearly 69 percent of recent high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A record 2.2 million students from the class of 2019 took the SAT.

57 percent of students ages 6–17 participated in at least one after-school extracurricular activity, according to a 2014 US Census Bureau report.

94 percent of the Student Health 101 readers we surveyed said they either plan to take the SAT® or ACT® or they’ve already taken it.

The year a student takes the SAT® or ACT® for the first time can vary—though junior year is the norm. According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, here’s when students say they took them:

  • 10% freshman year
  • 13% sophomore year
  • 74% junior year

Did you know? Over 1,000 accredited 4-year colleges are now test-optional.

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Article sources

Victoria Otto, 2011 IAHPERD & 2012 Midwest District Secondary PE Teacher of the Year and teacher and coach at Highland Park High School in Illinois.

Barnes, A. (2014, November). College applications: Are you ready? CampusWell, 1(5). Retrieved from https://sh101academy.campuswell.com/college-applications/

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019, April 25). College enrollment and work activity of recent high school and college graduates summary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm

College Board. (2019, September 24). Over 2.2 million students in class of 2019 took SAT, largest group ever. Retrieved from: https://www.collegeboard.org/releases/2019/over-2-2-million-students-class-2019-took-sat-largest-group-ever

Community College Research Center. (n.d.) Community college enrollment and completion. Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Retrieved from https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/Community-College-FAQs.html

FairTest. (2018, January 10). ACT/SAT test-optional list tops 1,000 colleges, universities. Retrieved from http://fairtest.org/actsat-testoptional-list-tops-1000-colleges-univer

Ma, J. & Baum, S. (2016, April). Trends in community colleges: Enrollment, prices, student debt, and completion. College Board Research. Retrieved from http://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/trends-in-community-colleges-research-brief.pdf

NSC Research Center. (2017, March 29). Two-year contributions to four-year completions – 2017. Retrieved from https://nscresearchcenter.org/snapshotreport-twoyearcontributionfouryearcompletions26/

United States Census Bureau. (2014, December 9). Nearly 6 out of 10 children participate in extracurricular activities, Census Bureau reports. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-224.html