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College Preparation: Within and Beyond the Academics

Authored By: 
Scott Steinberg, College Guidance Counselor

College preparation is more than just the classes you take and the grades you earn. Undeniably, the choice of college prep classes for high school students has a great impact on both the admission outcomes and your academic success in college. However, there are other important, non-academic aspects of the college-readiness process that are key for making college a success. The years spent in secondary school are also the perfect time for exploring your strengths and passions and turning them into objectives. Additionally, mastering life skills, such as self-discipline and time management, as well as building up your confidence and developing a lifelong love of learning, is essential for handling the challenges of college life.

Smart Course Choices

In my 34 years as a school counselor, I’ve come to the conclusion that successful college students are those who’ve challenged themselves academically throughout high school, rather than just attending the best college prep high schools.

Colleges tend to look very carefully at course selections throughout your high school years (particularly senior year) as an indicator for college preparation.  Are you only pursuing school’s minimum graduation requirements or are you taking additional courses that demonstrate your various interests and/or strengths? Taking full advantage of the most challenging academic program offered at your high school is strongly encouraged in order to be best-prepared for the rigors of college academics.

Turning Passions Into Objectives

Effective college preparation is about exploring your strengths and learning what you love so that you can turn these passions into pursuits.

How do you figure out what you are passionate about? Think about whether there is already something you like doing. Make a list of your talents; if you are unsure, engage your teachers to help you figure them out. Explore by trying: be involved in extracurricular activities, volunteer in the community, work part time, and take advantage of the academic opportunities available in your high school. You may also consider taking classes outside of college prep high schools at a local college or summer program.

Knowing what you do well and what you are excited about will give you a focus and a concrete direction that will help you aim for the colleges and universities that are right for you.

Building Up Life Skills

Mastering practical life skills and personal qualities is necessary for overcoming the daily obstacles of college life.

Time Management and Organizational Skills: While a typical high school student spends approximately 35 hours a week in a classroom, a college student will be in class for approximately 20 hours a week. Mastering your self-discipline is important for being able to use this excess time wisely and efficiently for studying, working and other activities.

Boosting Your Self-confidence: Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion in class. Since college classes involve a notable amount of time dedicated to public speaking and group discussions, starting early will help you build up your confidence and learn to accept feedback constructively.

Love of Learning: Have fun while learning. Be curious and question the obvious. Students who engage in the learning process and develop a love for learning are the ones who thrive.

College preparedness is a multifaceted process which involves both academic and non-academic preparation. Being conscious of your class choices, strengths, passions, and use of time will help you make the most out of your high school years and confidently open this next chapter of your life. Good luck!