How to Prepare for College in High School: Tips for Lifelong Success

Posted on December 29 2020

A student wearing a backpack and holding books stands in a school library.

If you’re preparing for college in high school, you’re embarking on one of the most important and rewarding periods of your life. You have much work to do, but the steps you take now will pay off in college and for the rest of your life.

The Importance of Early College Preparation

College preparation doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The key to an easy transition from high school to college is getting an early start, and a to-do list makes the process easier. Everyone’s list will look a little different, but a few common steps apply to most students:

  • Talking with the high school guidance counselor
  • Scheduling college admission tests
  • Researching colleges and degree programs
  • Visiting colleges and universities
  • Applying to schools
  • Arranging finances
  • Scheduling an orientation (in person or virtual)

Getting ready to go to college requires a lot of work, but it should be exciting. Remember that you’re not just getting ready for college; you’re preparing to thrive as an adult.

Tips for College Preparation

Much of the work you do to prepare for college in high school involves choosing a school and figuring out how to get the most from the time you spend studying there. You’ll also prepare to live as an adult, which means you’ll have more freedom and more responsibilities. As you prepare for college in high school, think about college readiness and the life skills you’ll need.

College Readiness Tips

The following tips can help you prepare for the jump from high school to college.

Talk With People You Trust

Big decisions about your school and future career get much easier when you ask for help. Talking with friends and family members about your interests and aspirations helps turn ideas into actions and goals. High school guidance counselors can help with all aspects of college planning, from academic preparation to career guidance.

Do Your Research

Trying to make the perfect decision can be paralyzing. Instead, set a goal of making informed decisions. Finding the schools that can help you explore your interests and achieve your career goals can feel overwhelming. Researching factors such as program offerings, admission standards, location, and size will narrow down your choices. Visiting campuses, in person or virtually, provides a sense of which schools offer a good fit. It can also help you decide if you prefer an on-campus experience, an online program, or a school that offers a hybrid approach

Apply Early

School applications can be extensive, so start early. The same is true for scholarship opportunities and financial aid. Submitting applications early is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress associated with college preparation.

Learn About Campus Resources

Most universities offer extensive resources outside of the classroom, but students sometimes learn about them late or not at all. Learning about resources such as writing centers, computer labs, and health centers can help you choose a college and make you more successful when you get there. This is true for both online and on-campus programs.

Prepare to Engage

Students get out of college what they put into it, and that is particularly true for the relationships you form with faculty members and classmates. Make engagement — inside and outside of the classroom — a goal. Ask questions in class and make an effort to talk with classmates before and after sessions, whether they’re in person or online.

Explore Your Interests

College offers some of the best opportunities to pursue and explore your passions. Consider joining student organizations and clubs that are in your areas of interest or that sound intriguing. Intramural activities and online groups also connect you to people with shared interests.

Life Skill Tips

Honing the skills and self-discipline needed to thrive in a college environment will prepare you to be successful in your career and your community.

Practice Time Management

One of the most common struggles for new college students is time management. Learning to schedule study time instead of cramming for an exam is critical. Time management tools such as scheduling apps and calendars can help.

Learn to Budget

Some high school students get their first lesson in budgeting when they start college. Activities such as applying for financial aid, working part-time jobs, and living within the limitations of an allowance or personal earnings provide a crash course in money management. You can avoid painful lessons by planning how to pay for necessities — and accepting what you can’t afford — before you get to college.

Take Charge of Safety and Security

For many high school students, the transition to college marks the first time they don’t have other adults ensuring their safety. If you’re planning to live in a university residence hall or at least attend on-campus classes, take time to learn about the safety and security resources the school offers and review basic safety tips such as locking your door and taking precautions when walking after dark.

Eat Healthy Foods and Exercise

You’ve probably heard of “the freshman 15.” In fact, most college students don’t gain that much weight their first year, but falling into bad eating and exercise habits is common when your environment changes and routines are disrupted. Taking responsibility for your health at an early age improves college and life outcomes.

Finding Academic Support

For some students, preparing for college includes earning more high school credits. Individual courses offered by The American Academy give students the opportunity to earn and make up high school credits online. Students can work at their own pace in virtual English, math, and science courses that are available at any time. The American Academy also offers courses in life skills that are designed to help teens learn about adult roles and responsibilities.


Recommended Readings

12 Benefits of Graduating High School Early

Stress Management for High School Students: Strategies and Activities

Ways to Improve Concentration and Focus While Studying for Exams



Khan Academy, Life Skills, College Admissions

National Association for College Admission Counseling, Preparing for College: Junior Checklist

National Society of High School Scholars, “7 Tips for Academic Success in High School”

UNCF, “You’ve Got This! Five Tips to Help You Prepare for College”

U.S. News & World Report, “12 Ways to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College”