Posted by ICON School on Aug 15, 2022 9:15:00 AM

male high school student taking class online with laptop & headphones

“College is still so far off, I don’t need to think about it yet,” is one of the most common misconceptions held by students entering their high school careers. While four years seems like an eternity as a fourteen-year-old, there are simple steps you can take each year to ensure that you’re prepared and ready to apply to your dream school. 

Freshman Year

Although it seems far off, here are some college preparation tips to keep in mind during your first year of high school.

Meet with your counselor or college advisor

While a visit with a counselor might seem intimidating, this person is there to help you. Your counselor will be one of the best, most knowledgeable resources you have access to. Tap into their expertise and don’t try to navigate the system on your own. If you are attending an online high school, ask to have zoom meetings with your counselor, rather than just relying on email. Having a more personal connection with them will allow you to have more honest and comfortable conversations later in the process. The more your counselor knows you, the more they’ll be able to give you individualized advice.

Enroll in classes that are the right fit for you

Don’t just enroll in all advanced and honors courses because people have told you that’s what colleges look for. When colleges look at transcripts, a B+ in a regular class is going to look better than a C- in an AP class. Plus, if you’re in a class that is too hard for you, you’ll spend all of your spare time studying and struggling, and you won’t have time to get involved in extracurriculars. 

Get involved in at least two different activities

Play a sport and audition for a play. Join the band and get involved in student leadership. This will allow you to meet different groups of people, explore your different strengths, and will show colleges that you are a well-rounded individual. If you are an online student, you can look for opportunities at your local public school, your local library, community centers, or local churches.

Learn how to manage your time

When you get to college, you will be on your own. No longer will you have your parents holding you accountable for doing your homework or going to class. This shock of freedom can derail even the best students in their first semester. To reduce this shock, begin disciplining yourself in high school.

This skill is especially critical for online students, who have had the luxury of watching lessons and completing assignments on their own time. Online schools can be a fantastic option for students who don’t fit the mold of a traditional high school student.

To optimize your time management skills, try to set a schedule for yourself. Although lessons can be watched and completed on your own time, college schedules are more rigid. Set an alarm in the mornings and wake up at the same time each day. Pick a time during the day and dedicate it to homework. When you’re a freshman in college with a daily 8:15 AM class, you will be grateful that you have the time management and discipline to get yourself up each morning.

Start a list of accomplishments, awards, and interests

When you sit down to apply for a college or write a resume, it can be overwhelming to try and remember all that you were involved in over four years. Begin a list of things you have accomplished, awards you’ve won, hobbies you’re interested in, and anything else that seems relevant. Each month, sit down and add to this list. Your future self will thank you!

Sophomore Year

Now that you’ve successfully completed a year of high school, it’s time to keep your momentum rolling! Consider these college preparation tips during your second year of high school.

Prepare for college admissions exams 

While these tests are high-stakes and can seem intimidating, the more you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel. Do yourself a favor and start early. Order an SAT prep book or enroll in an ACT prep course. A little bit of studying each week can add up throughout the year. When you’re a junior, you’ll look back and thank yourself when you see all of your friends, who did not prepare, scrambling.

Narrow your interests and begin looking at colleges

Selecting which college to attend can be incredibly overwhelming. There are thousands of colleges to choose from, so how do you pick the right one?

Some people have known what college they want to attend and what they want to major in and what dorm they want to live in since they started kindergarten. Other people graduate high school unsure of what they want to do with their life. Both types of people are normal!

If you find yourself in the latter category, here are some tips to narrow your options:

  1. Take out your list of accomplishments and interests that you started last year, and turn it into two different lists. 
  2. In the first list, write down skills you have and things you’re good at, and then try to pinpoint a major you’d enjoy. Maybe you’re great at math and enjoy managing money. If so, you could look into finance or accounting. Maybe you enjoy working with kids and could see yourself going into education. 
  3. In the second list, write down interests you have and things you enjoy doing, and then research cities that support those interests. If you love snowboarding and mountain biking, look into cities like Salt Lake City, UT, or Bend, OR. If you love going to concerts and seeing live shows, look into cities like Austin, TX, or Nashville, TN. 
  4. Once you have your top three majors and your top three cities narrowed down, start making a list of colleges in those cities that offer your major. You’ll be surprised how many options there are that would be a good fit for your skills and interests!

Plan your summer activities

Summer is a time to relax and have fun, but it is also a great opportunity to boost your resume. Look into volunteer opportunities or internships that could help your application stand out. If you are an online student, look for experiences that will enhance your communication and social skills.

Junior Year

A mistake that many high school students make is waiting until their junior year to begin the college preparation process. Thankfully, that won’t be you! Junior year is when the college admissions process ramps up, and you will already have a solid foundation. Here are the things to be sure and do during your junior year.

Register and take the SAT and/or ACT

If you’ve been preparing for these tests, register and take them early. The earlier you get your scores, the earlier you can look into retesting if you need to. Having your scores will also give you a better picture of which scholarships you’ll qualify for, and which schools will be the best fit.

Look into financial aid

Paying for college is never fun, but there are plenty of scholarship opportunities and financial aid for all different types of students. If you haven’t yet, have a conversation with your parents and find out if they’re able to help you with tuition. Start looking for scholarships or grants that you would qualify for, research financial aid, and try to figure out how much you are willing to pay each semester.

Begin collecting recommendation letters

Think of adults in your life, to whom you are not related, who could write a letter on your behalf. These adults could be teachers, coaches, counselors, youth group leaders, supervisors, or anyone else who can speak on your behalf. Start asking these people to write letters on your behalf. 

Finalize your resume

Hopefully, you have kept up with your list of accomplishments and awards that you started freshman year. Use a template, and turn this list into a resume. 

Narrow your college list and plan campus tours

Look at the college list that you created your sophomore year based on your potential majors and interests. Look at the tuition for those schools, as well as the academic requirements. Narrow your college list to your top five schools based on your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and tuition. 

Senior Year

Finally, after three years of hard work, your efforts are about to pay off. Instead of scrambling to get all your application materials in order, you will have prepared for this moment. Enjoy your senior year, and follow these tips to apply to your dream school.

Fill out your FAFSA

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This will consider your parents’ incomes and determine how much financial aid you will receive. 

Apply for your colleges

Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for! If you’ve kept up with the tips from above, you have a list of colleges that fit your major, interests, scores, grades, and financial situation. You should already have your recommendation letters and your resume. Write your admissions essay and start filling out those applications. Make sure you’re aware of when applications are due and get yours in early. You can take a tremendous amount of pressure off yourself by hitting the early application deadlines. Doing so will result in you hearing back from colleges around December or January, rather than April or May.

Keep your grades up

As your senior year passes, you may develop a disease commonly known as Senioritis. Senioritis is a term that refers to the lack of motivation that even the best students experience as their high school career winds down. Even if you’ve already applied and been admitted to your dream school, it is vitally important to keep your grades up and finish strong.


You’ve put in a ton of work and now it’s time to celebrate. Collect those acceptance letters, make your choice, and buy a sweatshirt from your new college to show off. Also, if you haven’t already, learn how to wash that sweatshirt. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment next year when you arrive at college already knowing how to do your laundry without shrinking them or turning them pink. It sounds silly, but you will be grateful to have this skill.


The college process can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are a high school student looking for guidance in this process or for a more fitting high school experience, don’t hesitate to consider an online option. ICON School is a fantastic option for all types of students. We are here for you, so contact us today!

ICON School

Written by ICON School

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