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Back-to-School Boot Camp: Conquering High School and Beyond

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

As the summer sun begins to set, it's time to rev up those academic engines and prepare for the exciting challenges that lie ahead. Whether you're an incoming freshman, returning sophomore, ambitious junior, or a ready-to-soar senior, we've got your back with the best tips and tricks to kickstart your school year with style. We even have some tips for you graduates about to head off to college!

From navigating the tricky terrains of freshmen year to acing the college application process, this is your go-to source for wisdom and insights that will ensure you not only survive but thrive in your high school odyssey. So, let's dive in and decode the secrets of success for every stage of high school!

1. Prepping for Freshman Year: The First Steps to High School Success

  • Set Goals: Take some time to set realistic and achievable academic and personal goals for the upcoming year. Having clear objectives will help you stay focused and motivated throughout the school year. Think about study habits that worked for you and continue to put those into practice. Also, think about things that didn't work so well and come up with ideas for ways to do things differently.

  • Get Organized: High school is the time when you begin to prepare for becoming an independent college student and adult. Your teachers are going to expect you to become more and more self-sufficient the further you get into high school. You will probably get some initial hand-holding as you start freshman year, but every year, you will begin to be expected to handle more responsibility. Organization is one of the keys to being able to be successful as you are given more responsibility. You may be used to supply lists and forced organization tools - this may or may not be provided to you during your freshman year, so start to think about tools to help keep yourself organized. How are you going to keep your quizzes and tests organized (it is essential to have these for tests and exams)? How are you going to keep track of projects and deadlines? How are you going to keep track of your schedule? Make a list of things that you think might help you, and definitely consider some sort of planner or calendar (either paper or digital)

  • Create a Study Space: Set up a designated study space at home where you can concentrate and be productive. A quiet and comfortable environment can enhance your study sessions. Make sure to put any organizational items you purchase before school here so that you know where they are when you need to start using them. Stock up on supplies, pens, pencils, paper, notebooks (you never know when it will be handy to grab a blank notebook), etc.

  • Finish Any Summer Reading or Projects: Lastly, don't forget that many schools or courses you may have signed up for have assignments to complete over the summer. Make sure you are on top of this and have everything completed before the first day of school.

2. Sophomore Success Strategies: Rising to the Challenge

  • Reflect on Last Year: Take some time to reflect on your freshman year. Consider your accomplishments, challenges, and areas you want to improve. Use these insights to set new goals for the upcoming year. It is never too late to make adjustments!

  • Connect with Friends: Reconnect with old friends and make an effort to meet new classmates before the school year begins. Building positive relationships with peers can make high school more enjoyable.

  • Organize Your Supplies: Prepare your backpack and school supplies, ensuring you have everything you need for the first day of school. Think through the systems you used last year and decide whether you are going to use them again. Take an inventory of your supplies, and make sure to stock up on things you need so you are ready to hit the ground running!

3. Junior Year Journey: Navigating Academics and College Prep

  • College Research: Start researching potential colleges and universities. Consider factors like majors, location, campus culture, and admission requirements. Junior year is when many juniors begin visiting with admissions reps who come to their high school campuses and/or when students begin scheduling official college tours. Start to think about what schools you want to learn more about.

  • Test Prep Plan: Decide which standardized tests (SAT or ACT) you'll take and create a study plan. Consider signing up for test prep classes if needed.

  • Seek Leadership Opportunities: Look for leadership roles within your clubs or organizations to demonstrate initiative and commitment. It is important to be involved, but after two years, you will be an upperclassman; now is the time you get to shine in leadership roles. Look at your extracurriculars and think about ways you can get more involved over the next two years and ways you can show leadership. It doesn't always have to be as an officer in a club or the captain of a team. Take charge of projects or organize events; there are many ways to show leadership.

4. Senior Year Savvy: The Final Lap Before College

  • College Application Crunch Time: Start drafting college application essays and prepare for deadlines. The Common App opened on August 1, so it is officially time for you to start applying to college. Make sure you have fully completed your Common App, and update your resume with all of your activities. Make sure to put time into your essays - no essay is written in 1 draft; give yourself time to write, step away, and come back and edit so that you are putting your best foot forward with the colleges you are applying to.

  • Early Decision or Early Action: Decide if you'll apply early decision or early action to any colleges on your list. Remember that Early Decision is binding, regardless of financial aid or merit aid awards, so make sure that you consider that before choosing to submit an Early Decision application.

  • College Visits and Virtual Tours: If you need to do a visit (or re-visit) to schools on your list, consider whether this is a good time to do that.

  • Application Organization: Create a system to keep track of application materials, deadlines, and requirements for each college. Check out some of our organization resources HERE.

  • Practice Gratitude: Thank teachers, counselors, and mentors who write recommendation letters for you. A handwritten letter is ideal, but at the very least, send emails!

5. College Countdown: The Next Adventure Awaits!

  • Complete College Paperwork: Finish any outstanding paperwork required by your college, such as housing applications or health forms.

  • Financial Preparation: Review your financial aid package, set a budget, and plan for any necessary expenses.

  • Health Check-up: Schedule a check-up with your doctor and dentist to ensure you're in good health before leaving.

  • Pack Smart: Start packing for college early, making sure to bring items you'll need for both the dorm and classes.

  • Connect with Roommate: Reach out to your roommate to discuss who will bring what and to get to know each other better.

  • Family Time: Spend quality time with family and friends before leaving for college.

  • Embrace Excitement: Embrace the excitement of starting a new chapter and look forward to the college adventure ahead!

As summer winds down, it's time to gear up for an amazing school year ahead! Whether you're starting high school or heading to college, these tips will help you make the most of the last weeks of summer. So, seize the moment, set your goals, and get ready to shine brightly in the new school year! Let's make it a year to remember!


Garrett Educational Consulting provides boarding school and college admissions counseling. Click HERE to learn more about our services.

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