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College Prep For High Schoolers: Year By Year

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

Savvy parents of high schoolers know college preparation doesn't begin senior (or even junior) year. Your child can begin getting ready for college as early as ninth grade -- and before.

"There are things your child can be doing each year of high school that will make life easier for everyone once college preparation really kicks into high gear," says Katie Garrett, founder of Garrett Educational Consulting.

Here's our year-by-year guide for each year of high school.


Set the tone for your high school experience with your ninth grade year by making new friends, choosing clubs and teams that interest you and figuring out the lay of the land in your new school.

  • Know that as you transition into high school, teachers will have different expectations. "It might be harder and you might not always understand everything, but it's OK to ask for help," Katie says. "And you should! Don't get yourself into a hole -- it's easier to get help on the front end than to dig yourself out on the back end."

  • Be open to meeting new people. "You may have started high school with the same group of friends from middle school, but there are also a lot of people you haven't encountered yet," Katie says. "Make a point to include new people into your friend group."

  • Develop good studying habits and time management skills.

  • Start mapping out your projected academic progression.

  • Take charge of your schedule. "Keep a calendar, even if it's just your meetings on campus," Katie suggests. "If mom still makes your hair appointments because she has to drive you, that's fine. Just start the process of controlling your own schedule."


You've got a year under your belt but it's not too early to start thinking about what will happen after graduation. Start setting yourself up in clubs and teams that pique your interest, and don't be afraid to take a leadership role, even though you aren't an upperclassman yet.

  • Develop good studying habits and time management skills.

  • Cultivate relationships with your teachers. "Not only is it important and a good exercise, teacher recommendations typically come from sophomore and junior year teachers," Katie says.

  • Be prepared for class and participate in class discussions.

  • Talk to your teacher if you didn't do as well on an assignment or test as you'd hoped. "Go to extra help sessions," Katie suggests.

  • Join some clubs, but don't go overboard. "It's better to have fewer things and go deep than have a bunch of surface-level stuff," Katie says. "Think about what you're passionate about and where you think you could make a difference, and then go deeper: get involved and take on more responsibility."


Possibly the most important year in high school when it comes to college preparation, junior year is the time to focus on good grades, good relationships with teachers and beginning to decide what you want for your college experience. A few good habits and ideas:

  • Begin prep for standardized tests.

  • Register for and complete tests.

  • Cultivate relationships with teachers whom you may want to write a letter of recommendation later in spring.

  • Put forth your best effort in classes. "Many schools don't see your senior year grades if you apply early, so junior year is a hugely important year," Katie says.

  • Take on leadership positions in sports, clubs and youth groups. "Take initiative and find ways to be a leader," Katie says. "Even if you aren’t team captain or president, you don’t have to have a named position to show that you’re a leader. For example, you could plan a project for your club that you can point back to and show you’re a leader."

  • Start thinking through your big-picture college list. "Ask yourself what are the big parameters you want in your college experience, like climate, school spirit, athletics, the size of the school ..." Katie says. "You'll apply in the fall of your senior year so this is the time to start deciding what you want."

  • Get on college campuses. "It's important to do the official tour so your name is in their system," Katie says. "If you just walk around campus, what does that tell you? You want to see as much and learn as much as you possibly can to help you make your decision."


You're coming to the end of your high school journey, but don't trip at the finish line by forgetting to tie up crucial loose ends. This is the year to pay close attention to detail, deadlines and follow-ups. Some important items to check off your list:

  • Complete your early decision/early action and regular decision applications.

  • Make sure your teacher recommendations are in.

  • Confirm that your transcripts have been sent and received.

  • Submit your test scores.

  • Set up an online portal for each of the schools you're applying to.

  • Check your email on a regular basis and reply when applicable.

  • Write thank-you notes to any teachers who wrote recommendations.

No matter what grade your high schooler is in, he or she can start the crucial steps of college preparation.

Feel overwhelmed? Katie and her team make college admissions preparation easy. Contact Garrett Educational Consulting at 980-677-0311 to learn more.

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