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The College Planning Journey

Written by Jillian Tabone, University of Arizona, College Contact Counselor


Freshman year of high school is a whirlwind of change. It hits you from all directions: navigating your way around a new school, making new friends, getting involved in sports teams and clubs, and having to adjust to a higher level of academic rigor, all while people tell you, that the next 4 years will go by so fast. But why exactly do people feel that these particular 4 years of life go by so fast? It’s because before you know it you will find yourself hitting the submit button as you apply to college! 



So how can you be prepared to click submit when the time comes? That’s where we come in! Here is your step-by-step guide to prepare for college throughout your four years of high school. 


Freshman year - Settle 

  • During your freshman year of high school, you will be inevitably overwhelmed at first, just getting the hang of things is difficult, and that is a common feeling for a lot of freshmen. Taking some time to settle in is a good idea, but while you settle, also make sure you are aware of opportunities around you. Whether that is overhearing an announcement about a volunteer opportunity that interests you, hearing from an upperclassman about the challenging yet fun Advanced Placement course they are taking, or passing by audition sign-ups for the fall play, there are resources all around that can be guiding you toward your goals for high school. 

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Freshmen all have one thing in common - they are all experiencing high school for the first time. Trying out for the team, taking the honors course, and joining the club is what freshman year is for - to see what you enjoy spending time doing as well as testing your ability to balance various responsibilities and involvements. These are two crucial skills that will be enormously helpful to have as you get into the later years of high school and college.

Key takeaways for freshman year: 

  • Start your high school career off with a good GPA 

  • Get involved with extracurriculars 

  • Establish a good relationship with your academic advisor



Sophomore year - Stack 

  • Sophomore year is the year in high school where you have to hustle. This is the year that you will likely take your first Advanced Placement course, discover what career routes you are interested in pursuing, maintain your GPA, and research colleges that sound interesting to you.

  • Sophomore year is the time that high school amps up and a lot of students are hit with a reality check. The seniors you may have looked up to your freshman year are or have graduated and things are feeling a bit more real. Remember, to stay focused this year and think about how you can the next steps toward leadership positions in the future. By now, you should be settled in your extracurricular involvements and building the rigor of your course load.

Key takeaways for Sophomore year: 

  • Start exploring career paths 

  • Take rigorous courses 

  • Research potential colleges 



Junior year - Strive

  • Junior year is crunch time. It’s time to focus and challenge yourself now more than ever.  This year should be your most rigorous course load. Take a few Advanced Placement and honors courses (& take the associated tests for future college credit), take on leadership roles in clubs and organizations you have been a part of for the past few years, and make strong connections with your teachers in order to be ready to ask for letters of recommendation. Keep that GPA up and strive to be the best you can be this year. Junior year is known as the hardest year of high school but knowing what to prioritize and what not to prioritize can make your year a bit easier. 

  • This is also the year that you should dedicate the most time to college research. You should build your college list by dividing schools into Safety, Target, and Reach schools. Schedule tours at colleges you are interested in and do some shadowing under a professional who has a career you are interested in pursuing. Another way to gather information on student experiences at colleges you are interested in is by asking friends of yours who are at those colleges currently to see how their experience has been, no research is ever complete without a first-hand account!

Key takeaways for Junior year: 

  • Have a rigorous course load

  • Maintain GPA 

  • Start building your college list 

  • Make connections with teachers 

  • Tour college campuses 



Senior year - Savor

  • Senior year is the time to apply to college. It's the moment you have been waiting for - clicking that submit button is finally here. At the beginning of your senior year, you want to ask your teachers if they can write you a letter of recommendation (usually two depending on the requirements of the schools you are applying to). Next, you are going to be writing your college essays, which could include a personal statement and supplemental essays. Make sure to go to College Contact for help writing these essays where you can either meet virtually with a college consultant or send in a draft of your essay and receive feedback. 

  • Senior year’s importance doesn’t stop when you finish submitting your college applications, however. Colleges will still be looking at your GPA from this year so you must maintain your GPA as well as stay involved. Despite the incoming senioritis, take a step back and take a moment to savor this year. Be proud of all your accomplishments so far and enjoy being in your hometown just a bit longer before you move on to the next chapter of your college years. 

Key takeaways for Senior year:

  • Ask teachers for letters of recommendation 

  • Utilize College Contact as a resource to help you write your college essays 

  • Maintain your GPA 

  • Stay involved 

  • Enjoy all the special moments of senior year! 



We hope this guide to planning for college was helpful and we wish you the best throughout high school and your college application process!


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