High School Freshman College Planning Checklist

A new adventure is kicking off, but it's also prime time to start thinking about the next step.

New teachers, a new school building, tougher classes and new friends — the first year of high school is a big and busy transition for young teens. This time period is also full of ways to lay the groundwork for four years down the road!

While your child is adjusting and growing as a freshman, there are a number of simple, savvy things they can do to prepare for college. The good news is, many are natural opportunities that pop up for students. It’s mostly a matter of identifying those doors and stepping inside. Hint: Challenges are a good thing!

Wondering where to start? Our High School Freshman College Planning Checklist has you covered. Dive in and discover the top ways your teen can start preparing for their future today.

Create an academic plan

What will the next four years look like? This involves some legwork and self-reflection, from finding out the school’s graduation requirements to thinking about where your child wants to be in the next eight years (including their “dream job” and a back-up plan). Explore College of Distinction’s eight-step list for more tips.

Choose classes wisely

Have students opt for courses that are challenging yet manageable. Remember, the shift to high school is a big adjustment, so realistic expectations are important! Not sure what you’re stepping into? “Get in the habit of asking teachers about their classes before your sign up for them,” suggests CollegeVine. Are there prereqs? What kind of work is expected? Try to talk to former students, too.

Connect with the counselor

Speaking of reaching out to school staff — encourage your child to get to know their school counselor this year, too They can also help students choose classes, figure out extracurriculars and factor in interests. Unsure what to ask? InGenius Prep has a list of 40 questions to get your wheels going.

Consider the PSAT

First, the good news: Freshmen don’t need to worry about SAT and ACT testing. However, it’s a smart idea to take the PSAT 8/9 if it’s offered. The PSAT ultimately gives juniors a chance at scholarship money. While it’s not a must for freshmen, any sort of real-life testing experience helps students score higher down the road.

Join in extracurriculars

Exploration is the name of the game freshman year. Whether it’s arts, sports, a student activist group, language club or other school activities, urge kids to try out, audition or sign up for things that spark their interest. The idea is to discover what they like.

Keep focused on studies

Two simple tips that go a long way: Students should keep up with their schoolwork, and they should study hard — especially for midterms and finals. Not only will it help their grades, but, even more valuable, it sets the stage for great habits in high school as well as college.

Start a ‘me’ file or app

Keep tabs on all of those activities, awards and accolades that start to crop up, suggests Dr. Barry Hall II with Grand Valley State University. Toss in their report cards, accolades from a boss at work or community involvement. This comes in handy for those college applications down the road!

Explore future choices

Whether it’s a four-year university, two-year college, technical school or certification program, help broaden your child’s horizons to what’s out there. You might even weave a college visit into a family trip. Demystify higher education and get a taste for what’s out there (for both your kid and you).

End with a smart summer

When the school year is a wrap, keep open to opportunities. Your child might take a look at taking honors or AP classes the next year. It’s also a great idea for them to volunteer, work or try out a summer program. And again, try to visit a college campus or two.

Note: Be sure to also explore our checklists for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.


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