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High School Freshmen: Don’t miss out on these college planning tricks

College • July 07, 2020 • Connor Peoples


What you’ll learn

  • How to plan for college in high school
  • The importance of Advanced Placement courses
  • Where you can apply for college scholarships


The transition from middle school to high school can be challenging. For the last year, you were viewed as one of the leaders in a smaller, more familiar middle school environment. As a freshman, you’re back to being one of the youngest students in a new and unfamiliar school.

As you try to ease your transition, just remember, your high school years can be some of the most fun and exciting times in your life. From going to your school’s homecoming games, tackling new classes with new teachers, attending proms, to meeting some of your lifelong friends, high school is a time of enormous personal growth.

While you embark on this new journey, it’s still important to keep your future self in mind. In another four short years, you could be a wide-eyed freshman again on a college campus somewhere. And I’m sure you’re thinking, “Where do I even start?” That’s okay, you’re not alone! Research shows that 81% of freshman think that creating a plan for college is challenging. But with the right tips, tools, and resources, you’ll be ready to take on college like a true pro.

Here are a few steps to start you off on the right foot:

Meet with your high school counselor

Along with your teachers, coaches, family, and friends, you’ll soon find out that your high school counselor can be one of your most trusted resources in planning for the future. Our recent research report, “How America Plans for Post-secondary Education,” shows that 84% of freshmen agree that having a plan for higher education will improve the likelihood of them attending. Counselors can be key in helping you put that plan together. They know you, the classes you’re taking, your grades, and even your extracurricular activities. If you share your goals with them about life after high school, they can help set you up for success.

Your counselor can make sure you’re taking all the right classes needed to graduate, and they’ll definitely help you take the types of classes that will look good on your transcripts. By building a strong relationship with them early in your high school career, they’ll help you go the extra mile when it’s time to prepare for, and apply to, colleges in your junior and senior years.

Enroll in Advanced Placement courses

Contrary to popular belief, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are not just for high school upperclassmen. Freshman year is a good time to start building a strong academic transcript and challenge yourself by taking AP courses, especially in areas you’re passionate about. While you absolutely aren’t required (or expected) to take all 38 AP courses throughout your high school tenure, you should research the College Board’s website to find courses that best fit your skills and interests. Talk to your counselor, too, to see if they think AP courses are a good fit.

By completing AP courses, you’re showing potential colleges that you’re a determined scholar who’s ready for college-level schoolwork. Your future college may offer AP credits and allow you to earn college credits in high school, without paying any college tuition, if you score a 3 or higher on the final exam. There are some current college students that have actually skipped their entire freshman year curriculum because of their success in AP courses in high school. This cuts their college costs significantly!

Schedule a college visit

No matter the circumstances, there are resources out there, like YouVisit, that can help you explore colleges without leaving the comfort of your own home. If you’re able to tour a college campus in person, do it. There’s nothing like stepping foot on a college campus to get a good feel of the true campus experience. By starting your college visitation process early, you’ll get immersed by the college-going culture, and the extra work you’re doing in school will all start to make sense once you realize your end goal.

During your time on campus, visit the student centers, libraries, and dorms, and try to meet with a current student to see what their experience is like. Visiting colleges early will help you start to develop your college “likes and dislikes” list, too. Do you favor a large, suburban campus with giant lecture halls and historical buildings? Or do you prefer to attend a smaller college or a school within a larger city? By thinking about your list now, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about college later.

Apply for scholarships

College scholarships aren’t just for the varsity athlete or the class valedictorian. And they're not just for seniors. You can start earning scholarship $$$ for college early in your academic career — sometimes as early as middle school! Sallie Mae has an easy-to-use scholarship search that has access to 5 million scholarships worth up to $24 billion. Here are a few scholarships that are available to high school freshmen:

  1. The Don’t Text and Drive Scholarship

    According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving makes drivers 23 times more likely to get into a “safety-critical event.” The purpose of this $1,000 scholarship is to help you understand the risks of texting while driving.
  2. Delete Cyberbullying Scholarship Award

    In an effort to get students committed to the cause of deleting cyberbullying, this scholarship is available to high school, college, and graduate students to help cover educational expenses.
  3. Technology Addiction Awareness Scholarship

    With technology always at the ready, it can be a challenge to unplug. Taking a break from technology is healthy for the mind and body. This purpose of this scholarship is to help students understand the negative effects of too much screen time.

Remember how I said your high school counselor will be one of your greatest resources while planning for college? That’s true for finding scholarships, too! Counselors are scholarship experts, and if your potential scholarship requires an interview, they can help you practice and prepare. They can also help you pick and choose potential teachers to write letters of recommendation to boost your scholarship applications.

As Dr. Seuss wrote, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” A college education will unlock a door to endless opportunities. The college-planning process can be overwhelming at first, so don’t hesitate to ask for help along the way. And remember, it’s never too early to start building your future.


Connor is a Sallie Mae employee and a graduate of the University of Delaware. In his free time, you can find him cheering for Philadelphia’s professional sports teams and exploring the world with his dog, Moose.


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