Getting prepared for college begins in high school. Begin as early as you can by setting goals and creating a to-do list for each year in high school. Your plan should include the classes you’ll take, community service, clubs and leadership activities. If you're a well-rounded student, colleges will welcome you and you’re more likely to succeed.

Challenge Yourself Academically

Don’t shy away from challenging courses in high school. Advanced Placement or Honor courses will prepare you for the rigors of college coursework. You can even take a test after completing an AP class and some colleges will give you college credit if you score high enough. AP classes are an advantage when you apply for admission to college. The National Association for College Admission Counselors says a high school transcript that shows evidence of success in AP classes carries much weight with admissions decision makers.

Research Financial Aid Options

Considering how you’ll pay for college is just as important as a packed resume. Begin looking at scholarships, loans and grants during your junior year. Your high school guidance counselor is a good place to start when looking for local, state and national scholarships and grants. Fill out the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, as early as January of your senior year, and be alert for other federal aid. Note specific college deadlines so you can take advantage of financial aid packages offered by your school of choice.

Get Involved In Extracurricular Activities

Take an active role in your high school or local community. Getting involved will help you develop time management and leadership skills and learn to juggle multiple tasks. These life skills will help you be successful in college. They won’t hurt your admission application, either. Colleges are looking for students who are likely to participate in the campus community and make a positive contribution to the world once they graduate. Some colleges even give scholarships based on your leadership potential. For example, Hendrix College offers $2,000 per year for students who maintain a 2.0 grade point average and are involved in fine arts, community service or leadership.

Take College Entrance Exams Early

Most colleges recommend that you submit your scored college entrance exam by Dec. 1 of your senior year if you want to be in the first group of students considered for scholarships. Consider taking the ACT or SAT during your junior year so you have time to retake the test, if necessary. To prepare for these tests, take a prep course, form a study group, use online test prep tools or seek the help of a tutor so you have a better idea of what to expect. Visit the ACT and SAT websites to learn more about test dates and what you’ll need to get registered.

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