A year-by-year high school road map


Love it or hate it, high school will have a huge impact on your future. So do it right. From freshman to senior, here’s a year-by-year road map to help you make the most of some of the most important years of your life.

Freshman year

  • Try a wide variety of clubs, sports, and after-school activities, including community service.
  • Choose a schedule of classes that matches your academic interest and rigor. You don’t have to be in all advanced classes to achieve success, but it is important that you are challenged.
  • Begin keeping a folder of achievements and activities. It’s easy to forget the awards, honors, and achievements you’ve earned over the years, so keep a record that you can refer to when it comes time for college applications.
  • Keep reading! Christine VanDeVelde, author of “College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step,” says, “Reading is a priority every year of high school. Read during the school year and over the summer. It will build up vocabulary and make a difference in standardized testing and class grades.”
  • Apply for scholarships throughout high school (and college).

Sophomore year

  • Make an appointment to meet with a guidance counselor. It’s important to establish a relationship.
  • Continue to explore ways of getting involved in your school and community.
  • Consider taking some advanced or honors classes. Try to find a balance between working hard, having fun, and allowing for downtime.
  • Get to know the teachers whose classes you enjoy. These teachers may be able to provide letters of recommendation later.
  • Use our College Search to start doing some preliminary college research. VanDeVelde says, “Students need to make sure they are on a college prep course track. They need to understand the academic requirement of the specific two- or four-year colleges they might be interested in attending.”
  • Take a practice PSAT.
  • Visit colleges, but with an emphasis on fun. VanDeVelde advises that “sophomore year is really too early to start looking seriously at schools. But informal, low-stress visits may be helpful and help motivate a student who hasn’t been focused in high school.”
  • Apply for scholarships throughout high school (and college).

Junior year

  • Make a preliminary list of colleges.
  • Plan college visits throughout the year.
  • Take additional honors or advanced classes. Make sure elective classes reflect your academic interests.
  • Meet with guidance counselor two or three times during the year.
  • Study for standardized tests either on your own or with a class or private tutor.
  • Take standardized tests, including subject tests if required by schools you may apply to.
  • Line up letters of recommendations from teachers, advisors, and coaches.
  • Consider taking on a leadership role in clubs, sports, or activities you’re involved in.
  • Put together a resume (refer to the achievement list you started freshman year).
  • For athletes interested in playing college sports, fill out recruiting forms on colleges websites, and contact coaches.
  • Read through the college Common Application. It can be saved and used for up to 12 months. If a college you’re interested in isn’t on the Common App, check its website for application information and deadlines.
  • Think about possible essay topics for college applications.
  • Apply for scholarships throughout high school (and college).

Senior year!!!

  • Make a calendar for all college application and financial aid. Double-check this critical information so you don’t miss any important dates.
  • Retake any standardized tests.
  • Fill out college applications.
  • For athletes, schedule official overnight visits.
  • For non-athletes, look for other overnight opportunities or open houses to learn more about schools — especially those you may consider applying to with a binding early decision.
  • Stick with at least a few of your clubs, sports, or other activities. Colleges don’t want to see every minute of every day filled, but they also don’t want to see that you quit every activity as soon as you were accepted to college.
  • Make sure letters of recommendation have been submitted.
  • Write thank-you notes to everyone who has written you letters of recommendation.
  • Use our LoanFinder to research and apply for student loans.
  • Apply for scholarships throughout high school (and college).
  • Celebrate! You worked hard and you’re going to college!
About the author

Randi Mazzella

Randi is a freelance writer and mother of three. She has written extensively about teen life and the college admissions process. Her work has appeared online and in print publications including TeenLife, Your Teen, Raising Teens, About.com, and Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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