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How to Survive High School and Prepare for College

Surviving high school and preparing for college starts with thinking about your future, your interests and your career goals. Focus on seeking support, exploring your options and getting involved in extracurriculars to help you to succeed.
Three first-year college students sitting around a table and doing homework.

Getting to high school means entering a world defined by a confusing mixture of restrictions and freedom. There’s a long list of requirements you have to meet along the way, but room is also left for you to explore new interests. Balancing this can be tough and trying to figure out how to navigate the twists and turns while somehow getting prepared for college is no small feat.

What Do You Need to Survive High School?  

Lauren Maynard, director of communications on the campus communication team at SNHULauren Maynard, director of communications on the campus communication team at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), recognizes the challenges high school students face as they get closer to the day they apply to college. Maynard is also a former associate director of Freshman Admission at SNHU. For those feeling overwhelmed, she recommends looking at what you can control right now. From selecting courses to pushing yourself to perform well, it’s important to plan and stay organized.

“It comes back to challenging yourself and trying to think about your future. A college will notice if a student goes above and beyond, choosing advanced courses that will prepare them for their future career,” Maynard said. “It’s great to explore new disciplines, but try to look for a balance.”

Get Involved in Extracurriculars 

An icon of a soccer ball with a white outline.While your class schedule makes for a busy week, finding time for extracurricular activities can be a great way to not only add to your resume, but have some fun at the same time.

“College life and beyond is about more than just how you performed academically — it’s about getting involved in things you are passionate about and, in turn, meeting other like-minded students," Maynard said. "Getting involved in high school will also help you develop leadership and time management skill that will help you be more successful in the future."

In addition to the chance to build relationships and enjoy time outside of the classroom, becoming involved in extracurricular experiences while in high school can lead to financial assistance for college, depending on the activities and the institutions you’re applying to.

Seek Support and Guidance

Whether you’re asking yourself how to choose a college, the chances of getting into college or when to apply, there are people with the resources to help you.

Guidance counselors are gold mines of information when it comes to figuring out:

If you don’t know who you should be going to, reach out to your school’s administration to find out who your guidance counselor is and how to get in touch. 

If you want to have your questions answered directly from the source, though, reach out to the admission departments of colleges you’re interested in. They can share information about their:

Wherever you are in your high school career, they can help you put pieces of the puzzle in place and clarify some of the goals you need to accomplish on your way to college.

“This journey is all about you,” Maynard said. “No choice is the wrong choice as long as it is leading you in the direction you want to be in!”

Find Your Program

How Can I Increase My Chances of Getting into College?

While the ultimate goal of high school is graduation and a diploma, the experiences you have along the way will be what really prepare you for what comes next. Both your academic and extracurricular experiences can help your college application stand out.

Tim Whittum, associate vice president of Admission at SNHUTim Whittum, an associate vice president of admission at SNHU, agrees. 

“Be strategic. Push the gas on the courses that pertain to your intended major,” he said. “Don’t set yourself up for failure and don’t take on more than you can reasonably handle.”

It's important to look for opportunities to develop and expand your academic comfort zone, but remember to think about the whole picture before taking on something new. 

Signing up for an AP course is great, but make sure you plan for the more intensive work that you'll need to put in each day. If you're considering a study abroad program or joining a sports team, take a close look at how traveling and being away from family and friends might impact you.

Colleges like to see students who push themselves, but the key is to demonstrate your ability to be successful when you pursue those goals.

How Do I Begin to Prepare for College?

Whether you’re just starting your high school journey or are getting excited to jump into the final term of your senior year, there are ways to set yourself up for making the eventual transition into collegiate life less stressful.

Explore Majors and Schools

Getting organized in high school can help you figure out your next steps after graduation.

You can begin by researching colleges you may want to attend and exploring majors that relate to your interests. Some things to consider when it comes to schools include location, academic programs, student life and tuition and fees.

A blue icon of a hand writingIt may be helpful to create a list of schools you’re interested in and note down their application deadlines on a calendar or in a planner.

“A planner (in any form) will keep you organized,” Maynard said.

Planners can be used in so many ways, depending on what works best for you, and can be used for more than just recording due dates for applications or assignments. Learning to manage your school-life balance in high school can ease the transition to college life.

Learn About Financial Aid

Once you have an idea of where and what you want to study, you may be wondering how you can pay for college. There are many options when it comes to financial aid, including:

  • Grants 
  • Scholarships  
  • Student loans 
  • Work-study opportunities 

An icon of a white-outlined checklist with three items checked offOne of the first steps to getting financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

While you’re in high school, you may begin applying for scholarships related to your planned major or your current extracurriculars. Once you’ve chosen a school to attend, more opportunities may become available to you. One resource for SNHU students is Scholarship Universe, a database full of pre-vetted scholarships for students to apply for.

The idea of getting through high school and preparing for college can seem daunting. But with the right mindset and support from those around you, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding process. Developing healthy habits in high school can help you succeed in college and beyond.

A degree can change your life. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Sarah A. Easley '12 '18G is a writer and content strategist. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.