Soon-to-be freshmen, we mean you! Tackle your first-year college planning priorities. I can hear you now, “Hang on, I don’t even know how to find my locker yet!” Believe it or not, there are SIMPLE college planning priorities that a freshman student can achieve to prepare for college starting the first day you walk into high school.

Keep reading for college planning priorities for freshman year to set yourself up for college planning success. Click here to download our complete College Planning Roadmap that outlines college planning priorities for every grade and stage in high school.

Do you know your college planning priorities? Even if you’re just starting high school, you may already have well-meaning grandparents, aunts or uncles asking where you’re going to college, what your major will be, what you want to do when you grow up. It’s enough to make your head spin! Relax. Tap the brakes on big decisions. You have time for that later. Planning ahead doesn’t mean having answers yet. It DOES mean making academic decisions NOW that expand options later.

Make decisions now that expand options later.

The very fact that you DO NOT KNOW what you want to do after high school is the best reason to make smart decisions that keep options open. As a freshman, the most important college planning priority is to put your best academic foot forward. Your number-one college planning priority as a freshman is to build a strong academic foundation.

Let me say that again. Your number-one college planning priority as a freshman is to build a strong academic foundation. This sets you up to be able to have college options later. There are four key things you can do NOW to put your best academic foot forward.

Four Key Freshman Decisions for College Success

College Planning Priorities Freshman 3As a high school freshman, it’s imperative that you establish strong academic credentials right off the bat. Those middle school grades? They’re not going anywhere. No one but Mom cares what you got on your middle school progress reports.

On the other hand, your high school GPA starts day one. The cumulative GPA you’ll use to apply to college begins day one of freshman year. Day one!! A higher GPA often means increased merit aid and a better chance of admission to your top-choice schools. Even if you have no idea where you want to go to college yet (or if you want to go to college at all), make a commitment to earn grades that reflect your true academic ability. Make decisions now that expand options later. This means four key things that are well within your personal control as a student:

  1. Turn in your homework.
    It sounds simple, right? Yet you’d be surprised how many students are inconsistent about turning in homework. Even a few zeroes here or there tanks your GPA. Crush the easy stuff, by turning in daily assignments ON TIME. Avoid docked grades due to late assignments. You may not be able to control what grade you earn, but you can definitely make a commitment to yourself to control what you can control. That means turning in assigned work on time, every time.
  2. Take courses that challenge you.
    To be honest, as a freshman, you won’t have a lot of latitude in your schedule. When you do, don’t be afraid to take classes that challenge you versus electives that are a “slam dunk” or “easy A”. Challenging coursework is one of the key things colleges look for when evaluating prospective students. Get used to pushing yourself as a student. Embrace the challenge of classes that pushes you slightly beyond your comfort zone. Then rise to the challenge.
  3. Establish good study habits.
    Before the school year begins, make a plan for how you’ll plan your school work each week. What are the key things you’ll do to stay organized, keep track of assignments, take good notes and stay on top of longer-term projects? Decide when and where you’ll study on a regular basis. Make “appointments” with yourself for “STUDYING” and keep them in your Calendar app in your phone. Set alarms for when it’s time to study, and stick to your study plan. Ask for help from a parent, teacher, guidance counselor or super-smart friend if you need ideas about how to establish good study habits from day one of high school.
  4. Be AT LEAST as committed to academic pursuits as you are to extra-curriculuar activities.
    We rarely work with students who have a ton of free time. Is there such a thing?? Most high school students are highly involved in athletics, the Arts, clubs and other extra-curriculars all year long. Commitment to activities is at an all-time high. And that’s great. Students should pursue activities they love most and have fun. However, colleges pay far more attention to your academic results than they do to the activities you’re involved in. Make sure your commitment to academics matches your post-high-school aspirations. If extra-curricular activities take up so much of your time that you don’t have time to be the student you want to be, give something up. There’s a myth out there that colleges are looking for “well-rounded students”. They’re not. Colleges want well-rounded student BODIES. Choose one or two activities you feel most passionately about and go deep — not broad. Save time and energy to be the student you want to be without losing sleep or sanity. Keep activities and academics in proper balance.

These four things will help you avoid the long-lasting consequences of poor freshman-year decision making. If you have upperclass friends, ask around. You’ll find many juniors and seniors who wish they’d taken their GPA seriously starting the first semester of freshman year. Hit the ground running, and you won’t have to play catch-up to get your GPA to where you want it to be!

The Not-So-Secret Truth about GPAs and College Applications

Here’s the truth. Your willingness to embrace this fact could save you a ton of heartache later. It sounds obvious, but it’s worth stating, so that you can fully absorb this truth. The cumulative GPA you use to apply to colleges will be based on three (not four) years of high school. You apply to colleges early fall of senior year when you only have three years’ worth of grades! That means your freshman year is a full one-third of the GPA you submit to colleges. And your first semester of your freshman year is a full one-sixth of that cumulative GPA. Let that sink in.

Too often, students think of freshman year as their “warm-up year”. If it doesn’t go well freshman year, they’ll pick up the pace after that. Big mistake. Get ready to hit the ground running the first day of your first semester of high school.

Beyond the Classroom: Get On Campus for College Visits

In addition to focusing on strong academic performance, freshmen students should do one more key thing.

Visit at least one college campus during your freshman year. Visit more than one college campus if your schedule allows it. Schedule and take the official campus tour for one (or more) college visits. You can choose schools of interest, perhaps one that is close to you. But any college campus that’s nearby will do. You can take an official tour while traveling on vacation. It’s okay even if it’s a college you have little interest in because the point is to get a feel for what College is like. Any college campus visit will help you do that.

Which school you visit is less important than visiting A COLLEGE CAMPUS early. Your goal isn’t to choose a school. Your goal is to get a feel for “College”. You can learn a lot about what College is like by taking a college campus visit. It’s super helpful to get the ‘lay of the land’ and establish reference points you can use to compare future colleges that you visit.

To schedule a college campus visit, go to the school’s website and look for a “Schedule a Tour” button. Schools WANT students to visit, so they typically make this easy to do. When in doubt, contact the Admissions office for the school and ask about scheduling a tour. It’s easier (and more fun) than you might think to check your first college campus visit off your list when you’re a freshman.

Get your college questions answered with a free consult.

OnCampus College Planning offers a free consult to anybody that has questions about their college search process. We LOVE to chat with freshmen and sophomores early in your college process, so we can answer your questions and point you in the right direction. Come on in with Mom and/or Dad and learn what you need to know about planning for college. Students and parents tell us this is super helpful and put many of their fears to rest, as well as gave them a ton of confidence about what to do and when. We also do free consults via Zoom videoconference with students and families outside of Wisconsin. We hope to see you soon!

Tune in next time for College Planning Tips for High-School Sophomores!

Photo credits for this blog post:

  • Girl holding book: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
  • Lockers: Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash
  • Students in classroom: Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
  • Backpack and student: Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
  • Desk organization: Photo by STIL on Unsplash