How to Prepare for College: Freshman Year College Checklist

College prep for high school students is important because it helps students get ready for campus life and other challenges at college or university. Most of the time, high school students are only focused on academic readiness and college costs, but college preparation takes a lot more than that.

Freshman year can be tough if you are not resilient, confident, and independent. You need to develop certain skills to help you cope with this life-changing event, especially time management and goal-setting skills. This guide will shed more light on college prep for high school students and help you come up with a college checklist to make the transition easier.

How Is College Different From High School?

  • Lecture attendance. College professors may choose to take attendance of students, and sometimes they do not. In some classes, there won’t be a penalty for skipping class. You need to find your own motivation to attend classes and participate with a willingness to learn.
  • Heavier workload. College courses come with more work compared to high school courses. The class material will be more difficult, you will have to write assignments and essays, and you will take long exams. College classes often have group discussions and debates that you’ll be expected to prepare for. You should consider joining a study group to help you keep up with challenging classes.
  • Deadlines and grades. College is a big change because the projects are bigger, but there are usually fewer deadlines. You are responsible for meeting the final deadline without your professor checking in on you all semester the way a teacher or parent would. Also, your grades will be based on fewer assignments, so each assignment counts for a higher percentage of your grade.
  • More expensive textbooks. Most high schools let students borrow textbooks for free. In college, you will have to buy expensive textbooks. Look for used textbooks or an online version to save money on textbooks. It will take some time to learn how to afford college on a day-to-day basis.
  • Lots of free time. In high school, you have to be at school for six to eight hours a day. In college, you only take classes for 15 to 20 hours a week. You’ll have more time for independent study or a part-time job. It’s important that you set up a daily study time so that you don’t fall behind and can make time for community activities and social events.

Is College Easier Than High School?

No, college is not easier than high school. It is very different from high school, and it can be overwhelming for some students in the beginning. The courses are different from high school, and some students struggle if they don’t learn the basics before advancing. Many students start with community college to get used to new academic requirements first.

A different mindset for college can make it easier. Prepare yourself for a fast-paced environment and learn to manage your time while balancing school and social activities. If you feel overwhelmed, you should also meet with a school counselor to help you manage the stress of such a big change.

How to Prepare for College in High School

Knowing how to prepare for college can help you anticipate any issues you will face so you’ll have an idea of how to handle them. Before your freshman year, it helps to create a college checklist, join a college prep program, take a campus tour, research your school, think about some college majors, and maintain good grades.

1. Create Your College Checklist

A college checklist is essential to prepare you for your freshman year. You can create your checklist of college preparation digitally or old-school with a pen and paper. List everything you’ll need to do during the application process, from researching programs to submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

2. Enroll in a College Prep Program

College prep programs give high school students an opportunity to experience life on a college campus. During this program, the students get to explore their academic interests, meet faculty members, and live on campus for a short time. In some cases, college prep programs offer online courses to give high school students an idea of the courses they will take in college.

3. Get Good Grades

College requires consistency. Maintain good grades in high school to practice constituency, and you might even win a scholarship to offset the cost of college. While you’re still in high school, try taking advanced placement (AP) classes. If you get a good grade on the final exam, you can get college credit.

4. Do Your Research

Research colleges you are interested in and available majors. Learn more about the college application process and college financial aid. Go to a college fair and talk to the college representative. Compare a community college with an Ivy League university. Take your time during your college search so you can make an informed decision.

5. Go on a College Tour

While research is helpful, it doesn’t give you the full picture. If you can, you should take the time to visit one or more schools and take a tour. Most colleges offer tours organized by student representatives where you’ll learn about the school. Your campus tour guide can also give you a student perspective on what you can expect during the application process.

College Preparatory Programs for High School Students

Three high school students in a college library
College prep for high school students helps students develop critical skills they’ll need to transition smoothly into college.

In 2020, 63 percent of high school students went on to enroll in college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). College preparatory programs prepare these students for college coursework before their freshman year. A college prep program is a blend of high school courses and college programs to give students a strong foundation before they start college.

College prep programs are taught by college professors and follow real syllabi from college. Students enrolled in prep programs get a first-hand experience of what is expected of them during their freshman year. This program also helps students to develop useful skills to stand out in college, including self-discipline, time management, independence, and organization.

Best College Prep Classes and Programs

The best college prep classes and programs are available at universities like Harvard, Brown, Stanford, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Chicago. The cost of these programs varies from free to $13,200, and the duration ranges from two to eight weeks. Prep courses can be online or in person and some college prep courses offer college credit.

Harvard Pre-College Program | Harvard University

  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Cost: $4,950
  • Length: 2 weeks

The Harvard Pre-College Program is a two-week intensive session that prepares high school students for college. It takes place on campus, and students can choose from more than 100 non-credit courses. Some popular choices include psychology, business, and law. This program allows high school students to experience a dynamic academic environment with peers from around the world.

Brown University Pre-College Programs | Brown University

  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island and Online
  • Cost: $2,581 to $9,345
  • Length: 1 to 6 weeks

Brown Pre-College program is for high school students who want to get first-hand college experience in the Ivy League. Students get to practice balancing extracurricular activities and academic challenges without having to take any exams. The cost of the program varies by length and learning format. Programs are available online, on campus, or hybrid.

Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institute | Stanford University

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $2,700
  • Length: 2 weeks

Stanford University offers over 30 pre-collegiate studies programs online to give high school students an opportunity to explore their passion. Students can learn about topics like business, computer science, engineering, writing, and earth science. There are financial aid opportunities for students who can’t afford the cost of tuition.

University of Chicago Summer Session | University of Chicago

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois and Online
  • Cost: $4,380 to $13,200
  • Length: 4 weeks

The University of Chicago offers pre-college programs in paleontology, biological research, and a wide variety of classroom subjects. Some courses are available online while others are taught in person on the program. Students in these courses will have the opportunity to earn college credit, but they will have to take exams and complete assignments.

Northwestern’s College Prep Program | Northwestern University

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $1,850 to $5,023
  • Length: 2 to 10 weeks

Northwestern University gives high school students two choices of college prep programs, the e-Focus Seminar Series and College Prep Courses for Credits. Course options include Introduction to Financial Accounting, The Golden Age Of Hip-Hop: Music and Film, Concepts of Biology, Theories of Persuasion, and Team Leadership and Decision Making.

Research Science Institute | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Cost: Free
  • Length: 5 weeks

This is a unique opportunity for high school students to participate in the research cycle and take college-level science and engineering classes. Students will be guided by scientist mentors to develop a research question and carry out their own research project. At the end of the program, students will present their findings to their peers.

Emory Pre-College Program | Emory College

  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia and Online
  • Cost: $3,166 to $8,966
  • Length: 2 to 6 weeks

Emory College offers a pre-college program through its College of Arts and Sciences. The summer program is ideal for high school juniors and sophomores, and it gives them a glimpse of life at a top university. Students can choose for-credit or non-credit courses in the prep program, and programs are available online or in person.

Precollege Studies | Cornell University

  • Location: Ithaca, New York and Online
  • Cost: $1,620 per credit plus $2,415 for 3 weeks room and board (residential students only)
  • Length: 3 to 9 weeks

Cornell University offers a college summer program that allows high school students to earn college credit before graduating from high school and prepare for their freshman year of college. Cornell’s pre-college program offers both online and on-campus programs.

Pre–College Students Summer at Hopkins | Johns Hopkins University

  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland and Online
  • Cost: $2,240 to $7,840
  • Length: 2 to 10 weeks

Johns Hopkins University’s pre-college program prepares high school students for their freshman year of college by giving them a chance to build new skills, pursue their interests, and explore a major. Students earn college credit during this program through on-campus or online learning.

Summer Pre-College | Carnegie Mellon University

  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Cost: Free to $11,639
  • Length: 3 to 6 weeks

Carnegie Mellon University is a prestigious university in Pennsylvania with a summer pre-college program for high school students (seniors and juniors) who want to explore their academic interests while experiencing a taste of college life. It’s an in-person-only program with topics like architecture, art, computational biology, computer science, design, drama, and music.

Are College Prep Courses Worth It?

Yes, college prep courses are worth it because they help high school students learn useful skills for the future, such as time management. Time management skills will help college freshmen balance all their activities with difficult courses. Some of the pre-college programs specifically offer time management workshops to help students master the art.

College prep courses are the best way to prepare for success in college. They can help you get used to student life and practice taking advanced classes. Some college prep course instructors can even write letters of recommendation for you. If you want to get a college degree, you should start with a college prep course or program.

College Prep for High School Students FAQ

What is the goal of college prep?

The main goal of college prep is to teach high schoolers how to prepare for their freshman year of college by exposing them to college-level work. Once they get to college, they’ll be able to focus on choosing a college major and thinking about their career goals. College prep also gives students a clearer idea of what to expect in college.

Are there online college prep programs?

Yes, there are online college prep programs. These programs are ideal for students who want to join from different parts of the world. It reduces the cost of travel while still giving students a taste of what a college education is like.

Which universities offer college prep?

Most Ivy League and other large universities have college prep programs. Some of the most notable are Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, Brown University, Harvard University, and Northwestern University. Each program is slightly different, so take some time to read up before picking a program.

Is financial assistance available for college prep?

Yes, financial aid is available to college prep students. Some students who demonstrate financial need get partial aid while others get full tuition coverage. This helps all students access college preparation courses so they can be ready. Each program may have a different scholarship application, so contact a program administrator to learn more.

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