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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

High School: Prepare Your Teen for College

Updated: Apr 12

Parents have frequently asked me, what should my high schooler do to prepare for college? What courses should they take? What extracurriculars should they do? What will make them competitive? 

Stories of the college application process can make any parent of a teen panic. This blog is to help parents research the basics. Caveat: I am not a college application counselor, but a parent and a K-12 educational consultant


Academics 

Core Classes. A well-balanced academic load in high school includes one of the following classes each year: science, math, English, history (or social studies), and foreign language. Many schools offer class options, such as honors or AP, that add rigor. Choose a level of rigor for each class that provides some challenge, but not so much challenge that they are too crushed with homework to participate in extracurricular activities, and at a level where they have an opportunity to earn strong grades. In my experience, it is a mistake to compare your student to others because it risks choosing classes that are too difficult (or too easy). My general advice aims to avoid risks of teen depression while providing opportunity for your student to delve into subjects that interest them the most. 

Your school counselor is a great resource in choosing classes because they know best the specific curriculum at your school. My teen usually meets with his teachers from the current year before choosing his classes for the following year, especially in areas he is less sure about. His teachers have been extremely helpful with identifying classes that are a fit for his specific skill set. For example, maybe your student loves history, so AP US History or the equivalent at your school would be a great experience to study history while improving their expository writing. Or maybe they love science, and they want to take AP Chemistry or AP Biology or the equivalent at your school, to learn about science and delve into laboratory skills. There is not enough room or hours in the day to take every possible class, so prioritize based on your student’s interest.

Electives. Most  schools require electives beyond the core subjects above. Look at what is required over the four years of high school, and work with your teen to pick options that most interest them. There is no one answer for every student. Whether your student loves computer science, art or music, they should find classes with increasing challenge each year in that area. If your school allows independent study for physical education, that can also open up space in the schedule, or some schools allow them to take classes like PE over the summer.


Extracurriculars

Well Rounded vs Pointy. When I was a student, colleges wanted well rounded students. Now, social media shares the preference for pointy students. Which is it? My vote is love the student you have. You are not going to turn your geeky kid into a sports star or your well-rounded social kid into a pointy one. Trying to follow the trends is just not possible because it will only produce mediocre, unhappy students. There are almost 6,000 colleges in the USA alone, and no two colleges have the same admissions policy. The right college will love your student for who they are and not compare them to some unattainable standard.

Activities vs Projects or Internships. Parents ask, should our student participate in official activities, should they complete a passion project, or should they do an internship? What will help them the most? Following the trends could make you crazy, and this will make your kid crazy. My view is, your student should pursue whatever interests them the most. Some students are social and enjoy working with the clubs and other organizations in their school. These students should look to increase their leadership role over time and grow their responsibility. Other students prefer to make things, they have ideas that they want to implement, whether a computer program or a structure. They should absolutely do these projects because this is their passion. I’ve spoken with students who interned with local government, small companies, or nonprofits. These are also fantastic endeavors where teens can make a difference. What I’m saying, there is no one strategy that gets a student into every college, so it is best to follow their genuine interests with commitment. In other words, as a parent, I don’t want my kid spending all their free time playing video games, but what they pursue is up to them.


Life Skills

One day, our teens will go to college and then get jobs. Do you remember that kid who arrived at college not knowing how to do laundry? Who inadvertently turned their whites pink or shrunk all their clothing? Who didn’t leave the bathroom clean enough for their roommates? While so many teens love to spend time with their friends or playing games, there are some important life skills, such as cooking, laundry, cleaning, making appointments, and self-advocacy that will make their lives function better when they launch into the real world. Teach your student both academics – you will not be there to ask their professors for an extension or for help understanding an assignment – to the practical – you don’t want their future roommates or partners to hate you for the slob that they become.


Role of a K-12 Consultant 

A consultant can help parents by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending potential K-12 schools. In addition, your consultant can help you apply to schools, and then weigh the pros and cons of each school that accepts your student.


Want more input on K-12 schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.


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