Making the Most Out of High School While Preparing For the Future

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International students need to think about entry requirements long before they mail the actual application to a university

Parents often wonder how they can prepare their teenagers for top U.S. universities and colleges. International students need to think about entry requirements long before they mail the actual application to a university.

For Parents

Preparing now for your children's future and career is the most important favor you can do for them. You can do this through long-range educational planning. Begin helping your son or daughter understand that the competition is especially fierce to get into top schools. Even if your child has a 3.5 Grade Point Average and a 1300 combined SAT score, statistically you have less than a 20% chance of being accepted by an Ivy League university.

Help your son or daughter plan to take secondary courses that will make sense to college admissions committees. If possible, try to take required standardized tests (TOEFL, SAT) by the end of the junior year (11th grade).

Be prepared to compete with your neighbors, colleagues, and friends for seats in the freshman class (first year of university). This is especially true for international students, who often apply to the same big-name U.S. universities as U.S. students.

Seriously think about Early Decision programs. Often, this can give you a needed edge in the admissions process.

Help foster a positive learning environment at home, encourage good study skills, and emphasize the importance of time management. Encourage your son or daughter to use school vacations and holidays to participate in activities that are related to his or her academic or intellectual interests.

For Students

Develop an academic or intellectual orientation and opt for the most rigorous high school courses available. Take as many classes as you can in your area of interest. Think about enrolling in courses at a local university while still in secondary school.

Explore your interests and be honest with yourself. Try to decide what academic areas you might want to pursue during your college career. Enroll in honors, International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses, if possible.

Get involved in after-school activities that are related to your academic interests. Activities like debate, student government, and Model United Nations are useful, for example, for aspiring lawyers and diplomats.

Take advantage of volunteer and work opportunities in your community (volunteer, intern, work, write articles for local newspapers). Admissions committees often look for demonstrated commitment to your community. It is easier to prove that you will make a difference on a prospective university campus if you have contributed meaningfully to your high school community.

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By Steve Goodman
Steve Goodman ( is an international authority on college and graduate admissions. He has designed admissions strategies for over 1,500 applicants to universities, graduate programs, and business, law, and medical schools. As a former Wharton School faculty member, Mr. Goodman provides professional assistance with school selection, application strategies, and personal statement preparation.