Aug 01, 2015


10 Tips to Help Your Child Succeed in High School!

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Finally the moment your child has been waiting for:  High school!

A new school, new friends and new teachers.  Anxiety-producing, right? Perhaps.  But your child’s first year in high school is the perfect time to set the tone for the next four years to come.  Realize that from the moment she steps into the first classroom, she’s already building her high school academic portfolio.  Everything counts.  So if you want your child to succeed in high school and get accepted to her top colleges, she’ll need to get going from the get go.


Preparation and discussion are key for academic success. Take a moment to go over these tips with your child. Read them out loud and take notes!

1.  Get to Know Your Guidance Counselor and Build a Relationship

Building a good relationship with your school guidance counselor is key for many reasons.  Guidance counselors serve many roles in your academic career in high school.  They guide and advice you with courses and curriculum; they assist you with class/course issues; they provide academic support; and they can recommend you for extracurricular/academic programs and awards.  In other words, a good guidance counselor that has your best interest in mind is, without doubt, your best friend in high school.

To help your guidance counselor get to know you well, establish a relationship with him/her as early as possible.  Drop by his office and introduce yourself.  Tell your guidance counselor a little about yourself and what you hope to do while you’re in high school (e.g., play sports, learn an instrument, work on the school newspaper). Be assertive, ask your guidance counselor if she’s heard of any new opportunities that you might benefit from, such as a summer program scholarship or an afterschool enrichment program.  Overall, be resourceful.

Resource: Click HERE for a list of 20 questions you should ask your school guidance counselor.

2.  Find Out if Honors and Advance Courses are Offered, and When

If you’re serious about going to college, you’ll need to start thinking and preparing very early on.  Selective colleges take a very close look at your academic transcript.  It is no longer enough to get all straight A’s.  Admissions officers look at the rigor of the classes you have taken.  They want to see that you went above and beyond to have the best learning experience in high school.

Honors classes, AP courses and other advanced classes will help your transcript look more impressive, even if your course grades are slightly lower than another transcript with higher grades on classes that are not as challenging.  Notice that honors classes are loaded higher than a regularer classes.  This means that a “B+” in an honors class is equivalent (and sometimes better) than an “A” in a regular class.

Some high schools offer honors courses as early as in the 9th grade, but most schools begin their honors courses in the 10th grade.  Find out how you’ll be able to take honors and advanced courses.   Don’t think you qualify to be in an honor class?  Not so true.  Most schools allow parents and students to nominate themselves to honors classes, without significant consideration to the students academic grades in the previous year (unless they failed that subject, of course).  So, go ahead and request to be in honors courses.

Resource: Click HERE to a description of honors and advanced courses, and their benefits.

3.  Get a List of School Clubs and Extracurricular Activities

Good leadership skills are very important for the success of individuals, companies and our communities.  This is why colleges and universities value your leadership experiences in high school and within your community.  To help build your leadership skills, you’ll need to find opportunities to learn and exercise your those skills.  School clubs, extraccurricular activities and after-school programs provide students with these opportunities.

To join a school club, find out what types of clubs are offered in your school.  Next, evaluate which of the clubs listed really interest you. Don’t join a club or an activity because you want to list this experience in your college application.  It is best to find something that you really enjoy, because you’ll be more likely to commit to that activity long term.  Admissions officers prefer to see students who have been actively involved in 2 or 3 activities over the past 3-4 years, than 7 or 8 short-lived activities.

4.  Explore Leadership Positions or Activities that Interest You

Being a member of a school club is simply not good enough to show leadership.  After being an active member of a school club, consider running for treasurer, president or some other leadership position.  If you’re not sure what type of commitment these positions require, ask the current person holding that position.

You can also find leadership skills building opportunities outside your school. You can volunteer at a community program, church or institution, and help run or organize a program or effort.  There are many free leadership programs in the summer for teenagers.  Go online and search for those.  You can also ask your guidance counselor or parent for help.

5.  Look for Special or Advanced School Programs that Will Help You Stand Out as a College Applicant

Some high schools have more resources than others.  Explore which advanced or special programs are offered in your high school.  Many of these programs are not well advertised, so you’ll need to do some leg work. Does your school has an Advanced Science Research Program?  Or a good Drama Club?  What about a Debate Team?

Get a list of all the Advance Placement (AP) courses offered by your school and what you need to do to take these courses.  The earlier you know, the earlier you’ll be able to take those courses and accummulate an impressive list of AP courses in your transcript.  Remember, college admissions officers value transcripts with challenging courses; it suggests that you’re academically motivated, smart and studious.

6.  Familiarize Yourself with the SAT’s and ACT’s Tests and Begin Practicing

It is never too early to familiarize yourself, practice and study for the SAT’s or ACT’s.  I suggest you buy both an SAT and an ACT practice books right in the beginning of your 9th grade.  Go through each book and see the difference between these tests.  Notice that you only need to take one of these tests (not both) for college admissions.

By the 10th grade, you should have figured out which test is best suited to you, and begin taking practice tests and/or a formal test preparatory course.  And, no, 10th grade is not too early to start studying for these tests.  The best performance predictor for these tests is not intelligence or grade point average, it is practice, practice, practice.

Resource: For an SAT and ACT test comparison chart, click HERE.

7.  Explore Summer Programs and Opportunities

Summer is no longer about hanging out at the beach or with friends down the block. Colleges want to see how you’re spending your time off from school. Yes, it’s totally not fair. You do deserve a break and a social life, but college admissions has become so competitive that colleges have no choice but to take into consideration your summer activities.

As a result, you’ll find hundreds of summer programs catering to high school students, from academic enrichment programs in colleges, to international volunteer experiences.  Whatever you do, make sure you spend at least 4 weeks of your summer vacation doing something that is productive, intellectually stimulating or community-minded.

Now, you don’t need to go to Africa or Guatemala and help build houses or teach English as a Second Language to impress college admissions officers. Working at your family’s store; volunteering at a local community program; or taking a free online course are all excellent summer activities.  Whatever you do, make sure you’ll be able to articulate that summer experience as something that helped you grow and learn.

Resource: For more information on the types of summer learning experiences, click HERE

8.  Organize Yourself and Your School Work

Organization is central to a successful career in high school.  Here are some things you should keep organized and easy to find:

  • Your course syllabus and class requirements
  • Your class notes, records, tests and papers
  • A to-do list and a calendar with due dates for school projects
  • Your room and homework space at home

Organization also entails exercising good time management. Learn to be in control of your time, not the other way around.  There are free time management courses online.  Take one, or two.

9.  Hang Out with the Right Crowd

Many teens in high school feel pressured to make friends or hang out with particular crowds. It is very natural to want to be liked by others and be part of a social group.  But ultimately, what matters most is choosing friends that are not going to get in the way of your goals.  For that reason, make friends with kids who have things/goals/dreams in common with you.  Hang out with kids that are mature for their age, kind and easy to be around.  Avoid the drama at all cost.

10.  Push yourself – Challenge Yourself

What’s life without challenges?  As you begin your first year in high school, don’t take short cuts.  Challenge yourself to be the best you can be.  Look for ways to outdo yourself.  Set high standards and high goals for yourself.   You are in control of your own destiny.  Only by pushing yourself, you’ll see how far you can go.


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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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  1. I shared this with my baby sister on FB, she just started high school last week!

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