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How to Be College Ready

By Jonathan Sparling

  • March 15, 2022
  • 36 min watch


Is your child an eighth grader or a freshman in high school? This is a good time to look at the next several years and plan how your student can be college ready. It might feel early, but there’s a lot you can do now — at a steady pace.

Curtis Ferguson, associate director of admission at University of Southern California, and Orlando Ramirez, assistant director of admission at DePauw University, share the many ways students can be college ready in high school.

Some highlights in our conversation include:


Look at the bigger picture

“You want to challenge yourself, but do you want to challenge yourself to the point of stress and headaches?” asks Curtis.

AP classes — with good grades to match — can help a student’s chances of being accepted to college, but it’s not the only factor. Curtis compares everything else that goes into the admissions decision to legs on a table. No one “leg” is more important than another. Students should take AP classes if they’re up to the challenge, while not losing sight of:

  • High school GPA
  • Overall academic rigor
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized test scores
  • College essay or interview


Develop those core skills

“Reading and writing are essential,” says Orlando. “You’re going to read and write a ton in college, and you’re going to have to do it in a certain time frame as well.”

Orlando stresses the importance of developing those core skills in high school. Regardless of what major or career a student pursues, strong reading and writing skills are invaluable to have. Beyond core classes, students should consider designing high school curriculum around their interests and what they might study in college.

“If you want to go into engineering, you’re probably going to need to take calculus in high school,” says Curtis. “If your goal in college is to study English, taking calculus is not necessarily that important.”


Weigh test scores against everything else

“So, parents, I’m going to say something, and this might shock you,” says Curtis. “I have never read an application, loved the student, wanted to admit the student and say, ‘I cannot admit that student because their test score is not high enough.’”

Curtis and Orlando agree that standardized test scores are just one leg on a table. But since each college is different, they suggest families reach out to colleges and ask how test scores are used in the admissions decision.


The big lesson [is] most colleges don’t care about what activities you do. What we care about is why you do them.


Be ready to answer ‘why?’

Curtis and Orlando recommend that students start an activity resume early in high school. It’s a good way to organize strengths and accomplishments and show personal growth. Instead of waiting until senior year to answer, “Why did I participate?”, reflect on this question at the end of each year. As far as showing leadership, Orlando suggests looking at a student’s role and impact on a club or project opposed to just a title.

Curtis really wants families to understand, “The big lesson [is] most colleges don’t care about what activities you do. What we care about is why you do them.”


There is a college for everyone out there.


Look into your ideal college type

Orlando recommends starting with a simple online search — but be strategic. Ask some basic questions to help narrow your search, like:

  • What are you looking for in a school?
  • Do you want to be in a major city? Rural?
  • Do you want to be on campus all four years?

“Don’t stress,” says Curtis. “There are over 4,000 colleges in the United States, and less than 100 colleges still reject more students than they admit. So, there is a college for everyone out there.”

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