Here's what experts suggest high school students do to bulk up for college
Sign up for demanding courses. The single best indicator of how well you'll do in college is not your GPA or your SAT score, but the difficulty of your high-school courses. Colleges recommend going beyond their entry requirements: For example, instead of taking two years of foreign language, take four; instead of taking one lab science, take two. Gear up rather than slack off during senior year.
Consume a steady diet of math. If you take algebra or integrated math before you complete ninth grade, you should be set for college — as long as you keep taking classes that are more and more demanding.
"For some reason, math is a strong indicator of how well you'll do in college," says Mike Ludin, assistant professor of math at Central Washington University. "The more rigorous your courses are in high school, the more likely you'll be to graduate from college. In fact, you're 2½ more times more likely to graduate if you take math above Algebra II in high school."
Practice writing. Colleges require a lot of papers. In a recent survey, half of all students reported that they'd written one to four 20-page papers in a single semester. Half also reported writing 10 or more papers that were up to five pages long. Most of the writing is expository — meaning it contains persuasive ideas backed by evidence. So it pays to search out high-school classes that will give you experience in essay or report writing.
Don't be lulled by good grades. You may have a decent GPA, but chances are you can still use more study time. "Because of grade inflation, high-school students are getting the message that they're doing well, when in fact they may or may not be," Conley says. "Today's B's are actually a combination of what used to be a B and a C."
Read. Novels, biographies, newspapers, you name it. They'll expand your vocabulary and your world, says Seattle University Dean of Admissions Michael McKeon. Newspapers, he says, can help you follow world events and prepare you to join academic discussions. Because a key skill for college success is the ability to express yourself clearly and convincingly, consider joining a debate team.
Try AP, college prep or Running Start classes. "[They] help you transition more smoothly into college," says Christine Roberts, foreign-language chair at Chief Sealth High School. "The students who've taken them come out feeling better prepared — more mature in their thinking and more disciplined in their study habits."
— Patti Jones, Seattle Times staff reporter
Four must-have skills
Graduating seniors should know how to:
• Think analytically
• Solve problems
• Form opinions
• Conduct research
— Standards for Success Project, Association of American Universities
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