You may not actually start thinking about college applications until junior year, but the process begins as soon as you start high school. You’ll want to participate in extracurricular activities, complete community service, and build relationships with your counselors and teachers early. Come junior or senior year, you may begin to feel overwhelmed by your postsecondary choices, but you can narrow your college search. If a four-year college isn’t in your five-year plan, you have plenty of other options.

How to Appeal to Colleges: Admissions officers are looking for well-rounded applicants who participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, thrive academically, and show a genuine interest in their institution.

How to Make Your Summers Meaningful: Summers offer you an abundance of time to enhance your résumé through jobs, volunteer work, summer classes, and travel.

Deciding Between AP and IB Courses: Depending on which courses your school offers, the decision may be made for you. Taking these classes and passing the associated exams can lead to college credit in the future.

The AP Program and AP Tests: Students can take Advanced Placement classes throughout the duration of high school, though they generally have more opportunities as they progress further into the curriculum.

The IB Diploma Programme: IB classes are offered during the last two years of high school; students can take just one class or participate in a full curriculum.

The PSAT: Students often take the PSAT/NMSQT during their junior years, but those who want to start practicing for the SAT earlier may be able to take the Preliminary SAT as freshmen or sophomores.

Deciding Between the SAT and ACT: The SAT and ACT are used to measure a student’s ability to succeed in college. Scores from at least one test are generally required as part of a school’s application.

The SAT: The SAT is the oldest standardized test that is still used today; it tests evidence-based reading and math.

The ACT:Students who excel in academics over logic and vocabulary may benefit from the ACT, which measures a student’s abilities in reading, English, math, and science.

SAT Subject Tests:Not always required for college admission, SAT Subject Tests test the material from a specific class subject. High scores may strengthen a student’s college application.

How to Begin Your College Search: A lot goes into picking the perfect school for you: geography, number of students, academic offerings, extracurricular offerings, and diversity. What are you attracted to?

What Can You Afford: Before applying to colleges, narrow down your list to institutions you can afford thanks to a combination of financial aid and out-of-pocket payment.

Can You Get In: Consider your academic strengths and weaknesses and a school’s admissions statistics when deciding to categorize it as a reach, safety, or match school.

Attend College Fairs: College fairs offer you the opportunity to explore your postsecondary options, ask questions, and get answers from college representatives, all for free and close to home.

Plan and Complete College Visits: The best way to learn about your potential institution is to call up the admissions office and ask to spend some time on campus. Take a tour, interact with current students and professors, and ask questions.

Alternatives to Four-Year College: You’re not obligated to attend a four-year college. In fact, you have numerous options for your future, and not all of them involve attending a postsecondary institution.