Making the Most of High School

Are you Round or Pointy?

We’re not trying to be rude. We also don’t believe students fit only one of these dimensions. This is about the way you fill your days and how you might share that with a college. There’s that round side of you —as in well-rounded—doing all kinds of different things outside of classes. Basketball? Marching band? 4-H? Volunteering at your church? Bagging groceries on the weekend? Don’t hold back from sharing these things if they’re a key part of your hours outside of school. Colleges know that you have a lot of responsibilities and interests that don’t show up on your transcript. Let them know who you are and what’s important.

Then there’s that pointy approach. Maybe that kindergarten visit to the Humane Society is where it all started, and now you volunteer, coordinate a Dog Jog, break the Internet with your advocacy stories and shots. You’ve got a passion and it fires you up everyday.

“We just want students who live and die for homework” said no college admissions officer ever. Focus. Passion. Enthusiasm. Colleges want and need both the round and the pointy students—and students all along that amazing spectrum. We think you’ll like this framework for thinking about who you are and how you share that story.

About those hours in school….

No amount of roundness or pointiness will make up for a squishy class schedule or mediocre grades. Coasting through high school isn’t how you can coast into college. Challenge yourself (but don’t overwhelm yourself) and remember that what classes you need to graduate from high school may not be enough for getting into college.

Action step: Read The Guide’s detailed tips on how your extracurricular activities and academic performance play a role in the college admissions process. You need just a few minutes for our short student-to-student video modules that walk you through Making the Most of High School.

Fair Opp Faves: Tools We Like

Don’t you wish you could get beyond the glossy college campus photos? What is the campus vibe really like when you’re living the student life there? Campus visits are really important for knowing whether you fit in. We think that Campus Reel offers one affordable alternative. Students film short pieces on their dorm rooms, campus food, study spaces and so forth. Not every college is featured [yet].

Ten Things to Know about the PSAT/NMSQT

You don’t really need to know what all of those letters stand for.

Taking this standardized test is the only way to be eligible for 8,600 college scholarships offered through the National Merit Scholarship Program and other special scholarships. (Special exceptions for illness or emergencies.)

It’s offered one time a year, in October: this year, it’s October 10 for most schools but the alternate date is October 13. Confirm the date with your school.

It’s only offered through your high school and you will need to register before the test date. Check with your counselor (soon!) on how to register.

It’s a test you take in your junior year/11th grade, but 10th graders may be able to take it as a practice round. Check with your school.

Registering includes questions about your academic and college interests. You will be asked whether you want this information to be shared with the “Student Search Service.” This is how colleges and scholarships may find you—and contact you.

It’s a standardized test, and that means that not every student’s strengths are going to come shining through. Do not despair if this is you—there are many other ways to do that.

Taking the test doesn’t affect your school grades and is good practice for the SAT, a standardized test that many colleges require for admission.

The competition is stiff for becoming a finalist but it’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to call yourself a National Merit Scholar.

If you want to dig into the nitty gritty details, you can find them on the National Merit website at

Action step: You can only take the official PSAT once as a qualifying test for the competition, but you can get lots of practice and tips at no charge on the Khan Academy website. Answer a few questions and see how you do!

What’s Your Question?

Send us your questions and we’ll respond to them here!

“How do I apply for a scholarship?”-Clio M.

Hi Clio! This may sound like bad voting advice, but here’s what you need to do for scholarships: apply EARLY and OFTEN. You may not get every scholarship you apply for, but you definitely won’t get a scholarship that you DON’T apply for. Here’s what we recommend. First, make a resume: focus on the details, not the fancy layout. Next, your high school and the colleges you’re applying to will offer some of your best options for scholarships. Get the lists and the deadlines BEFORE your senior year, if possible. Deadlines for the most generous college scholarships may be earlier than college application deadlines! Stay organized. Set a realistic and steady goal—how many can you apply for every week? If you write an essay, save it and reuse it where you can. Be sure to check out the complete steps that we recommend in The Guide and catch some advice in this short video module on our website.

In Your Region

Colleges want your state’s students. The list of discounts and grants that are offered in one state to attract students in another state continues to grow. This means that public universities may offer out-of-state students the same, lower tuition as in-state residents. Private colleges don’t have in-state or out-of-state tuition pricing but many of them will match the tuition cost at their state’s public colleges. Here is a detailed listing from NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) of some of the main tuition exchange and reciprocity discount programs offered by region. If you have a specific college in mind, contact their financial aid office for the most specific information.