I’m not a first generation college student, but I am the first person in my family to go to college in the United States. Though my parents went to university in our home country of the Netherlands, they were totally shocked by the “college frenzy” in America, where some parents start saving for college when their children are born, and students begin hearing about the SAT in middle school.

Of course, that’s not everyone’s experience, and it’s a bit of an extreme approach. Nonetheless, preparing for college is important, and in many ways, the easier you can start, the better. As part of the high school edition of my College Prep series, I’m walking students and parents through what they need to know to get a head start on college planning. Check out this checklist for how to prepare for college as a freshman in high school.

To Do’s for High School Freshmen Preparing for College

Choose a challenging but balanced course load. The best way to prepare for college is to make sure that you have all the necessary skills. Take a look at your high school’s course offerings and make sure that you’re taking  a course load that’s balanced between essential core courses like Algebra and Biology, as well as more challenging courses in the areas where you excel. Some high schools only offer accelerated and AP courses to upperclassmen; that’s fine, but make sure that you’re on track to take those courses in upcoming years.

Make sure you’re getting in your core requirements. Most colleges require the following from high school students:

  • Four years of English
  • Three years of social studies
  • Three years of mathematics
  • Three years of science
  • Two years of foreign language

(Source: StudentAid.Ed.Gov)

Check your schedule to make sure that you’re taking the bulk of those core classes early on. It’s better to take Spanish in your first two years of high school than put it off until your last two years of high school, for example.

Get extra help where you need it. I’ve never been gifted in math and science; I took a lower-level math class in my freshman year of high school, and got a tutor for Physics in later years. If you struggle in certain classes or subject areas, don’t let that get you down. Look into getting extra help from your teachers, learning center, an older student, or an outside tutor if possible. If you can’t afford tutoring, check out websites like Khan Academy, which lets you learn about a wide array of subjects for free.

Begin building up your extracurriculars. Colleges want to see a well-rounded applicant during the college admissions process. That means that you should start looking into ways to build up your student resume outside of academics, by joining clubs, working on building a skill in sports or the arts, or doing community service. Sign up for a couple activities that suit your passions but expand on your horizons. If you need to get an after-school job, remember that that counts as an extracurricular, too: it builds character and shows you have responsibility.

Have fun! As you progress through high school, the pressure to perform will increase and your to do lists will get longer and longer. Do your best to have fun and enjoy life as much as you can during these short few years. Though high school may not be the best years of your life, they’re a great time to explore and come into your own. Give yourself the space to do that in addition to working hard!

To Do’s for Parents of High School Freshmen

Talk to your child about college. Encourage them to think about what they’d like to study or do one day as an adult. These certainly don’t need to be plans — their major and career path will change many times before it settles into its final form — but this kind of talk will help get your student excited about college.

Keep an eye on your student’s grades and activities. Do your best to keep an eye on their performance, checking in on a weekly basis to see how things are going in school and where they are struggling. Notice that I said weekly — try not to hover during this process. It’s important to make sure that your student is trying in school and getting the help they need, without putting them under unnecessary pressure.

Look into college costs for your family. This fact sheet by BigFuture is a great resource if your family has never looked into paying for college before, like mine. Keep your estimated costs in mind and get your family to start saving if you haven’t already. Be prepared to do a lot of research into paying for college and arranging scholarships; college isn’t cheap, but it can be made more affordable through research and balancing options.

Let your kid be a kid. At fourteen, your student may technically be a teenager, but they’re still closer to childhood than to adulthood. Remember that the days may be long but the years are short, and make sure to give your student the time and space needed to still be a kid amidst the beginnings of college prep.

Did I leave anything out? What advice would you give to college freshmen for preparing for college?

This post was originally published SaraLaughed.com. It has been modified and improved for use at College Compass with permission of the author.