The Best High School Tips: What You Need to Know

By Chris Landeros •  Updated: 10/22/17 •  8 min read

The Best High School Tips for College Bound Students

high school tips


We often summarize “High School” as those years of making weekend plans with your friends, running to after school practice, and still finding the time to survive study for the next AP US History test. 

High school can seem like a mess but here are some lessons I took along with me. Some of this may seem obvious but I think it’s important for those who lack direction or want to make the most of their high school. Here are some of our best high school tips. 

Quality over Quantity

High School Tips

When it comes to applying for college, one of our high school tips is to prioritize quality over quantity

When it comes to the college admissions process, it’s less about how much you can fit in to your college app and more about what made you standout. 

For example, if you were applying to be a computer engineering major at a prestigious university, you can create an edge over other students who just passivelyshows up to Robotics Club every other week. How? 

By working on a much larger project!

You could spend those hours doing something interesting like building a team in your club, working with faculty on creating a robot, and competing in robotics competitions. Not only are you using the lessons you learned in class to build a functioning unit, but you are also demonstrating leadership by forging your own team.

This can demonstrate you understand the critical process of creating a robot, and handling the challenges of facing outside competition. Writing about your passion and how you ran with it sounds way better than saying:

“I always wanted to be a computer engineer, showing up to my Robotic club every week and paying special close attention in my AP Comp Sci class.”

The same goes for grades. You can’t go head first signing up for 4 AP classes if you haven’t already taken one AP class. Even if you claim you are the smartest person in your high school, taking too many CHALLENGING classes can ruin your free time and stress you out. What’s worse is if you don’t know how to handle these classes, you might end up performing poorly. This can also leave you stuck feeling inadequate or even stupid as you try to figure out what’s wrong with you.

Pro High School Tip: Don’t do overwhelm yourself.

I knew of a lot of kids who loaded up on AP’s because they were worried about what other people thought of them or worried if they didn’t, that they wouldn’t get into a good college. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to take things slowly. Work your way up, one or two AP’s at a time. Learn how to time manage and find out what study strategies work for you.


Grades Over Extracurriculars

When it comes to playing the college admissions game, it’s difficult to say this but grades are ALMOST everything. I’m a big believer in executing projects and learning from failure.

However, grades and test scores, with exceptions to exceptional essays, are still king/queen. According to the University of California Admissions, these two items are the FIRST criteria the schools look at.

High School Tips

The first 4 of the 14 items the UC schools review.

Test and GPA even makes up 50% of the college admissions for UCSB.

High School Tips: Seek out school review processes

All UC Schools will use the same 14 factors to evaluate your apps. However “they often apply these factors differently.” Be sure to check the selection process of each UC campus you’re looking to apply to.

Your GPA, if maintained well with good study habits and time management, can be a huge asset during the admissions process. Same goes for test scores.

Often times this becomes overlooked due to test preps costing large sums of money. Not to mention studying for the SAT or ACT on top of your classes. Yeah, that sucks.

But honestly, even with a high GPA, subpar test scores can be the difference between getting into that college you already bought a sweatshirt from, and getting a rejection email. In hindsight, any college is great for increasing your employability in the workforce. So be proud of wherever you get accepted into. But, you know, having options is never bad.

Some quick solutions to preparing for the SAT and/or ACT, study with groups, cop a SAT book from the library (nobody uses public libraries anymore), or pay the $100 for the SAT prep you school offers. That can sound like a TON of money if you come from a low-income family like myself, but it’s worth giving up the 20 subways, 20 Starbucks caramel grandes, 1.5 COD games, or 2 makeup palettes.


Dual Enrollment Over AP’s

high school tips

The pros and cons of Dual Enrollment and AP classes are listed here

This is probably the BEST High School Tip! Most students are either unaware or intimidated to take college courses during high school. There are definite disadvantages. One enormous disadvantage is your grade in dual enrolled college class will be on your first college transcript. Meaning if you are not prepared to take college-level courses, well your GPA in college is gonna take a hit.

However, one HUGE advantage is that your grade in that class immediately will count for college credit. Unlike AP classes, where you have to pay $95 to take a test that you HAVE to pass in order to receive credit, you would only have to pay the enrollment fee and MAYBE a textbook.

At Community Colleges, or CC, this enrollment fee can be from free to $100 depending on where you go and whether your high school has a Dual Enrollment program. Textbooks it’s a gamble: My Poli Sci professor said he’d only test us on lecture slides while my Econ 110 professor required the book which I rented for $38. Even then, there tons of different ways to finesse textbook costs. One of them is to use SlugBooks which one of the websites we recommend to check out on our article about the best websites for college students. 

High School Tips

High School Tip: Use SlugBooks to find the best prices for your textbooks.

From what I learned about Opportunity Costs, $53 for the equivalent of two college classes. All for a total of 8 quarter units (or 6 semester units). That’s a steal! If you are covered by the free-and-reduced lunch program you can take AP tests for $5-a-pop.

However, there’s still NO guarantee you’ll pass (unless your teacher has 100% pass rate). You still have to deal with FRQs. Then you have to deal with another final for your actual AP class. CC classes offer the flexibility of being able to take them over the summer or even online. You could even graduate high school early, or possibly college too, saving you a TON of money in tuition, housing, and fees.

Overall, do I think you should replace every AP class in your schedule for Dual-Enrollment college courses? Well, not necessarily, as there are a ton of benefits to taking AP classes but there are some classes we definitely recommend to take over Dual-Enrollment.

One example would be how AP Literature/Language, along with assigning a ridiculous amount of books you’re gonna Sparknote last minute, these classes can help you with college apps. For example, these classes helps you write your personal statement, while also having a fairly straightforward AP test.

My tip is to look into dual-enrollment and ask upperclassmen their opinions of the classes at school. For example, my Poli Sci community college classes were 120% easier than the AP Gov class offered at my high school and required way less time and effort.

Regardless, take my advice with yourself in consideration. You have different circumstances than I did, but overall, these are MY big takeaways from my high school. All in all, the best high school tips are the ones that are best for you!


Chris L.

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Chris Landeros

My name is Christopher Landeros but you can call me Chris. I started this website after struggling to find relatable and relevant info for first-gen college students. I kept learning the ropes and was wondering why there wasn't a resource to show you how to practically navigate college. So here I am, creating the most in-depth content for College Lighthouse.