Barbara Phelps

Barbara Phelps

Freshmen, it’s not too early to start thinking about your college plans. Your first step — build a strong resume. If you establish high standards and work hard, you will set yourself up for unlimited opportunities when you apply to colleges in the fall of your senior year. Here are some tips to get you started:

• Academic GPA and course rigor. Colleges are most interested in your four-year grade point average (GPA) and the types of classes you choose. It is not uncommon for freshmen to have slightly lower grades in their first year as they transition to high school academics. After that, colleges are looking for an upward trend and an increase in course rigor (e.g., honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB)) courses if possible. Go beyond the minimum requirements for graduation. Highly selective colleges like to see four years of English, math, science, world languages and social studies. Be sure you are spending adequate, uninterrupted time studying each night. Make academics your first priority.

• Extracurricular activities. During your high school years you have the wonderful opportunity to get involved in sports, clubs, scouting, church groups or hobbies that are of special interest to you. Stretch your boundaries; try new pursuits; meet new people. Well-rounded students who participate in after-school activities typically have higher GPA’s than those who do not participate, and they are viewed as an asset by college admission representatives. Extra-curricular activities teach you to work with others, take on fresh challenges, develop new skills and be a part of something bigger than yourself. Be careful not to “pad” your resume with activities you do not really participate in. Colleges want to see your passion and commitment to a few well-chosen pursuits.

• Community service. Serving others is not only a fulfilling experience, it demonstrates the depth of your character. When you help others you act as role model, mentor and servant. Many agencies and groups need your help in our community. Work at a soup kitchen, coach a youth sports team, volunteer to help in your religious community, tutor younger students, visit the elderly and see the change in you.

• Employment. Many teenagers take on part-time jobs after school, on weekends and during the summer months. Whether it’s babysitting, yard work, acting as a referee at a sporting event, working at a restaurant or office, you are showing colleges you can handle responsibility and commitment. If you cannot participate in extra-curricular activities due to the need to work to assist your family with financial obligations, include that information in your college application. If this is the case, you now have interesting essay topics filled with character-building anecdotes for your admission’s application.

• Leadership. As you gain experience outside of the classroom, challenge yourself by taking on leadership roles. This includes positions such as team captain, student government representative or elected leader, club treasurer, secretary, vice president or president and Boys and Girls State. For students involved in scouting, the Eagle Scout Award for boys and the Gold Award for girls shows determination to reach for the highest scouting honor possible, as well as the ability to lead others and serve the community. You will have many opportunities to lead as an adult. Taking on leadership responsibilities as a high school student gives you the skills for success in the future.

Remember, choose your activities wisely. Keep a good balance in your life, and be sure to give yourself time for family, friendships and fun along the way.

• Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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