Successful high school students have a road map that takes them from their first day as high school freshmen all the way through graduation. But if you’re intimidated by the thought of mapping out your entire high school journey, we're here to help.

The process of making a road map will help you become the person you want to be: confident, organized, passionate, and ready to make the world your own. While we know it’s not possible for all families, we highly recommend reading this post with a parent. Their input can be invaluable when making big, long-term plans.

Starting Out: Dropping the Pin

The first months of freshman year are sort of like “dropping a pin” on your favorite map application. You know where you need to go, but you don’t know the best route.

Your road map should answer five primary questions, which means you should answer them first! Take a moment to answer these questions thoughtfully and honestly.

    1. What am I passionate about? What do I want to do with my life? This is the big one. You don’t have to choose a college major yet, but you should have a sense of the kinds of things you want to study. Do you love STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) classes, or are you more interested in the liberal arts (history, English, etc.)? Do you have a very specific career goal (engineer, lawyer, teacher), or a larger sense of what industry you’d like to work in? It's important to begin with a direction, knowing that this may change later.
    2. What classes do I need to take? Using the information from question one, look at your high school course catalog and determine what kinds of classes you might want to take during your high school journey. Consider the difficulty level of classes as well as any standard curriculum, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate requirements that may need to be met.
    3. What kind of relationships do I want to build? It’s important for students to begin developing personal relationships with teachers, coaches, and club directors early on. Having mentors you admire and trust will not only provide a safe place to ask questions and discuss common interests, but can also develop into recommendation letters for college down the line. It’s never too early to begin building these relationships!
    4. What tests do I need to take? Unless you are in an exam-based secondary school, you may not begin standardized testing this early. However, knowing when students typically take the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests will help you develop a test prep calendar for the next four years.
    5. What do I enjoy doing outside the classroom? In addition to being personally fulfilling, extracurricular activities are crucial factors in successful college admissions. Start considering school- and community-based activities that mesh with your interests.

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to start mapping! The map can take many different forms, but we’ve offered a few examples below to get you started.

    • Create a calendar. Whether it’s online (via iCal, Google Calendar, etc.) or in a traditional planner, mark important test dates and milestones.
    • Create a checklist. Convert your aspirations into actionable items; come up with a set of concrete goals for each semester. The old-fashioned list on the fridge works, but for tech-savvy students, also consider setting up a digital checklist (we like Wunderlist a lot) that you and your parent(s) can update and monitor.
    • Visualize your objectives. Our simple high school road map spreadsheet might do the trick for you. If not, be creative and come up with your own “visual culture” for your road map. Maybe you imagine high school as an imaginary continent with territories to be explored and conquered (call it the Game of Thrones method), or maybe different colors of Post-It Notes will do. Whatever you decide, make the process as fun and engaging as possible!

Finally, remember that the high school road map is an evolving document. Nothing is set in stone! Your smartphone adjusts its directions when you make a wrong turn or decide on a detour. Don’t be afraid of revisions, additions, subtractions, or total route changes—just prepare for them in advance.

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