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Step by Step: The Path to College

September 17, 2000

Getting into a four-year school is complicated. Your crucial decisions come as early as the eighth grade. To simplify things for the 70,000 seniors who will apply this year to the University of California and the 175,000 who will apply to a Cal State campus, the two university systems have adopted identical course requirements:

4 years of English and literature

3 years of math (through advanced algebra and trigonometry)

2 years of a foreign language

2 years of laboratory science

2 years of history and social science

1 year of visual or performing arts

1 year of electives from the above list

Total: 15 yearlong academic subjects

This schedule demands at least four college preparatory classes every year of high school. These courses will also satisfy most private colleges and universities, although some have slightly different prerequisites. Check with your school counselor.

Year-by-Year Checklist


Remind your parents and your counselor that you plan to attend a four-year college or university.

If you are not taking algebra or a foreign language this year, make sure that your ninth-grade schedule includes these subjects.

If you will be attending a year-round school in the ninth grade, make sure that you are assigned to a track that offers college preparatory classes. Strive to make A's and Bs in all of your subjects and do at least one hour of homework every night.

Ask your counselor about academic enrichment programs (including summer and weekend programs) at your school or local colleges. Sample programs include MESA, Med Cor, Upward Bound, YBS, Cal Soap and Talent Search.


Remind your counselor again that you want to attend a four-year college or university and that you need to schedule college prep courses. Take algebra or geometry and a foreign language in both semesters.

If you attend a year-round school, make sure that you are in a track that offers college prep subjects.

Maintain A's and Bs in all subjects, and do at least one hour of homework each night.

Form a study group with friends who also plan to go to college, and study together often.

Create a personal resume file to save: Copies of report cards, diplomas and certificates presented to you, a list of awards and honors you receive, a list of school and community activities you join, a list of offices you hold in organizations and a list of jobs you hold (volunteer or paid).

Update this file each semester.

Begin visiting local community colleges, state universities and independent colleges or universities with your family or friends. Before you go, call the admissions office for brochures and information about campus tours.

Participate in academic enrichment programs.


Review your ninth- and 10th-grade class schedules with your counselor to make sure you are taking all the college prep classes you need to attend a four-year college or university.

Maintain A's and Bs and do at least one or two hours of homework every night.

Continue to form study groups with friends.

Continue to update your personal file every semester.

Continue to visit local colleges and universities.

Continue to participate in academic enrichment programs and special summer workshops and camps for music, science, engineering, writing, filmmaking, theater, language and other fields. Many are held on college campuses, and some offer scholarships.


Check with your counselor to make sure you are on track to take the college prep subjects needed to attend a four-year college or university.

Maintaining A's and Bs is especially important during your junior year. You should be doing a minimum of two hours of homework each night and continuing to participate in study groups.

Register for the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test) in October. The PSAT is a practice exam for the SAT I and is required for several national scholarship programs, such as National Merit, National Achievement and National Hispanic Scholarships.

Take the PSAT. The results will give you and your counselor an idea of your strengths and the areas you need to improve in as you prepare for college admission.

If you are taking Advanced Placement subjects in the 11th grade, register to take the AP exams in the spring. Scoring well on those exams will enable you to earn credit for college-level courses.

Attend college fairs and sit in on presentations by college representatives who visit your school.

Do some research. Most schools and libraries have computers to help you search for college and university information either on their database, via the Internet or on CD-ROMS. All college counseling offices have libraries of college catalogs, guidebooks and directories for researching college options.

Create a file on the colleges that appeal to you. Ask for literature about admission, financial aid and your proposed college major if you have one. Your counselor can also provide contact information.

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