Make High School Count

Student's guide

Your high school years may be the most exciting and important ones you will spend in school.

For the first time, you'll have lots of choices to make about what you study. It's important to know that the choices you make for 9th grade - as well as 10th, 11th, and 12th - will affect the choices you'll have for the rest of your life.

No matter what you dream of doing with your life, preparing yourself for more education beyond high school is your wisest plan right now. Post-high school education can provide valuable experiences that contribute to a better quality of life for you. Whether or not you go on to a college, university, career or technical school, the information and skills you learn in your high school classes will always be useful in the world of work.

Remember: Everyone, in every kind of job, needs to be able to write and speak clearly, listen carefully, understand what is written and spoken, and use math effectively.

When you have questions

Your school counselor, teachers, or principal will have the answers (or know someone who does) to many questions about high school and education after high school. Your family and friends often have good information, too. Do not hesitate to ask as many questions as necessary to obtain all the information you need.

Get started now:

Print the Make High School Count Guide (PDF)

Download the High school course planning chart (fillable PDF)

Right now you may not know what you want to do with your future, or exactly how to get ready for it.

That's okay. You have plenty of time to figure out what interests you, what you're good at, and how those things add up to a career. The most important thing to do right now is make sure you keep your options open.

Now is the time to concentrate on improving your skills as a student. If you practice the following tips, you may find you enjoy your classes more:

  • Sit close to the front of the classroom when possible.
  • Join in class discussions.
  • Ask questions. If you don't understand something, chances are others in the class don't understand either.
  • Keep up with class assignments. Finish them before they're due.
  • Ask for help in any class in which you find yourself falling behind. Remember, your teachers want to help you succeed!
  • Look for ways to sharpen your basic skills in each class. You can practice your writing skills in history, your algebra skills in science, and your math and science skills in vocational education classes.
  • Learn keyboarding skills so you can type your own schoolwork and use a computer.
  • Learn to take good class notes. You'll be taking lots of notes during the rest of your life.
  • Learn to proofread, correct, and rewrite your written work.
  • Develop test-taking skills. Your counselor and teachers can show you how to get started.

First, you need to be thoroughly familiar with all the required courses and graduation requirements of your high school.

  • You should take an English or literature class each year of high school. These classes will strengthen your reading, writing, and speaking skills.
  • A series of mathematics courses is very important as you prepare for the careers of the future. Four years of high school math, including algebra and geometry, are necessary to many occupations. Math will be even more important in the future.
  • Make sure you take enough social studies courses to get a good understanding of American history and our government. Many colleges and universities require three years of study.
  • Science is important. Schedule three or more years, including at least one laboratory course.
  • Schedule at least one year of visual and performing arts from the areas of visual arts, music, dance, and theater.
  • Elective courses allow you to explore your special interests. These courses are considered very important. Seriously consider taking a foreign language. Some colleges expect two years of foreign language study, and your understanding of the world can be improved by knowing another language.
  • You might consider combining your last two years of high school with two years of community college education, by exploring the Tech Prep Education (2+2) offerings. This can lead to an associate's degree or two year certificate in the mechanical, industrial, or practical arts: agriculture, health, family and consumer sciences, or business. Remember, though, that these programs build upon knowledge gained in math, science, and communications courses.
  • Some specific applied academic courses that use hands-on approaches to learning have been approved as meeting the core curriculum requirements. For more information, see your counselor.
  • You should take a Computer Literacy class while in high school. Learning how to use a computer will give you a strong foundation of how technology works and be useful in both school and life.

It's important that you take the right courses during high school if you plan to pursue higher education. Specific high school course minimum requirements vary from college to college, and some majors may have additional requirements. The following minimum recommendations provide a general framework to follow for all colleges, but check with your guidance counselor and the schools you're interested in to see what they require or recommend.

You also can contact various agencies and organizations in your state for recommended courses for public colleges or universities in the state.

This chart can be used to plan your classes for the next four years. First plan your 9th-grade classes and then pencil in the classes you expect to take in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. These choices may change later, depending upon your interests and career plans.

Check with your counselor to make sure your schedule meets your high school's graduation requirements. Be sure to plan for any additional requirements for admission to a four-year public college or university or a tech prep educational program at a community college.

Download the High school course planning chart (fillable PDF)

Develop habits now that will help you succeed in high school, in education after high school, and in the world of work:

  • Find a quiet place to study where you won't be interrupted. Is it just too noisy at home? Ask your family or a teacher to help you find a place to study.
  • Plan a daily homework schedule and stick to it. Do more than is required.
  • Ask your family or friends to read your written work. And ask them for help if you're having trouble at school.
  • Use your local library. If you don't have a library card now, ask the librarian for one. They're free.
  • Read newspapers and magazines. Talk with your family and friends about what you read.
  • Look up words you don't know in the dictionary. Then use your new words in writing and talking.
  • Remember College Admission Officers may review your social media presence during the application process. Ensure your social media presence is suitable for not only College Admission Officers, but for future employers too.
  • Talk with your family about career plans and what you want to do in the future.

This is the perfect time to check out lots of career options. The Web is a great resource for information about specific schools or training programs, and here are some other ways to learn more if you are considering:

  1. Attending a four-year college, university, vocational/technical school, or two-year college
    • Make a list of the schools that interest you.
    • Gather information from each school and study it.
    • Register to take the ACT® test before December of your senior year; spring of your junior year is recommended. All U.S. colleges and universities accept ACT scores.
    • Visit the campus of each school you are seriously considering.
    • Apply early for admission and housing.
    • Apply early for financial assistance. Pay attention to deadlines listed in the financial aid information you receive from your counselor and the school(s) you are interested in attending.
    • Find out about local, state, federal, and private student financial assistance programs.
    • Make your decision. Take time to review all information carefully and weigh your options.
  2. Serving in the Armed Forces
    • Visit with friends, neighbors, and relatives who have served in various branches of the Armed Forces.
    • Study the military literature available in your counseling office.
    • Evaluate any physical limitations that might prevent you from serving in the Armed Forces.
    • Compare military training opportunities with possible civilian occupations.
    • Arrange with your counselor to visit with various military recruiters during your junior and senior years of high school.
    • Compare benefits, tours of duty, training, and promotion opportunities of military programs.
  3. Looking for direct employment after high school
    • Explore your special abilities and interests with your school counselor.
    • Collect and study materials about writing resumes and letters of application.
    • Consider whether you want to move away from your home region after high school.
    • Visit with individuals working in various occupations that may be of interest to you.
    • Become familiar with major employers in the areas where you are interested in working.
    • Be knowledgeable about the vocational/technical program offerings available in your high school.

There is a lot of financial help if you want to take the big step toward more education after high school.

Many students hesitate to consider additional education because of tuition costs. If you think you can't afford more education after high school, you need to know that many students receive financial help from:

  • the state
  • the federal government
  • the school they attend after high school
  • private financial assistance programs

Different types of financial assistance

  • Scholarships - usually based on good high school grades, good test scores (like the ACT), or exceptional ability (like athletic talent).
  • Grants - usually based on financial need.
  • Loans - will need to be repaid eventually.
  • Work programs - allow students to earn money for educational costs and living expenses.

Your school counselor and the financial aid office at the schools you're considering can give you information about how to apply for financial assistance.

You can also use free searches on the Internet for scholarships (try or the local library to search for private funds.

Military programs can provide financial assistance and additional training. Apprenticeships and on-the-job training are other ways to continue your education.

Your state may offer a variety of financial assistance programs targeted for specific groups of students. Ask your counselor for the Web addresses and phone numbers of aid sources in your state and elsewhere.

Take this information home and share this information with your family. Share your ideas, too, about high school and the years ahead. You may want to refer to some of the information later. It's a good idea to check as you proceed to be sure you're getting the most out of high school.

Just by reading through this information and understanding the importance of planning classes carefully, you're getting set for high school. The planning you're doing right now is going to help you make each year count.

For more information about planning for success in high school and preparing for life after high school, visit ACT's website at

The following terms are important to know when planning for high school!

Class Rank: A rating which compares your cumulative grade point average to other members of your class. Class rank is often used as a basis for college admission and scholarship determination.

Elective: A course that is not required but which you may choose to enroll in

Graduation Requirements: Established by your local school

Prerequisite: A course which must be taken before you enroll in another related course (Example: French 1 is a prerequisite for French 2.)

Required Elective: A course you may select to meet a graduation requirement (Example: You may choose to enroll in College Prep English or Business English to meet an English requirement.)

Unit of Credit: Granted upon successful completion of a 36-week (2-semester) course, which meets at least 7,830 minutes a year. Half- and quarter-units of credit may be earned for courses meeting proportionately fewer minutes.

Mapping Your Future has partnered with ACT to provide the Make High School Count program for students, parents, and middle school counselors. The program provides information about planning for education after high school - beginning in eighth grade.

Mapping Your Future has partnered with ACT to provide the Make High School Count program.