Your post-high school years hold tremendous promise.

At college you’ll have the opportunity to make new friends, follow your interests and — hopefully— find a satisfying career.

However, nearly half of all students who enter college fail to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years.

“There are two reasons why kids flunk out,” said Amy Thompson, a counselor at York Community High School (IL). “They are either academically unprepared or they are emotionally unprepared.”

Increase your chances for success by making the most out of your high school years.

Buckle down in classroom.
Taking rigorous classes in high school doesn’t only help you get into college, the knowledge and skills you acquire work double-duty, preparing you to be successful in your pursuit of a degree.

Seek out honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in subjects that interest you.

“You want to take the most demanding courses you can while maintaining your sanity and still achieving good grades,” Thompson said.

Look for courses that require lots of writing and critical thinking—two skills you’ll be asked to use in almost every college class. Don’t panic if the material seems difficult at first. Developing good study habits and time-management skills in high school can help you persevere in college, even when times get tough.

Some rigorous courses actually allow you to jumpstart your postsecondary education. Students who do well on AP tests, for example, can earn college credit. Some high schools also partner with local colleges to offer dual-credit courses for high school students.

Get involved.
From athletics to theater to volunteer work—there’s a whole world of extracurricular activities open to high school students.

“It can be overwhelming,” Thompson said. “But the one piece of advice I give students is don’t just join something to pad your resume. Pick something you’re genuinely interested in.”

Your goal: By senior year, “be in a position that shows not only your devotion to the group, but also some level of initiative or leadership on your part,” she said.

“Admission officers can see through the applicant who joins a million different clubs in their junior or senior year,” Thompson noted. “Use your activities to show colleges who you are.”

Universities are looking for students who will make the most of the opportunities available to them. A high school record that includes extracurricular activities helps show admission officers that you’ll be a valuable part of their campus community.

Finish strong.
Your senior year of high school will be hectic.

In addition to applying for colleges, you may find yourself leading a student organization or sports team.

It can be tempting to sluff off in the classroom, but stay focused. Senior year grades and courses still count.

“You need to maintain your academic performance, and do at least as well—if not better—because you don’t want to have your admission offer rescinded,” Thompson said.

When planning out your schedule, make sure that you’re on-track to meet college entrance requirements, including at least two years of a foreign language and four years of math, science and English courses.

“Colleges want to see that you know how to work hard, and that you have taken advantage of the courses and activities your high school has to offer,” Thompson said. “A strong finish in your senior year helps make you a more attractive candidate.”