Maximizing Your Time in High School

Edited 08/18/2022 for updated information.

Have dreams to shoot for the big universities? Limited by the opportunities offered at your high school? I know the feeling. If you’re reading this you’re either just a bit lost in the craziness that is high school or you’re just an excited middle schooler ready to explore what the next 4 years have to offer you. Wherever you are, just know that you aren’t alone and that I was once in your same position. I’ve compiled this list in hopes that I can clarify some of the many things that confused me. For the purpose of keeping this monster of an article short, I’ve linked some of my other blog posts that will go in more depth for some of the things that I highlighted in this post.

AP/IB exams

You may have heard your teachers say this a million times, but AP classes are a great way to take college equivalent courses inexpensively. Unlike dual enrollment which only works on public institutions and the state that you took it in (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it), AP scores are accepted universally across most schools. All AP classes are not the same though; even though you are taking the class at your school, you should always self study. The teacher and the amount of material that you go over may not be enough for the exam. Just know that the responsibility lies on you to do well on the exam.

For more information, I have a blog post about my personal AP experience here. I also go into detail about which APs are the easiest to take in class, which ones are the easiest to self-study, and which ones you should absolutely avoid depending on the situation. Keep in mind that everyone’s opinion is different and these are just my opinions backed with student statistics. Just because they’re easy to self-study doesn’t mean they are the easy to self study overall. For example, taking AP World makes AP Euro easier as you already have a general idea of the time period, the people in there, and the events that occurred.

I’ve never taken the IB system before since Alhambra doesn’t offer it, but I’ll get someone who can speak on it eventually and replace what they say here.

Dual Enrollment

Out of all the options, this is one that everyone should take, regardless what you want to pursue after high school. Taking advantage of your community college, especially when it’s offered for free. These classes can be used to pass prerequisites, make up failed credits, or be used as a GPA booster since all classes have the weight of an AP class (at least in Alhambra). You can start as early as possible, but if you want the high school GPA bump for the valedictorian race, the summer before freshman year is the ideal time to start. You’ll be limited to a certain amount of units and registration limit during your lowerclassman years, but those restrictions lift off once you’re a rising junior.

If you’re from Alhambra, you can easily take classes at DVC, CCC, and LMC since they are all linked, but you can really take classes at any CC if there’s a class you want so as long as your high school approves it. Make sure to talk to your counselor to guide you through the sign-up process and make sure to plan out all your classes in advance so you don’t run into any prerequisite issues or overload your schedule to where you can’t keep up.

Dual enrollment benefits some people more than others. If planned correctly, dual enrollment can be more beneficial than any AP will ever be. Dual enrollment, when started early and taken in combination with AP exams, can satisfy the UC/CSU system’s A-G requirements which will shave two years off of high school! Not only will you save time going to university to pursue other things, but you also save a lot of money in the process. I recommend you talk to your college and high school counselor as early as possible to plan out a schedule to at least knock out your general education, and maybe you can even get your Associate’s Degree in a subject!

I’m a huge endorser of dual enrollment, so you can read about my personal experience here.

Online High School

Some high schools offer credit for taking online high school classes; make sure to check the course catalog to see if they have the class you need. I took French III online at Edgenuity since the UC system recommends three years but I refused to take it back at Alhambra for various reasons. I know many friends who did their COVID year or made up credits through BYU High School. It is all asynchronous so it’s very convenient for whenever you want to do them. If your community college offers equivalents though, I recommend you take that instead as it is a much cheaper alternative while at the same time gaining college credit as well as a boost in your GPA.

Please check with your counselor first as the acceptance changes from school to school; these are the ones that my school accepts for credit.
Online Class Providers (as of 2020)

Silicon Valley High School offers regular courses. $95 for 5 credits and $190 for 10 credits.

Brigham Young University Independent Study High School offers both regular and AP courses. Prices range from $148 to $249 per semester depending on course delivery format ($296 to $498 per yearlong course) plus materials.

Keystone National High School offers both regular and AP courses. Prices range from $229 to $289 per semester depending on course delivery format and level of support ($299 to $499 per yearlong course).

Accelerate Online Academy offers regular courses only (AP courses are not yet approved). Courses are $285 per semester ($425 per yearlong course).

National University Virtual High School offers both regular and AP courses. Prices range from $295 to $375 per semester ($590 to $750 per yearlong course) and there are scholarships available.

APEX Learning Virtual School offers both regular and AP courses. Courses are $350 per semester ($700 per yearlong course) plus materials.

International Connections Academy offers both regular and AP courses. Courses are $380 to $485 per semester ($760 to $970 per yearlong course).

FLVS Global School offers both regular and AP courses. Courses are $400 per semester ($800 per yearlong course).

K12 International Academy offers both regular and AP courses. Prices range from $425 to $475 per semester ($850 to $950 per yearlong course) plus materials.

Laurel Springs School offers both regular and AP courses. Prices range from $690 to $990 per semester ($990 to $1,540 per yearlong course) plus additional fees.

George Washington University Online High School offers only AP courses to students who want to enroll part-time (full-time students have the option to take regular courses). AP courses are $1,200 per semester ($2,400 per yearlong course).

Stanford University Online High School offers both regular and AP courses. The price for the single course option is $4,400 per academic year. UC approved course list for Stanford University Online High School.

Make Connections

This is probably the most important part of high school if you wish to get into the professional world or plan to go to university. A lot of people think that perfect high school and college records while joining a lot of clubs will guarantee you a high position. While that’s partially true, the true reason to go to school is the people you meet there. Get to know your teachers, classmates, and whoever else works at the school administration well. The point of connecting with all these people is that they may have knowledge or know people that could possibly change your life. Someone who can get you in or provide you firsthand knowledge will do more than getting an A at your 10th grade English class ever will.

It’s this persistence that landed me into cybersecurity, which later led me to my Curriculum Developer job. My computer science teacher was responsible for letting me into the TA program, and I’m eternally grateful for that. Getting to know your teachers will also help you out in the long run, as during college app season, you’ll need two letters of recommendations. It is recommended that you get one from a humanities teacher and another from a STEM teacher. The further you develop your resumé and the more they get to know you, the better of a letter they can write.

Don’t just stop at your school for connections! Email anyone you possibly know, whether that be your admissions officer at your dream uni, family friends, your friend’s friends, coworker’s friends; there’s no shame in ever asking and you can move on to the next person. While my mother works as a nurse, she was able to connect me with her coworker, whose son was involved in integrating IT with nursing. You never know where you’ll meet a potential connection.

If you are having trouble connecting with likeminded people in person, LinkedIn is another great place to meet people. I recommend you first connect with people you know. Afterwards, look at the people in your local area for opportunities related to your field. Cold call people whose company you may have an interest in, and look for headlines where startups are hiring. Like I said, the worse that can happen is no. Iris Fu (one of my favorite college YTrs) has an amazing video you can watch here.

Learn Skills

Is there a particular skill that you would like to get good at or already are? You can prove your skills to employers with certifications. Certifications are proof that you are skillful in specific topics and can land you many jobs! Many of them have free resources online to study for the test, and if you know certain people, you can get these tests at a discounted cost. There’s no “right” age you can get them either. As someone who was interested in IT during middle school, I received my Google IT Support and CompTIA A+ when I was in 7th grade.

If perhaps there are no interesting certifications, you can always learn skills on the web. There are many on demand skills and the web has so many courses that can teach you for free. From web design, to math, to psychology, there are many courses on MIT’s OCW, YouTube, Coursera, edX, and many other MOOC platforms at your disposal.


Don’t just pick random extracurriculars just because your friends decide to do it. I have a blog post here explaining how to choose them, and if you need ideas, I have a spreadsheet right here as well! TLDR: There’s so much to do in high school, you should never be bored at all.

Summer Time

Maximizing your summer time can be a great way to explore things that you normally wouldn’t have time to do in the school year or to get things out of the way that would otherwise be troublesome otherwise. All the activities that I mentioned are still possible to do in the summer when school isn’t active. In your sophomore & junior year, you should be reserving a good portion of this time to study for standardized tests such as the PSAT (for the National Merit Scholarship), SAT, or the ACT. In your senior year, you should be researching for colleges to attend to as well as preparing drafts of your essays that you plan to submit to colleges.

You can read about my experience with standardized tests here. You can also read about my experience with college search right here and my college essay experience here.

Ending Notes

I know that looking at those college YouTubers is tempting, and it may seem that copying their path might be the best option for you. Everyone has a different path to the place they get to, and you should only watch them for inspiration & advice. Don’t expect that copying their path will get yourself accepted to the school of your dreams. Every person’s background is different and you want to cater your activities to what you love. Don’t do it just to get into college, but do it because you want to do it.

And as much you want to catch up to those perfect students on LinkedIn, don’t burn yourself out. If you see yourself consistently failing or not in a stable mental state, don’t ruin yourself. You’ll still do great if you don’t become an ultimate sweatlord in high school. Go enjoy your childhood! You only go through this once; make unforgettable memories with your friends. Remember, this doesn’t guarantee you get into a good school. This will only give you a high GPA, an edge above your classmates, and unique experiences that your peers may not have, making yourself more unique in the application. Your essays and the mood of the person reviewing over admissions play a huge part in the admissions process as well. But if you truly want it, then go all in and I wish you the best of luck!

This article is part of a whole guide to getting into college. View it here!