How to start preparing for college as a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior
Now that the college application season for current high school seniors is winding down, it is time for high school juniors to start thinking about their college application journey and timeline. You may think starting now is too early, but you should start to think of the process soon! Even for high school freshman and sophomores, planning your high school schedules and activities can help you prepare for college. In this blog, I will be breaking down how high school freshman, sophomore, and juniors can begin to prepare for their college application journey.
9th Grade (Freshman):
For current high school freshmen, here are some ideas you should start to prepare for and implement.
1. Plan your freshman class and 4 year plan: Creating a four year plan as a freshman is super important to help you visualize the path your courses will take throughout high school. You want to focus on taking classes that challenge you, such as Honors, Gifted and Talented, and AP/IB courses. A lot of college admissions officers say that they like to see that students challenge themselves in courses. They would rather see you get a B in an AP class, than an A in a regular-level class. For me, my high school offered a plethora of AP courses. My freshman year of high school, I did not take any AP courses, but all of my core classes were gifted and talented (GT). For my school district, the high school course levels offered were: regular, honors, gifted and talented, and AP. So having an upward trend of taking the more challenging courses that your school offers is important. Overall, I took 13 AP courses in high school. Planning your 4 year plan as a freshman can help you figure out the schedule and rigor of your classes. It also allows you to experiment with fields you may have not learned about in middle school.
2. Get Involved: Join some school clubs or school sports freshman year. Joining clubs your first year of high school is a great way to get involved, even if it is just as a general member of the club. By joining activities your first year, you will be able to work your way up in the group, so by junior and senior year, you may be elected the President, hold a leadership position in the group, or be chosen as the captain of your sport. For me, I ran for the Freshman Student Government Association with some friends. Everyone in the grade gets to vote for the Student Government positions and I was elected into the Freshman Vice President position by my peers! This was a cool experience as I got to help plan spirit activities, fundraisers, and design freshman class merch. I became so passionate about the student voice that I was involved in this club all 4 years of high school.
3. Study Hard and Get Good Grades: Even as a freshman, it is important to start building your time management and study habits so that you can be successful throughout high school and beyond. During high school and college I used an agenda planner and an online calendar (sites like Google Calendar, Notion etc). I add all of my classes, deadlines, assignments, tests, and projects into my agenda and calendar. Literally something I live by.
4. Take a Career Test: As a freshman, your school may make you take a “College Aptitude Skills” test. These kinds of tests are helpful because you basically answer a bunch of questions about your interests and then the test will tell you about some fields or majors you may be interested in. You can take a test like this to see what the test thinks you should study! This can be helpful if you are unsure about what you’re interested in.
10th Grade (Sophomore):
You should be building upon the freshman year tips during your sophomore year. In addition to those, here are some more ideas you should think about during your sophomore year.
1. Start Studying to Take Practice SAT (PSAT): Usually during sophomore and junior year, schools will have a day where all students take a practice SAT test (PSAT). Since there are numerous scholarships available for students who score well on their PSAT, you want to start studying for this standardized test. The main PSAT scholarship program is the National Merit Scholarship Program, which you can learn about here: https://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/interior.aspx?sid=1758&gid=2&pgid=424.
2. Keep a List of your Activities or Create a Resume: Making a list of your activities during this time is important so that you know what clubs, sports, and organizations you are involved in. All of these groups that you joined during freshman and sophomore year can become the basis of your college application essays in two years. Keeping a list and writing some accomplishments and activities you participated in will be helpful two years down the line when you are writing essays about these activities, because you might not remember everything. Similar to a list, you can also create a resume. Your high school guidance teacher or parent may be a good resource for resume creation tips. A resume would be a more formal list of your activities that you could use to apply for professional opportunities.
3. During the Summer, Get a Job, Internship, or Pursue Your Passions: Doing something productive in the summer is a great way to stay active and participate in new activities that may spark your interest. The activities that you do in the summer can also become a great basis for what you write your college application essays about. For me, during the summers after my sophomore year and junior year, I interned at NASA. This was a cool internship experience because I got to learn about video production and have hands-on experience in the field. Contrary to popular belief, there are internships that are not STEM-based at NASA. During your sophomore year, you should research potential summer opportunities early so that you apply in time. If you do not start a job or internship, you can also pursue your passions in the summer. This may mean that you dive into a hobby that you’re interested in, start reading, create a video game, practice an instrument, or start a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to do. I would personally make sure that you do something productive in the summer, so that you are not just laying around all day.
4. Meet with Your Guidance Counselor: Meeting with your guidance counselor early and maintaining that relationship into junior and senior year is super important. On college applications, every guidance counselor includes information about you and your high school. You do not want this to be super vague and general, as your high school may have thousands of students. Make an effort to go into their office and speak with them. You can ask them for help in scheduling classes, ask them advice about the college search, or simply just go in and have a conversation to get to know them! For me, my high school senior class had 435 students in it. I knew that I needed to get on a first-name basis with my guidance counselor, otherwise, they would have no idea who I was. I would go into their office everyone once in a while and chat with them and ask for advice so that they knew me as a person and a student. This can be daunting at first, but your counselors are people as well, and I’m sure that they appreciate that students make the effort to go speak with them.
11th Grade (Junior):
In junior year, you want to continue building upon all of the previous tips. You’re almost to the finish line of high school graduation and applying to colleges!
1. Start Creating a College List: Start researching and creating a list of colleges that you want to potentially apply to. For more information about this, check out my blog called Creating Your College Application Checklist, here: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/creating-your-college-application-checklist.
2. Begin Scheduling/Taking SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests: Most high schools will make you take the PSAT in October of your junior year. As mentioned before, the PSAT is a great way to help qualify for merit scholarships, so you definitely want to study for these tests. Scheduling when you are going to take these tests is very important, so that you give yourself enough time to study and also to get your scores back before applying to schools. For me, I took the SAT and ACT two times. I also took two SAT Subject Tests in Math and Biology. You may want to use the fall of your junior year to study and the spring of your junior year to begin taking these tests for real. Additionally, some colleges now are not requiring or not accepting standardized test score submissions anymore, so you should research to see if the schools you are interested in even require standardized tests.
3. Ask Teachers for Letters of Recommendations: Throughout your junior year, you should start thinking about teachers who you would ask for a letter of recommendation. This means that you should be on numerous teachers' good sides: raise your hand in class, ask questions, maybe stay after class to speak with the teacher about their past. Similar to your guidance counselor, you want your teachers to know your name, your work ethic in their class, and how you are as a student and person. For a good letter of recommendation, a teacher needs to know you well enough to write something that is not generic, which means you need to have a good relationship with them. For me, I asked two teachers if they would be able to write me college letters of recommendation at the end of my junior year before summer break. Some high school teachers have a set number of recommendation letters that they write, so you need to ask early in order to secure a spot. Then starting your senior year, you can remind the teachers about writing the recommendation and provide them with the necessary instructions or materials.
4. Researching and Visiting Potential Colleges: In addition to creating your college list, additional research may include visiting colleges. For more information on this, check out Sarah’s Blog called Getting the most out of Virtual Visits/Tours, here: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/getting-the-most-out-of-virtual-campus-visitstours.
5. Start Working on College Applications: You are now prepared to start drafting your college application essays! Take time to brainstorm ideas and start writing. Don’t be afraid to scrap an essay or ask for advice from family and friends. Make sure you edit your essays and really dig deep. Good luck!
Rachel is the founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.
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