The earlier that you start the college admissions process, the better, and there’s a lot that high school students can do now to stay on track for the college admissions process and tackle their winter college prep goals. All four years of high school count in the college admissions process, not just the last two.
Things like grades, courses, activities, summer experiences, and more can be planned and executed starting freshman and sophomore year in order to better prepare students for the actual application process come senior year. Juniors and seniors can also begin to tackle things like essay-writing and building a college list.
Here are some winter college prep goals for high school students to think about over both the winter break and the transition into the spring semester.
Set Grade and Course Goals
When applying to college, grades are usually the most important aspect of your applicant profile. Colleges look at all four years of high school grades, and they like to see an upward grade trend. So if you started off high school with some not-so-stellar grades, your main goal should be to pull up your marks and improve your academic performance.
How to Set Grade and Course Goals as a Freshman
Now that you have one semester of high school under your belt, you should have a pretty good idea of your academic strengths and weaknesses. If you struggled with your grades this fall, now is the perfect time to seek help. Aim for an upward grade trend for the spring — at least one full letter grade improvement over the fall semester – and start thinking about the courses you want to take next year. Colleges want to see students taking more challenging courses every year, so make a plan to meet with your college counselor this spring to discuss your curriculum for sophomore year.
How to Set Grade and Course Goals as a Sophomore
There’s only one semester left until junior year — the most critical year for college prep. Get ahead of the junior year rush by seeking help with grade improvements if needed, and start planning for a challenging junior year course load. By junior year colleges will expect you to be enrolled in more challenging advanced or AP courses, and you need to be on a solid academic footing before taking on a more rigorous schedule next year. Identify courses where you need improvement, and make a plan to bring your grades up. Make it a winter college prep goal to have top marks in subject areas you plan to take advanced courses in next year and talk with your college counselor about the best course selection for junior year.
How to Set Grade and Course Goals as a Senior
By now you should be wrapping up your remaining college applications, so you’re done with your college prep, right? Not quite. Even after all your applications are submitted, you need to stay on track with your college admissions plan. Continue to maintain good grades, as colleges will look at your final transcript and a drop in second-semester grades can result in a rescinded acceptance.
Start Thinking About Spring and Summer College Prep
Spring and summer breaks can be a time for sleeping in, seeing friends and family, and almost forgetting you were a student for a bit. But with a break from all your regularly-scheduled coursework, it’s also an opportunity to work on college prep. The spring semester and the activities you pursue over summer break can also be an impactful period in the college admissions process, and it is important to start planning early.
Planning for Spring Semester and Summer Break as a Freshman
Hopefully you spent some time this fall learning more about your interests through extracurricular activities and coursework. Colleges want to see how students are spending their time outside of the classroom, including summers, so now’s the time to start planning for a productive summer break. Most college-hosted summer programs for high school students aren’t open to freshmen, but there are other options to explore such as an internship, volunteer opportunities, independent projects, and more. Use the break to tackle your winter college prep goals and research virtual or in-person opportunities.
Planning for Spring Semester and Summer Break as a Sophomore
Your interests should be a little more developed by now, and this summer there will be more summer program options available to you as many are open to rising juniors and seniors. Application deadlines for many summer programs can be as early as March, or even February, so make sure to add researching and planning your summer to your winter college prep checklist. Work with your counselor to identify programs of interest and seek help if needed to complete your summer program applications.
Planning for Spring Semester and Summer Break as a Junior
This is a critical time in your college admissions journey! Now, more than ever, you need a college prep plan to carry you through the spring and into the college application process the summer after junior year. First, evaluate where you are now in your college prep. Have you visited schools and started building a balanced college list? How are your grades? Identify the tasks you need to complete first and create a schedule with deadlines to help you better plot out your college prep tasks for the next semester so that you’re ready to start on your college application essays in the summer.
Evaluate Your Activities
We know that in the college admissions process, there can be a big emphasis placed on extracurriculars. When an applicant meets the academic expectations of a university, the admissions officers then turn to the student’s list of clubs and activities to learn more about them and understand the impact they’ve made on their communities. In fact, it’s often the extracurriculars that set applicants apart.
With so much emphasis placed on extracurriculars, how do you figure out which ones to pursue? Does it even matter which activities you choose? The answer is yes.
Pursuing Extracurricular Activities as a Freshman
You may still be learning what your passions and interests are, so it may be too soon to consider focusing your interests and narrowing your activities. However, it is a good time to think about what’s missing from your extracurricular activities. Have you recently developed an interest in photography but there’s no photography club at your school? Start one! Take some time to think about what has caught your attention over the last semester and how you can spend more time developing these interests.
Pursuing Extracurricular Activities as a Sophomore
By now, there may be several activities that you have been involved with since the start of your freshman year. Take some time to evaluate your impact and time commitment to each activity. Are you spending enough time developing your true interests? Or maybe too much time on some not enough on others? Are there activities that aren’t so important to you? Or new activities that you’d like to try? Make a goal this semester to drop any extracurricular activities that aren’t really compelling for you, and pick up one or two that you’re really itching to try. Just remember: Colleges value depth over breadth. Don’t pick up new activities just to lengthen your resume.
Pursuing Extracurricular Activities as a Junior
Continue with your extracurricular involvement in order to help you better explore your interests and carry you through the rigors of second semester as you wait to hear back about your admissions decisions. Take time to evaluate your courses, grades, and activities and set small goals to carry you throughout the semester. This will help you maintain focus and give you a plan of action to continue your “college prep” after your applications are in.
Make a Test Prep Plan
The spring semester is a popular testing time for college-bound students and is often the first time that high school juniors crack open an SAT or ACT prep book. What’s important for younger students to realize, however, is that starting test prep early – even in 9th or 10th grade – can help students have the best chance of reaching their goal scores and mitigate the stress caused by too much testing at once. The earlier you can start your test prep, the better – even if it’s just becoming more familiar with the tests through a diagnostic test.
Test Prep Plans for Freshmen
While it may be too soon to prep for the ACT or SAT, freshmen can still get a head start by learning about the two exams and which might be a good fit for them. Be sure to add this task to your winter college prep goals.
Test Prep Plans for Sophomores
Now’s the time to start thinking about your ACT or SAT test prep. Make a goal this spring to take a full-length practice test of both the ACT and SAT in order to determine which test is the best fit for you. After you have determined which exam you want to prep for, make a test prep plan and testing timelines with your college counselor and find the best test prep for you – tutor, class, online, or self-prep. Start prepping so that by the fall of junior year you’re ready to sit for the real thing.
Test Prep Plans for Juniors
If you haven’t taken the SAT or ACT yet, take a practice test to see which is the best-ft for you and identify a date to take it. From there, create a test prep plan to help you perform your best.
Again, colleges look at all four years of grades and activities when evaluating applications. It’s never too early to start planning for college with guidance on course selection, grade improvement, extracurricular involvement, and more. Our team of expert college admissions counselors work with students in various stages of college prep and can help your family get on track to meet your college admissions goals come senior year. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for high school students.