By Judy, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
For students who are in eighth or ninth grade, college seems so far away, but this spring is actually a great time to set the foundation for your future college admissions journey as you make the most of your present college prep.
The choices you make now will have the immediate benefit of making your high school years enjoyable and challenging, but they will also help you to build a strong profile that will make you a competitive college applicant. The most important thing to know is that colleges do not have one type of student that they are looking for, instead they want to see applicants who have different passions and interests. College communities would be boring places if everyone did the same thing, so be confident that the things you love to study and the activities that you find fulfilling are what will make you stand out as an individual.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your college prep in 8th and 9th grade.
Get on Track With Your Academics
Ensure that you are on track to take the most rigorous courses that your high school offers. Meet with an academic advisor or college counselor at your school to review your curriculum to see where your courses will take you. If you would like to make some changes to have a more challenging program, see what options you have such as taking a “bridge” course in the summer to allow you to move up to a higher level the next year, or taking a full class to get ahead. Many high schools have summer options for tough classes like AP Biology, and it’s a great use of your summer to take a challenging and time-consuming course like this. You don’t need to take every honors and AP course your school offers, but you should aim for a range of classes that show your breadth as a student. The key to a great high school experience is to find a balance of challenging courses that will support good academic performance and give you time to be involved outside of the classroom.
Focus on Extracurriculars
Now is the time to explore! When college admission committees look at your application, they want to see what you do with your time outside of the classroom. While your academic profile is the primary factor in your admission review, they also want to learn about you and what interests and motivates you. Extracurricular activities add depth and dimension to your applicant profile, but they’re also a great way to really take a deep dive into your interests and do the things that you truly enjoy with your free time – while also preparing for college! You don’t have to worry if you haven’t found your “thing” yet – while some of your friends might already be immersed in the world of competitive athletics, or spend their time producing artistic masterpieces, most students spend their early high school years trying new things and seeing what fits. Take time to evaluate your extracurricular options, whether it’s a school club or team or a community activity, and join up! See if you like it and if so, continue your involvement. If not, try to identify what you did or didn’t like about it and look for alternative activities that meet your new criteria now that you have an idea of what you’re looking for. High school can open doors to things you have never been exposed to, like a sports team or political clubs or community service. When you find something you like, stick with it! Three or four-year involvement shows commitment and dedication.
Explore Summer Experiences
Make the most of your summers! This is a great time to explore different elements of some of those new extracurricular or academic interests you’ve discovered. There are so many options for summer programs that support everything from sports to robotics to the arts – chances are you will find something for just about any interest. A lot of colleges offer residential programs and camps, but if you can’t go away to school, let school come to you and take an online course. They’re not all academic so you can explore your interest in photography, for example, by taking a self-paced course online. These courses are valuable because they allow you to not only become a specialist in a topic of interest, but they also have the added benefit of demonstrating your commitment to and passion for something. Working part-time is also a great way to make the most of your summer experience. Believe it or not, colleges value time spent at a job, and even if you might think it’s something boring or mundane, you are actually learning a lot about responsibility, communication skills, teamwork and time management. One more thing you can do during the summer is visit college campuses and start to get a sense of what kind of environment you like. While we typically advise students to visit colleges during the school year to get the full picture of campus life, visiting during the summer is appropriate for 8th and 9th graders who want to casually start exploring schools. You can tour local schools or add in a quick visit if your family is traveling near a school of interest. This will help you get a sense of the schools you like and begin to formulate a preliminary college list. Knowing that you loved the hustle and bustle of compact urban schools versus the large spreads of more rural schools will help you to build your list more efficiently.
As you look ahead to your college application process, make choices based on what you love – not on what you think colleges will want to see from you. Certainly, they are looking for people who show depth and passion, but the topics are up to you! College communities are made up of people with a huge variety of interests and talents, so think about doing the things that interest you the most and you’ll find that’s what colleges have wanted to see from you all along! Your high school years are important for so many reasons, so make the most of them as you find a balance of challenging and interesting courses and activities.
At IvyWise, we work with students in every stage of the college admissions process, from choosing high school courses in 8th grade so that students are on track with their academic from day one, to helping current high school seniors evaluate their admissions options. Now is the time for 8th, 9th, and 10th graders to get a jump start on their college prep! Contact us today for more information on how IvyWise can work with you now to achieve your college admissions goals.