By Rachel, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor and Former Assistant Dean of Admissions, Swarthmore College
We often associate the spring of junior year as the time to begin college prep work, however, there are plenty of things students can do earlier in high school to help position themselves to be more successful in the college admissions process. It’s never too early to lay a strong foundation for your college application season senior year. In fact, colleges look at all four years of high school grades, courses, activities, and more when evaluating applicants – so the sooner you start your college prep the better.
Here’s what you can do now to prepare for the college application process early in high school.
Make Good Grades
Academics are the most important part of a college application. With this in mind, freshmen and sophomore students should plan not only the courses they are going to take next semester, but every remaining semester with the goal of taking the most challenging courses available to them in their areas of interest by senior year. The first two years of high school are a great time to explore, so take advantage of that time to learn more about what you enjoy. Are your interests and strengths in a STEM field, for example? Do you enjoy literary analysis and discussion? This should help you determine some of the AP, HL IB, or rigorous honors courses to take as a junior and senior.
Along with overall academic planning and performance, there is more you can do in the classroom in 9th and 10th grade. Pay attention to your study habits: what works best for you and where do you struggle? Practice starting early on papers and studying a little bit every night for tests. Find a system that works for you to manage deadlines – perhaps a physical calendar in your bedroom at home as well as adding dates on your phone. This is also a great opportunity to get used to participating in class discussions, as well as knowing when to ask the teacher for help. All of these skills will serve you well in the college admissions process and beyond.
Focus Your Extracurriculars
How you spend your time outside of the classroom will also be a big part of your college application. During the first two years of high school, don’t be afraid to try some new things, like sports, debate, or theater, for example. The end of sophomore year is a great time to take stock of what you’re doing and why. Maybe you’re no longer as interested in the piano lessons you’ve been taking for 10 years, or you’ve gone as far as you can with gymnastics. As you determine what no longer serves you, find ways to get more involved with the things that do. Bringing intention to your activities will help showcase your interests to admissions committees.
Consider Virtual College Tours
Now that virtual tours and information sessions are much more common, it’s easy to sign up for a session to learn more about a school. The nice thing about doing this earlier in high school is that it can be very low-key and exploratory. Just listen in and see what stands out to you! It would be nice to arrive at the spring of your junior year with a draft of a college list that features a few schools you really like as well as some you plan to learn more about. It will likely morph in the months to come but having something to work from at that point is very helpful.
When you start considering the various elements of the college application process early in high school, you create a great foundation on which to build during your junior and senior years. You will be able to navigate the additional work with a little more ease and be on track to enjoy the classes and activities in which you are involved. There is a saying that goes, “colleges are looking for a well-rounded class of individuals, not a class of well-rounded individuals.” College admissions officers favor students that find something they really enjoy and pursue it as deeply as possible as opposed to those that do a little bit of everything.
Bringing a little extra intention and foresight to your choices during freshman and sophomore year will help you find your passions and feel prepared for the college admissions process. At IvyWise, we work with students as soon as they start high school to help them lay that solid college prep foundation well ahead of time. From help identifying and exploring academic and extracurricular interests to guidance on courses, grades, summer experiences, and more – we help students with every part of the college prep process. Contact us today to learn more about our counseling services and how our team can help prepare you for success in the admissions process.