Just because you’re not a junior or a senior doesn’t mean you can’t be preparing for the college admissions process now. The earlier that you start the better, and there’s a lot that freshmen and sophomores can do now to stay on track for the college admissions process senior year – and even get ahead.
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. While there won’t be many of the “traditional” tasks that families think of when they think of college prep – like essay writing and building a college list – there are plenty of college prep tasks that students can do now that are just as – if not more – important. Most notably, making a plan to improve grades and effectively develop interests. After all, colleges want to build well-rounded classes of specialists.
Here are some college prep goals for freshman and sophomores to think about over winter break as they plan for the spring semester and 2018.
Set Grade and Course Goals
If you’re 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.
If you’re 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 a 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.
Start Thinking About Next Summer
If you’re 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.
If you’re 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 you should start researching and planning your summer as early as winter break. Work with your counselor to identify programs of interest and seek help if needed to complete your summer program applications.
Evaluate Your Activities
If you’re 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.
If you’re 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.
Make a Test Prep Plan
If you’re a freshman: While it may be too soon to prep for the ACT or SAT, freshman can still get a head start on their testing by preparing for and taking SAT Subject Tests that align with their current coursework. For example, if you’re taking biology this year, prepare for the biology Subject Test as you advance through your coursework and make a plan to sit for the exam at the end of the semester. Some colleges will require one or even two Subject Test scores as part of the college application, and the more testing you can get out of the way before the end of junior year the better.
If you’re a sophomore: In addition to making a plan for any Subject Tests that align with your current coursework, 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.
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.