Middle school was the time to perfect your study habits and learn to organize and multi-task. Middle school was also a time for trial and error. You grew into your own skin, experimented with hobbies, and readied yourself for a more focused academic career. High school is a fresh start, but even the beginning counts. Your entire transcript, freshman through senior year, will be part of your college application. If your goal is to gain admission to a competitive university, you need to create a four-year plan.
Academics: What courses do I want to take in my senior year?
Now that you’ve chosen a high school, sit down with your parents and guidance counselor and set academic goals. Ask, what are my strengths? My weaknesses? Do I have any unique interests? Are there interesting courses I want to take advantage of?
You don’t need to have all of the answers now, but knowing which classes you’ll need to gain admission to the college of your choice does help. For example, if you are considering the most selective colleges, you’ve got to take the most advanced courses available at your grade level. That means that many of you should plan to be taking Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate/dual enrollment courses by the time you are a senior. Also, count on taking five core courses each year. Challenge yourself in science, English, social science, math and foreign language. In fact, some colleges stipulate the required number of years one must spend in each subject.
Second, create grade goals. While consistency and excellence is best, colleges also like to see improvement. Plan to work hard and get support when you are not fulfilling your potential. High school is not the time to coast. Establish good working and study habits early. This will help you manage a more rigorous course load in your junior and senior year.
Extra-curricular Activities: What do I really care about?
Examine your current interests. What are you passionate about? Do you love soccer, creative writing, drama, sculpture, debate, children, or protecting the environment? Use your first high school semester to get a feel for clubs and volunteer options both in and out of school. Your goal by the end of that first semester is to identify the activities you really enjoy.
Then, aim for consistent commitment to these activities throughout the next four years. Do not attempt to do everything. Contrary to popular belief, colleges don’t want to see tens of clubs on your resume; they prefer a student that is clearly passionate about a few activities. Show this passion not only by participating for many hours over many years, but also by taking a leadership position. If you need to establish a school club in order to find your niche or hold a leadership position, do it. Starting something takes initiative and leadership and colleges love those qualities. Finally, use your summers to focus even further on your volunteer work or hobbies. Summer sleep-away camps are not impressive. Instead, seek out job opportunities, language immersion programs, or additional academic courses.
Although the process is pretty straightforward, remain flexible and realize that your needs and goals may change over time. You may also need the support of experts to help you along the way– like tutors, coaches, and independent counselors. The key is to start working early towards your long-term goal. Ask yourself now: what kind of college do I want to be a competitive candidate for?