If you’re a high school sophomore, senior year may seem light years away. So may the thought of your college applications. But two years will pass faster than you think. And the way you spend this year may have a big effect on your college career. Now’s the time to plan your sophomore courses and other activities so things fall smoothly into place later.
Choose your courses carefully
Some high schools offer honors or AP classes in sophomore year, while others don’t. If your school offers either of these options, you should take advantage, if you possibly can. Colleges want to see that you have stepped up to meet the challenges offered to you.
Check out the websites from some colleges you might be interested in attending, and see what high school classes they recommend. It will give you an idea of what to aim for. If possible, take a foreign language, and continue it for the rest of high school.
If your school doesn’t offer honors, AP classes or a foreign language, don’t worry. A college will not hold your high school’s lack of options against you. Dive into your schoolwork and get the most from it. Think of this year as a chance to expand your thinking in every direction.
Consider your extracurricular activities
As a freshman, you probably participated in some extracurricular activities. Maybe you joined a club or two and played on a team. Now’s your chance to reassess those choices. Did you enjoy the time you spent? If so, you may want to recommit yourself for sophomore year.
But maybe you’d like to do something new and different. If so, now’s the time to go for it. Some people believe it’s important to stick with the same extracurricular activities throughout high school. That’s only true if you love those activities and you excel in them. If you didn’t, now’s the time to choose new ones.
Remember that the extracurricular activities you select don’t have to be school-based. You can participate in a community group, work in a lab, join a local rock band or even study drawing or painting privately. What’s most important is that you enjoy the activity and feel you are learning something important. For more about extracurricular activities, click here.
Keep up your grades
Although ninth grade sometimes involves a steep learning curve, by sophomore year you should have your academics under control. If not, work harder, seek help from your teachers and sign up for tutoring. Always strive to get the best grades you can. When you apply to college, your complete high school transcript will be submitted—that means all your grades for four years, plus your cumulative GPA.
Go beyond your coursework
Exceptional students are easy to spot. They’re the ones who go beyond the required work load. Not only do they read the books teachers assign them, they go to the library and do independent research to find out more. Have you read a book you really like? Find other books by the same author and read them too. If you’re one of those people who’s intellectually curious and passionate about learning, your enthusiasm will show and put you ahead of the game.
Get to know your teachers
Spend some time getting to know your teachers and letting them get to know you. Why? First, because you’ll get a better education if you spend some extra time with these adults. Second, because they’ll be able to advise you and write better letters of recommendation on your behalf if they know something about who you are.
Meet with your counselor
To make sure you’re on the right track for college, it’s smart to meet with your school counselor sometime during sophomore year. A good counselor will advise you on which courses to take and how to schedule upcoming tests and prepare for them. Be sure to tell your counselor your thoughts about college. If you’re hoping to get into a highly selective school, that’s important information to share. If your school counselor doesn’t have sufficient time for you, try getting advice from a teacher you respect or consulting with an independent advisor.
Consider when to take the PSAT (SAT practice test)
Most students take the PSAT (SAT practice test) in the fall of junior year. Juniors who take the test are eligible to win National Merit Scholarship awards, which is a feather in the cap as well as a financial boon. Some high schools offer the opportunity to take the PSAT in the fall of sophomore year. If you have the chance, you may want to get this experience under your belt sooner, rather than later. You should carefully consider the pros as well as the cons of taking it in sophomore year.
Think about taking the SAT subject tests
Are you planning to apply to highly selective colleges? If so, you’ll probably need to take at least two subject tests (known as the SAT 2s). These measure your knowledge of a particular subject, such as chemistry, world history, French or Latin. They are best taken soon after you complete the class in the relevant subject. Decide which subject tests you are going to take, and figure out when to take each of them. If in doubt, consult with your counselor.
Start researching colleges
Sophomore year is the best time to start researching colleges. Begin by leafing through The Fiske Guide to Colleges or another good directory. When you read about a college that sounds appealing, continue your research on the Internet. During your school vacations, you and your family may want to visit a few colleges, just to get an overview. But be sure to do your research before you hit the road. It will save you plenty of time and money.
Make your summer plans early
Summer is your chance to dive into something you might not have time for during the school year. You can do this by volunteering with a community organization, interning at a local company, taking special classes or doing many other interesting things.
Most colleges are interested in how their applicants spend their summers. They believe how you spend your free time says something about who you are. There is usually a place on the college application where you can list your summer activities.
If you need to earn money for college, don’t worry. A summer job is a great experience and a fine way to impress college admissions officers. If you work all summer, you can be confident that you job will look as great on your resume as an internship, volunteer work or anything else.
Don’t wait until spring to plan your summer. Some of the most exciting internships require early action. Application deadlines can come in January or February.
Plan ahead for junior year
As you’ve probably heard, junior year will be the most important on your college application record. Admissions officers will scrutinize your grades and activities from that year closely. As a junior you’ll be taking standardized tests. It’s also the year that most serious students begin their college searches in earnest. You’ll have a busy calendar. That’s why it makes sense to plan ahead and prepare now. To read more about planning for junior year, click here.
For more information, contact The College Strategist