If you are a sophomore it might seem like a long time before you really start thinking about applying to college, but there are some action steps you can take now that will will assure that you are ready when the time comes.
FINISH STRONG THIS YEAR
The single biggest factor in college admissions is your transcript, and every year counts. While there isn’t much time left in the school year there is still time to put in the extra effort to maintain (or improve) your grades. If your school has final exams make the push now to be ready. A little extra effort can make a big impact.
BE READY TO START STRONG NEXT YEAR
Did we mention that your transcript is the single biggest factor in college admissions? Now that you are finishing up sophomore year take some time to review your course selection for next year. Think about how rigorous your classes will be. Colleges like to see that you are willing to challenge yourself. If you have a good strong finish to classes this year you may find it appropriate to move up a level; maybe from a regular level to honors, or from honors to Advanced Placement. Talk to your current teachers and see if the courses you selected earlier are the best choices given how you finished the year. You want rigor, where it is appropriate for you. Remember that rigor is also demonstrated by taking an academic elective over a study hall or choosing to continue in a subject even if it is not required (for example: taking four years of a world language, or an extra history class).
MEET YOUR GUIDANCE TEAM
Depending on your school, records and recommendations will be sent to colleges from your Guidance Office or your College Counseling Office. If you have not had the chance already take time before the end of school to introduce yourself to those people who will be assisting you in next two years. If you feel awkward just dropping in and saying hello, go equipped with a question. You might ask if they have any resources for test preparation, or any information to help you with college visits. That way you will be familiar with the guidance team, they will get to know you, and you will get some good information as well.
SPEND THE SUMMER DOING SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
Colleges like to see that you spent a portion of your summer invested in meaningful activities. The great thing is there is no specific requirement to what that activity is, just that you are spending some of your time doing something that will benefit you or others. You might get a job, or take a class, or travel, or go to camp. Maybe you want to spend more time at an activity that you do during the school year, like art, or a sport, or a charitable activity. It is not what you do, but that you made the effort to do it that is important. CLICK HERE for a list of things you might try this summer.
WHILE YOU ARE AT IT--SET SOME GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR
Obviously you want to think about how you are going to work hard and get good grades (did we mention that your transcript is important?), but you also want to consider how you will deepen your involvement in the activities in which you participate. If you have been involved in a club or activity throughout high school step up and think about ways you can serve as a leader. This may be a formal position, or a new level of participation. Keep in mind that colleges look for depth in your activities--have you participated for multiple years--have you put real time and effort into the activity? If you are in a club make sure that you could tell a college admissions office exactly what the club does and what your involvement has been. If you are involved in a sport stick with it; you don’t have to be the top player, but you do need to be committed. If you are telling colleges you want to study a particular field then be involved in activities that demonstrate that interest. For example, if you are telling colleges that you want to study engineering then being involved in your school’s robotics club will support your application. Being in ten clubs makes no difference whatsoever. Doing a few activities well, speaks volumes about you. You want to show your willingness to commit to an activity and your ability to be a leader in something you care about. CLICK HERE for an article from USNews.
THINK ABOUT VISITING SOME COLLEGES
You will do more formal college visits starting second semester of your junior year, but now is a great time to do some informal visits and get a feel for different campuses. If your summer travel plans take you near a college campus take an hour or two to visit. Don’t worry if the school is not on your radar, visiting any campus gives you more information about things that may affect how you create a college list. You may discover you love the feel of a city school, or you might be drawn to a more traditional campus, perhaps you are attracted to a smaller school. Campus visits help you know what you are looking for. CLICK HERE for more information about campus visits.
DEVELOP A TESTING PLAN THAT SUITS YOU
Very few of us like thinking about testing, but it is a fundamental part of applying to college, so developing a plan that suits you is a way to take some stress out of the whole process.
Consider the following:
Standardized tests are intended to test the knowledge of students who have completed the first semester of their junior year--so do not feel you need to be rushing into testing. Instead, take time to become familiar with the ACT and SAT through practice.
If you have not already done both an ACT and SAT practice test now is a great time to do that. If you are a self starter you can do a practice test online. Additionally many test prep services will offer a free practice test to students. CLICK HERE for a link to the SAT. CLICK HERE for a link to a site with free ACT practice.
Once you have taken a practice test in each area you can then determine if you want to focus on one or both tests. A good test preparation program is one that suits your schedule and preferences. If you have time this summer it can be a great time to get started since your schedule will be more flexible. As you move into the fall you will need to consider how test prep fits in with your other activities. If it is a burden to do it is less likely you will do it, so give consideration to the following:
Are you really a self starter who can work independently? If so online test prep is available to you. CLICK HERE for a link to the free SAT prep offered by Khan Academy. CLICK HERE for a line to the ACT online test prep. Alternatively do you need one on one tutoring to keep you on track or do you work better in a group, with peer support? Do you need a tutor who can work with you later in the evening or during a study hall during the day? Talk to your counselor for some recommendations. You will find that there is a style of test prep that will suit your needs.
Think beyond the ACT and SAT. If you are taking an upper level class in an academic subject you may want to consider taking an SAT subject test. These tests are offered in Math, Science, English, History and selected World Languages. If you are considering application to highly competitive schools be sure to speak with your counselor about Subject Tests, there are a handful of schools that require them, and a greater number that recommend you take them. CLICK HERE for information about these tests and a link to practice exams. If you are not sure about whether you take a test, or what level you might take, since some subject offer more than one level, go to your subject area teacher for guidance.
A little preparation now can help you get a good start on your college process, and can help make things a lot less stressful in the long run!