As the competition for college acceptance increases, so does the value of foresight and planning. Tenth grade may seem a little early to think about college, but doing so can give you a real advantage when it comes time to fill out those college applications. Here are a few action steps you can take right now, this year, to make sure you are on track:
For most colleges and universities, GPA is the most important factor in admissions decisions. So continue to prioritize your academic efforts, making sure you are challenging yourself with the most advanced levels of classes you can reasonably handle. At the same time, take classes you are good at and interested in possibly studying in college. For example, if you’re interested in STEM, take as many math and sciences classes as you can. Also, think ahead to next year and check if you need to take any prerequisite classes (e.g., you may need to take regular or honors chemistry before you take AP chemistry).
Sophomore year is as good a time as any to focus on developing your reading skills. The more you read, the better your reading comprehension, speed, and focus will be. You will also naturally pick up new vocabulary words and standard English grammar conventions that will not only help boost your SAT score but also improve your reading and writing abilities. It goes without saying that reading will be part of almost all class assignments, so becoming a skilled reader will help with that GPA we were just talking about.
Tip: If you can improve your relationship with reading, which may have degraded over a lifetime of imposed reading limitations and deadlines, you will begin to read more efficiently and gain a desire for knowledge you never knew you could possess. Keep trying different books, magazines, and websites until you find an author or genre you truly enjoy. Then, with your new perspective, you will naturally begin to enjoy all types of reading more and more.
To maximize your chances of gaining admission to the colleges and universities of your choice, you will want to give them a clear vision of your interests. Schools want to get to know your personality and prefer students who actively pursue a passion, make an impact in the community, and/or demonstrate outstanding achievement rather than just disinterestedly attend a slew of activities. Think big: try to reach the highest level in your sport, assume a leadership position in your club, or even take the initiative to start your own club or community program.
If you are still unsure of your interests, try out some new classes, clubs, and activities while paying attention to when you feel most excited. Talk to others or read books and articles about potential interests to become more informed and inspired.
If you have the option, it’s a good idea to take the PSAT sophomore year to get a preview of what subject areas you might want to work on to prepare for your junior year PSAT. While not a college admissions requirement, the PSAT can qualify you for scholarship money and provide good practice for the SAT.
SAT subject tests are offered for math, science, English, history, and languages. Some colleges and universities require or recommend them, and some don’t, but in any case these 60 minute tests are a good way to demonstrate your knowledge in subject areas you are interested in possibly pursuing. Since it is a good idea to take the SAT subject tests when the material is fresh in your mind, sophomore year could be a good time to take the tests that correlate to classes you are currently taking.
As another way of getting to know you, colleges are interested in how you spend your free time. Plan your summers wisely so that you take advantage of this time to showcase your positive personality traits, such as initiative, leadership, and responsibility. Getting a job, an internship, or a volunteer position, or taking a college course can help you explore your interests, grow personally, and set the stage for strong extracurricular involvement in the years to come.
It’s completely fine if you don’t know which colleges you want to go to yet, but starting to think about your preferences is helpful. You can look into colleges of different sizes, locations, and types and see which ones you’re most drawn to. College search websites, such as College Board Big Future, niche.com, and unigo.com will, based on your preferences, generate a personalized college match list for you. You can then read up on the details of each college and even plan visits to get a sense of how the campuses feel. Even if you can only visit a couple of local schools, knowing which attributes you like and dislike will help you as you put together a list of where you want to apply. Knowing schools more intimately can also get you more excited about college and thereby more motivated to succeed overall as a high school student.
Keep in mind that you have time to explore and get everything done. And feel proud that you’re being proactive and not procrastinating. Your school classes provide enough stress, so starting the college preparation process now can prevent extra stress from overwhelming your future self as college app season draws near.