You are actually wise to be thinking ahead to college as a sophomore. Of course, you don't want to turn your entire high school career into merely a “dress rehearsal" for what comes next, so I do hope you find time for classes and activities that you enjoy and not just for those that you think will impress admission officials. But, on the other hand, decisions that you make now can certainly have an impact on the college choices you will have later on … and “later on" will be here before you know it.
So, as you look down the road to college, here are a few suggestions:
- Keep doing what you're doing now. Take the most rigorous courses you can handle. But make your mental and physical health your priorities and don't OVERdo it. It can be a delicate balance!
- Don't just focus on the Ivies. Certainly these colleges are famous and well-respected worldwide, and it's good to have lofty goals. So keep the Ivies on your list but also consider that there are other places where you can be happy and engaged as well. If you land at an Ivy, that's great. But if you don't, you may discover that a different school is really where you were meant to be all along. And if you end up as a big fish in a smaller pond, this can help position you very well for graduate school, job placement etc.
- Don't discount a paying job in high school. If you come from a low-income family, you may need to hold a job to earn spending money for yourself or to help your parents with household expenses. Admission officials at the Ivies … and at all colleges … have huge respect for a student who works. Even if a job keeps you out of school clubs or other extracurricular activities, that's no problem. The college folks see gazillions of Model U.N. officers, drum majors, and yearbook editors on applications. Those endeavors are fine but common. A student who puts in long hours at a workplace always impresses, and those who climb the ladder (e.g., get promotions, supervise shifts), even more so.
- If you are a student of color or you are first-generation-to college (or both), it's not too early to hone in on a few of the colleges that interest you the most and call their admission offices. Explain that you are a student of color and/or first-generation to college. Request the name and email address of the staff member who oversees multicultural and first-gen applicants. Then write to him or her and briefly describe your background and your goals, much as you did for “The Dean." Ask if there are any summer programs or special school-year opportunities that might be suitable for you. It's not too early to do this, especially if you might be a candidate for a program for this coming summer. (Most of the on-campus programs during the school year are for juniors and seniors, but it can't hurt to get on mailing lists now.)
- If you are not already familiar with Questbridge check it out here: http://www.questbridge.org/ The aim of this organization is to facilitate the application and enrollment of disadvantaged students at “elite" colleges and universities. The Web site can be a little confusing, but start slowly. Begin with the “College Prep Scholarship" which is for high school juniors. See http://www.questbridge.org/for-students/cps-college-prep-scholarship (If you look into it now, you'll be ready for next year.) As a Questbridge College Prep Scholar, you will receive personal guidance through the admissions maze (often including opportunities to visit distant colleges for free) and then, as a senior, you will have priority admission (although not guaranteed) into the Questbridge “Match" program which pairs strong disadvantaged seniors with top colleges and provides with full financial aid. So follow that link above and look for the “Join the Mailing List" link. (Right now!!)
The college selection and application process can seem very confusing and overwhelming. But one thing to keep in mind is that, if you are a strong and motivated student, you will have college options, even if your family cannot pay for your education. You also should never worry that you can't attend pricey summer programs, take community-service trips to Third World Countries, or enroll in expensive test-prep classes (although Questbridge helps with that). Admission officials, especially at the Ivies and at other highly selective colleges, are always on the lookout for students who have made the most of what they've been given … even if it's very little.