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Articles / Applying to College / College Admissions Planning in 9th, 10th & 11th Grade

College Admissions Planning in 9th, 10th & 11th Grade

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 8, 2014
Even though the word “Sophomores" appears in the title of this article, the real target for the information contained herein is current high school freshmen (or freshpeople or freshpersons, to be politically and gender-neutrally correct). Maybe I should merely refer to “all you 9th graders out there." Whatever.

Anyway, I've spent a reasonable amount of time writing about college admissions planning for high school juniors and their families. Of course, it goes without saying that there are many high school seniors out there who wait until 12th grade to get with the program. I've cautioned against waiting that long a number of times. But what about sophomores, 10th-grade students? “Come on, Dave, that's way too early to wade into the pressure cooker, isn't it?" Well, I'll spare you the tales of families who freak out because their son or daughter didn't get into the premier pre-school in their area. Thus, their (the parents', obviously) “Ivy dreams" become shattered. Yes, these people do exist.

Getting back to reality, though … no, sophomore year is not too early to start thinking about and working toward your college goals. In fact, Ivy Bound's Mark Greenstein, someone I've quoted here before, says, “If you haven't started college test planning by winter of sophomore year, you're late." So, let's examine how sophomores — that is, you current 9th-graders who will soon be “rising" sophomores — can get a meaningful jump on your college prepping.

In addition to dealing with sophomore-year college prep, 10th graders also have to be looking forward to — and anticipating — a protocol for junior year. In a previous article, entitled Sophomores: What to Expect Junior-Senior Year, I wrote:

This [article], however, is for high school sophomores, those 10th graders out there who are sometimes overlooked in the realm of college admissions advice. So, just for the record, I want to address some thoughts to that group, who will be so-called “rising juniors" at the end of this school year. Appropriately, then, let me get you to look ahead to your junior and senior year.

The junior high school year is a year of decision and planning for college-bound students. Senior year is the action year. During both years, you'll continue to take challenging classes in English, math, science, history, geography, a foreign language, government, civics, economics, and the arts. As a junior, you must then start thinking ahead to your senior year. At the start of your senior year, you will decide if your standardized test scores are the best they can be. If you're not satisfied with them, schedule the SAT I for October (preferred) or November. You may also want to take some Subject Tests if you were unable to do so at the end of your junior year (also preferred) …

So, you current sophomores will soon be rising juniors. The college-related preparations you need to make this year should include looking ahead to your next two years. But, first things first. What should you be doing next year to optimize your positioning for a an effective college admissions plan?

Mark Greenstein, whom I quoted above, sent me some excellent thoughts for ambitious sophs, and I'd like to share them with you here, having received Mark's permission to do so. I've inserted some of my own comments along the way.

Here are the key steps at the heart of Mark's test-prep plan:

1. Plan for summer. Students applying to competitive colleges MUST have something productive on the resume the summer before junior year. Work, academics, artistry, athletic training, leadership — pick at least one. That one need not be all summer. But you can no longer JUST be at the beach for the summer, just play golf for the summer (unless you are already a varsity golfer), just attend to horses, or just attend the same camp counseling job you've had the last two summers. (A significant increase in responsibilities at your camp is okay, though.) Plus, and Driver Ed is NOT an academic activity in the eyes of colleges. Duh.

2. Plan for SAT or ACT this summer. For many students, summer before junior year is the best time for a chunk for ACT or SAT study. Work this into your summer plan. Most students at this stage do not know whether ACT or SAT is the more promising test. [See: http://www.actstudent.org/faq/actsat.html …

What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.

The College Board introduced a new version of the SAT in 2005, with a mandatory writing test. ACT continues to offer its well-established test, plus an optional writing test. You take the ACT Writing Test only if required by the college(s) you're applying to.

The SAT has a correction for guessing. That is, they take off for wrong answers. The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.

The ACT has an Interest Inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.]

3. Take the SAT Subject Tests. In sciences, history, and math, the best time to post a strong Subject Test score is earl May and June. If you are doing well in a course that you will not be taking next year, THIS May and THIS June are the times to test. Yes, students should test on both dates on the same subjects. Use April to prep for one or two subjects. The subjects you nail in early May you need not do on June. (May scores are returned about three weeks later; that's too late to sign up for June, so it's best to sign up for June and May simultaneously.) Use www.collegeboard.com if you have yet to visit. Yes, SOME students should do the Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 on the same day.

4. Enlist a college counselor. If your school has good counselors, get that first appointment as soon as possible. If not, consider enlisting a private counselor. Summer may be the best time for strategizing, and private counselors work during much, if not all, of the summer. If your school has not consulted with your parents about college planning, pre-college testing, or financial aid yet, enlisting a private counselor could save you a lot of grief and possibly a lot of $$ via scholarships. Most schools can't attend to sophomores' pre-college needs; those that do deserve praise.

Just for the sake of terminological clarification, keep in mind that a “rising" junior is a student who just finished his or her sophomore year, an about-to-be 11th-grader, in other words. I've always been amused by that term rising. In my view, if you're referring to someone who has just finished 10th grade, why wouldn't you just call them a junior, anyway? They're not going to be a senior.

This sort of sounds like a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routine: “Hey kids, what's the deal with homework? You're not workin' on your home!" It also reminds me of a George Carlin bit when he says, “When I'm flying somewhere and waiting at the airport, they'll say, 'It's time to get on the plane.' Well, I'm not gettin' on the the plane; I'm gettin' in the plane. It's way too dangerous out there on the plane."

Anyway, semantics aside, if you're a rising junior, keep in mind the actions mentioned above that you should be considering as part of your college process. Unfortunately, some high school juniors procrastinate and (erroneously) believe that there will be plenty of time to initiate and complete their college process when they are rising seniors. This is bad thinking and misguided planning.

Lots to keep in mind, huh? You can learn much more about prepping for your junior year (or any other year) from key threads on the College Confidential discussion forum. Your junior year can make a lot of good things happen for you, opening doors that were formerly closed. Just don't let any of those doors slam shut in your face. You can prevent this from happening by starting your college admissions planning early, as far back as your 9th-grade year.

Remember: The early bird many times gets the fat envelope. Don't be too late outta the gate!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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