Thinking about college early in high school won't just set you up to succeed, it can also help make the application process a lot less stressful.
First and foremost: Aim for academic awesomeness all four years. Great grades in college prep courses are a key part of your college application and finding scholarship dollars for school. Simply put, that means you should put in the time and effort your school work requires. Create study habits that work with your learning style and schedule. Tackle assignments that seem particularly challenging head-on.
This might mean on a typical Tuesday night, you do the homework for your least favorite subject first and save your favorite subject for last. Or it might mean starting a project like an essay on Shakespeare or a science experiment early, so that you have time to ask for any help you might need in order to revise your work. Use these early years to identify the academic areas in which you need extra time and support, and you can set yourself up for success down the road.
When it comes to choosing classes, think of your freshman year as the foundation of your high school experience. Set long-term goals for high school and break down the tasks and decisions that you will need to complete to achieve those goals. For example, consider the course subjects you enjoy and those in which you excel. Are there opportunities to take advanced-level classes in those subjects in your junior and senior years? If so, find out what prerequisite courses or grades you need to earn a seat in those classes.
Your first two years of high school can also be a good time to try out electives and extracurricular activities. Challenging yourself academically and earning good grades are not only important, they will also show any admission committee that you are achievement-driven and willing to work hard; pursuing interests outside of your required courses will show you are intellectually curious and eager to engage with your community. This is vital information for admission at competitive schools, where officers look for the energy and unique traits you will bring to campus, as well as academic excellence! When it comes to choosing electives, I urge you to select subjects that excite you, not what you think will impress an admission officer.
During your sophomore year, you may want to start some initial college research. If you have older siblings who are visiting college campuses, don't be afraid to tag along. Browse online message boards, university websites and social media accounts, and pick up an annual guide like my Best 385 Colleges book. Begin to imagine yourself on a college campus; what facilities and qualities will make you feel at home? Preliminary research can help you be efficient when you refine your list of target schools later on.
You may want to consider taking SAT Subject Tests as early as the end of ninth grade, depending on the subjects you are taking (for example, if you are required to take biology during your freshman year, take the SAT Subject Test in biology in June of that year). You will have other opportunities to take these tests in tenth and eleventh grade, and you won't know which subjects (if any) you will need for your college application until you know where you plan to apply. But knocking out a few SAT Subject Tests now (timed to when your class in that discipline is still fresh in your head) can give you more flexibility and decrease stress later on.
Additional prepping for the SAT or ACT in ninth grade isn't necessary, but it also won't hurt if you like the practice. However, if you experience test anxiety, it may be a distraction from focusing on your grades. If you do want to get a jump on your prep for these tests, I recommend taking either SAT practice exams or ACT practice exams during sophomore year — tackle both if you want the extra practice!
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