High school juniors are now in full swing of their college search. Yet even in earlier grades college is on the radar for parents and students.
With ever increasing competition, as evidenced by the continually decreasing acceptance rates at colleges, more and more families are beginning the college journey in sophomore year. The extra time is a true bonus on every level, and it can – and should – be used to the student’s advantage.
One of the key reasons is financial. The student’s first year of college aid eligibility is based on the tax year that begins on January 1st of his or her sophomore year. When parents wait too long to learn about financial aid, they may lose out on opportunities to obtain it later on.
Aside from the economic considerations, there is much for parents of high school freshmen and sophomores to be aware of. Here is a checklist of steps that you and your teen can take right now to ease the pressure of the college journey, and to boost applications later.
- Visit your guidance counselor to discuss next year’s course selection. You want to take the most advanced classes available at your school, but only if you feel confident that you can handle the academic rigor. Discuss which Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes might be appropriate for you.
- Stay focused on schoolwork. Freshman grades will appear on your high school transcript, so aim to finish the year on an upswing.
- Participate in after-school activities and clubs. Find the one that interests you most and stick with it.
- Volunteer for community service events in and out of school.
- Talk to your teachers about possibly taking an SAT subject test this June. It’s best to take these as soon as you complete a course so that the subject matter is fresh in your mind. [Most 9th graders are taking biology now and some do take the SAT Biology exam.]
- If you do plan to take a subject test, make sure to begin test prep at least three months before the test. You can pick up a review/prep book for each individual subject test and the College Board website has practice questions as well. Also, check registration deadlines on the CB website and register for the test in due time. Typically, students must sign up a month in advance, but testing locations fill up quickly so it’s wise to register sooner rather than later.
- Focus on schoolwork. Colleges want to see an upward trend in grades throughout high school.
- Concentrate your time on one or two extra-curricular activities that you are most passionate about.
- Consider a summer program or job that enriches your extra-curricular interests and investigate internships and classes. Many summer programs offer scholarships so cost should not deter students from applying.
- Speak with your school counselor or contact an outside tutor to assess your PSAT or ACT Aspire results. Plan to start test prep this summer for the SAT or ACT in fall of junior year.
- Begin test prep now for the SAT subject test you plan to take this June. [Many sophomores take one of the History SAT subject tests or the Chemistry SAT.]
- There is a huge advantage to getting a head start on college visits. Start a preliminary college list and visit campuses this spring if possible. Some colleges will pay for travel expenses so it’s worthwhile calling the Admissions Office to ask if the school can offer a travel voucher for a prospective student.
- If you do visit colleges, take careful notes and make sure to send an email thank you to the college official who spoke at the information session and to the student tour guide (yes, get the student’s email address at the end of the tour!)
This is a guest post by Franca Rawitz, founder of ReadySetCollegeNYC, who has been successfully guiding students on their college journey for the past 12 years. Through personalized guidance and continuous support, Franca empowers students to take control of their journey and to achieve success in a sensible and strategic way. Partnering closely with families, she allays parent concerns and student anxieties by organizing and overseeing the process.