It’s never too early to start planning for college and laying the foundation for your college-readiness. Your freshman year is an ideal time to form or improve good study habits and establish your extracurricular and academic trajectory. You should also begin to think about what careers and, accordingly, college majors you would potentially be interested in the future. You want to make sure you have a solid plan in place to help you navigate the coming years.
1. Create a four-year high school course plan & take the right courses
Your high school transcript -- the GPA and the rigor of the classes taken -- is the single most important factor in your admission. When you start high school, you want to ensure you’re taking a college prep curriculum. Talk to your high school counselor to discuss what a college prep track looks like at your school, whether it is math, science, humanities, language arts, or social sciences. It’s important to get into the appropriate level of math or foreign language classes early because they will likely determine what level you’re able to reach for a given year. For example, if you want to take AP Calculus BC in your senior year, ask your counselor which courses you will need to complete and what grades you will need to attain to qualify for enrollment.
College admissions will evaluate the rigor of your curriculum based on the classes you’ve enrolled in. If you aspire to attend a top college, the most competitive schools want to see that you’re challenging yourself and tackling the most difficult classes at your school. We at Peninsula Academy don’t recommend taking every single honors or AP class, but your course load should demonstrate that you can do well in a rigorous academic environment. We do recommend taking honors or AP classes in the subjects you feel are your strongest and most interested in at the college level.
2. Perform well in your classes
Despite what some of your friends might say, Freshman year grades do matter. Colleges will look at your Freshman year grades, as they affect your GPA and Class Ranking. Maybe more importantly, establishing good study habits early on will affect your performance in your Sophomore and Junior years. Your performance in your classes early on will set the academic trajectory for the rest of high school. Additionally, in order to get that coveted 4.0 GPA you will need to start working hard right away. Try not to let the new environment distract from your end goal.
However, if your grades are not stellar due to some struggles adapting to the new high school environment, don’t feel discouraged and don’t lose hope of your college dream. Figure out what the issues are by talking to your counselor, working with tutors outside of school, researching online, and getting all the help you need. Is it your study habits or time management, is it the subject matter, or is it the misunderstanding of your teacher’s expectations? Try to figure out the causes and then work tirelessly to improve your grades. Colleges want to see two types of students when it comes to academic performance, those who always excel and those who show strong upward momentum.
3. Start Participating in Extracurriculars
Aside from your grades and test scores, your extracurriculars have the most impact on your application. Start getting involved early! You want to set yourself up for leadership positions down the line. Top colleges want to see a stellar student and human being, and that means excelling outside of the classroom. Admissions counselors want to see someone who uses the time outside of academics to pursue their passions.
Some students are under the impression that “well-rounded” means being involved in as many extracurriculars when the opposite is true. Colleges would rather see dedication to just a few extracurriculars where you can really develop and display excellence and rise to leadership roles as you mature through high school years.
If you’re an athlete, try to reach the highest level of performance in your given sport. If you’re a mathematician, try to compete at the highest level in competitions. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say colleges love commitment. Leadership positions often take years to grow into, especially for the more specific extracurriculars. It’s far more impressive to be involved in one extracurricular for four years than four different extracurriculars for a year each.
If you don’t have a clear passion yet and are not sure which extracurriculars to dive in, 9th grade is also the time to explore. Try a new different ones that all look appealing to you and see which ones you enjoy the most. If you don’t like any of them, try something new the second semester. If you start with a few more clubs than you can handle, it’s ok to cut down one or two. Again, 9th grade is the time to explore before you commit yourself to activities you would like to pursue for the rest of high school.
4. Start researching potential fit for college
As a freshman, you don’t have to think about the specific college you want to attend. You should, however, think about what kind of college you’d like to attend. What region do you want to land in? Are you willing to go out of state? What size of college would you be comfortable studying in? Comprehensive research universities vs. small liberal arts colleges? Do collegiate sports matter to you? How about their dedication to the arts?
Once you get a general idea of the types of colleges you would like to attend, you can do a simple google search for the campuses that meet your criteria. Many college planning websites can also be helpful, such as Naviance, BigFuture by the College Board, College Navigator by National Center for Education Statistics, or College Scorecard by US Department of Education. Start making a list. Once you have your list, do another search for the average GPAs, test scores, and types of classes required for admittance. These will be your roadmaps to college.
It’s totally okay to be unsure of where you want to attend college, it is still early. However, some due diligence and early research would give you a clearer idea of some general goals you should reach for.
5. Start forming meaningful relationships with your college counselor
Schedule a meeting with you high school college counselor as early as you can. Go to the meeting with questions about college prep course tracks and extracurriculars as we discussed earlier in this post. Let your college counselor know that you are already thinking about college and show him/or the kind of research you have done. It’s important that he or she recognizes you among the hundreds of students they serve.
The majority of the nation’s top universities require a letter of recommendation from your high school college counselor. For most of the students, especially those attending public schools, this letter will be generic. But if you start cultivating a meaningful relationship with your counselor early on and let him or her really get to know you and your college goals, he or she will be more likely to include positive details in this letter of recommendation, details that will help you stand out.
6. Explore summer opportunities
Summer is the time for you to recharge and have some fun. However, this doesn’t mean wasting your summer, not even in 9th grade! If you have weak subjects, use summer to catch up. If you are academically strong, use summer to challenge yourself and reach higher by participating in competitive summer camps or pre-college summer programs. If you are interested in pursuing a certain career, participate in an internship or volunteer opportunity to get a better sense of working in that field. Or, if you are not sure what you would like to do in your future, participating in internships or volunteer work will help you learn more about yourself and figure out your career and job interests.
However, you should keep in mind that planning for summer takes time. The more competitive the opportunity, whether it is an internship or pre-college summer program, the more requirements you will need to fulfill to get in. Competitive programs also have earlier application deadlines, some of which can be as early as December, that is, even before you finish your fall semester in 9th grade!
7. Get help from your parents
It’s important to discuss your plans for college with your parents. You will find that you will lean heavily on their time and resources. For example, you may not have a driver’s license or car for the first years of high school. You may need them to drive you to various team practices or extracurricular activities. Whether or not your parents have attended college, they may not have a good idea of what it takes these days to get to where you want to be.
Tuition is also a huge factor in college decision making. Let them know about your general idea of where you want to go so you can start making calculations for financial aid, scholarships, and college saving funds. You want to ensure that you and your parents are on the same page when it comes to your college aspirations.
What Not to Stress About in Grade 9
1. SAT vs ACT
Preparing early won’t hurt, but you probably won’t be introduced to a lot of the core subject areas until later into high school. The math sections of these tests consist of Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. We recommend learning these subjects in-depth in your classes before you start studying supplemental materials.
That said, if you aim to apply for competitive summer camps, such as those offered by the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University, The Talent Identification Program (TIP) at Duke University, The Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University, an SAT or ACT is required for admission. If you hope to attend the nation’s best pre-college summer courses, such as those offered at Stanford, a decent SAT or ACT score in 9th grade can also give you a leg up.
2. The Ideal College
While we recommend getting a general idea of the type of college you’d like to attend, having an ideal college chosen is not necessary. You’re just getting introduced to more advanced topics, and you might discover you have a knack for specific topic later on in high school. Don’t stress too much over choosing a “dream” school, as appealing as that may sound. Be open, continue learning, and the answer will come to you in time.
3. Affording College
Costs shouldn’t be preventing you from planning for college. There are many scholarships and financial aid options that will be available to you once you become of age. For now, keep an eye out for available options for funding but don’t put too much emphasis on what you feel you can and can not afford.