For many teens, high school can be an exciting four years of social, emotional, and academic growth. However, it can also be stressful, as students (and parents) start to plan for college and begin navigating the complex application process. We’ve put together some valuable tips for each grade level so students and parents can know what to expect and stay organized.
Two major factors of the college application are the grade point average (GPA) and the extracurricular profile, and these will remain important throughout high school. For most universities, the GPA begins with the first report card in 9th grade and ends with the last report card of 12th grade. Students should consult their guidance counselor to ensure they are taking the appropriate required courses for college. A strong freshman year will make it easier to sustain a high overall GPA. Ninth grade is also when extracurricular activities (sports, music, arts, clubs) become more specialized. Students should find (or continue with) two or three interests they enjoy and invest at least a couple of years in those activities to demonstrate participation and progression. In addition, this is a good year to begin foreign language studies as most colleges require at least two years of high-school foreign language classes.
Colleges also want to see if students have challenged themselves with higher level or AP courses. More AP classes will become available starting in 10th grade, and for students in schools with limited course selection, there are other ways to take AP classes, such as online self-study. If a student is struggling in any particular subject, it’s important to seek tutoring assistance as needed. Looking ahead to the summer before 11th grade, students may consider a summer learning program, volunteering abroad, or anything to enhance their academic or extracurricular profiles.
The junior year is typically the most challenging, and students will want to be prepared for the rigorous curriculum that awaits. Time management, healthy study habits and self-discipline all come into play. Students should take the PSAT in the fall (if not taken in 10th grade) to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and consider test prep courses. Most students take the SAT and/or ACT exams in the spring of 11th grade. AP classes and any necessary tutoring should continue. It’s also a good year to take advantage of leadership opportunities in clubs, teams, or organizations. An internship or part-time job related to their future major can further enhance a student’s college application. Students should develop a list of universities they would like to attend and research the admission requirements for each. Campus visits should begin this year as well.
Students should begin preparing for their college applications (including essay writing) in the summer before 12th grade, and application season will last throughout the fall. We recommend keeping a timeline of deadlines and other important steps, particularly for those considering early decision and early admission as those deadlines occur earlier. It is not uncommon to seek professional assistance to navigate this process as it can be overwhelming. As they juggle applications, academics and extracurriculars, seniors can also retake the SAT or ACT in the fall to boost their score. Campus visits should continue throughout the year, especially in the spring after acceptance letters start to arrive so students can compare their options. Finally, while some students may want to slack off during the spring, it’s important to remember that colleges do monitor grades and activities until the end of the school year. Hiring a college counselor as early as 9th or 10th grade can further alleviate the pressure of preparing for college. Many parents find this to be extremely beneficial, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the ever-competitive admissions process.