Last week, we discussed five things ninth graders should do to ensure success their freshman year and to lead to continued accomplishments throughout their high school and post-secondary careers. This week, we are moving on: sophomores, it's your turn.
Yes, you're only in tenth grade. Yes, you are not even halfway to high school graduation. Yes, you still have two-plus years before you get that diploma and start the next stage of life. While that may seem like for-ev-er now, time will fly by, and you need to start preparing for that future now.
Start the College Search
While it is never too early to start your college search, sophomore year is when it's time to get serious. Start by considering the type of school you want to attend: vocational or trade school, two-year community college, college, university, public school, private school, in-state, out-of-state, etc. Simply narrowing down to one or two of those options will help tremendously.
When you have decided the type of school you are most interested in attending, start researching different options. There are websites galore that give endless information about colleges, and there are print resources, such as U.S. News & World Report's College Rankings. After you have selected a few that especially interest you, start perusing each school's website for more specific information.
Additionally, visit college campuses. If there are colleges or universities nearby, visit them. Even if you have no intention on attending or even applying to these schools, stepping foot on a college campus and getting the feel for what your post-secondary future might look like is an invaluable experience. While tours led by the admissions office are incredibly useful, simply taking an informal stroll around campus is a good start for your sophomore year.
Prep for Standardized Tests
The ACT and the SAT are necessities in the college application process. These are challenging tests, and the earlier you start preparing for them, the better.
One way to prep is by taking standardized "practice" tests that can predict your score on the actual exam. ACT offers the PLAN test, which is available to sophomores through their school or district. College Board, the organization in charge of the SAT, offers the PSAT; sophomores are able to take this test as practice, and when they take it as juniors, they are eligible for National Merit recognition, which brings with it scholarship money.
Another way to prep is to take courses and read books designed to help you boost your score on these standardized tests. Both the ACT and the SAT provide numerous resources on their websites to help you do just that.
In addition to taking practicing to take the tests, it is important to plan when you will take the exams. Each of these tests is only offered on specific dates, so it is absolutely essential to plan ahead -- and to take each exam a few times to ensure you earn the best score possible. Even if you will not take the tests "for real" until your junior year, pull out your planner and mark down the dates now.
You know you need to research colleges, visit campuses, and take practice entrance exams. In order to do all of this without absolutely exhausting yourself and forgetting which way is up and which way is down, it is imperative that you create an organizational system to help.
Start a calendar -- either on paper or electronically -- that you use solely for post-secondary preparation. Mark down your college visits. Keep track of PLAN, PSAT, ACT, and SAT dates. Note when the FAFSA is due. Jot down scholarship deadlines. Write down when different applications are due. Mark down college fairs. Note when admissions officers visit your schools. There is so much to keep track of, and it's impossible to do without a solid organization system.
Additionally, start a file folder for each school that is on your radar. Keep postcards you get in the mail, pamphlets that are sent to your school, emails you receive from admissions, the folder of information you receive on your college visits, copies of your applications, etc. If everything is organized, it will be much easier to reference as it is needed.
Continue to Focus on Extracurricular Activities
As a ninth grader, you continued to participate in activities you loved, and you branched out to new ideas as well. As a sophomore, it is important to focus in on two or three extracurriculars, specifically those in which you could envision yourself growing and developing. As you continue through your high school career, you will want to take on leadership positions to show scholarship committees and college admissions offices that you have the characteristics and capabilities to be a strong leader.
Varying your extracurriculars will show that you are well-rounded, and taking on leadership positions will show that you have the drive and motivation to push yourself and positively influence your peers -- traits for which those in your post-secondary future look.
Plan Ahead to Summer
Chances are that you don't have to be told twice to think ahead to summer. As a motivated sophomore who is ready to excel in all of their postsecondary plans, it is important to not just think about summer but to plan for summer. Between your sophomore and junior year, try to do a few things:
- Continue with your extracurricular activities (for reasons mentioned above).
- Volunteer as much as you can. If you love animals, check out opportunities with the humane society. If you're interested in a career in medicine, ask the local hospital how you can help. Find your passion and offer your time and energy. Not only is this good for the soul, it is also an advantage for scholarships and college admission.
- Find a part-time job. This is yet another way to show that you are well-rounded and responsible on applications.
- Start an internship. Gaining professional experience while you're still in high school will show future employers incredible incentive, and it will also boost your resume, which will in turn benefit your college and scholarship applications.
- Have fun. You may think that you're grown, that you're an adult, but relish the fact that you are still a teenager. Yes, it's important to focus on your future, but it's also imperative to enjoy just being a kid.
You may be a sophomore, and you may have more than half of high school to go. But there is still plenty to do to prepare for your postsecondary future.
Juniors, stay tuned: you're up next week.