Planning for College
Senior   Junior   Soph   Frosh

1. Meet With Your High School Guidance Counselor

An informal meeting with your high school counselor can have many benefits in 9th grade. Use the meeting to find out what types of college admissions services your school provides, what high school courses will best help you reach your goals, and what successes your school has had in getting students admitted to selective colleges and universities.

2. Take Challenging Courses

Your academic record is the most important part of your college application. Colleges want to see more than good grades; they also want to see that you have pushed yourself and taken the most challenging courses offered at your school. Set yourself up so that you can take full advantage of whatever AP and upper-level courses your school offers.

3. Focus on Grades

Grades matter in your freshman year. No part of your college application carries more weight than the courses you take and the grades you earn. College may seem like it's a long way off, but bad freshman grades can hurt your chances of getting into a selective college.

4. Take a Foreign Language

In our increasingly globalized world, colleges and universities want their applicants to have command of a foreign language. If you can keep taking a language all the way through senior year, you'll be improving your chances of admission, and you'll be giving yourself a big head-start for meeting the language requirements in college.

5. Get Help if You Need It

If you find you're struggling in a subject, don't ignore the issue. You don't want your difficulties with math or a language in 9th grade to create difficulties for you later in high school. Seek out extra help and tutoring to get your skills up to snuff.

6. Extracurricular Activities

By 9th grade you should be focusing on a couple extracurricular activities that you're passionate about. Colleges are looking for students with varied interests and evidence of leadership potential; your involvement in activities outside of the classroom often reveal this information to the college admissions folks.

7. Visit Colleges

9th grade is still a bit early to shop around for colleges in a serious way, but it is a good time to start seeing what types of schools strike your fancy. If you happen to find yourself near a campus, take an hour to go on the campus tour. This early exploration will make it easier to come up with a short list of colleges in your junior and senior years.

8. SAT II Subject Tests

You usually don't have to worry about SAT II subject tests in 9th grade, but if you end up taking a biology or history class that covers SAT II material, consider taking the exam while the material is fresh in your mind. With the College Board's new score reporting policy, you can easily withhold a low score from colleges.

9. Read a Lot

This advice is important for 7th through 12th grades. The more you read, the stronger your verbal, writing and critical thinking abilities will be. Reading beyond your homework will help you do well in school, on the ACT and SAT, and in college. Whether you’re reading Sports Illustrated or War and Peace, you’ll be improving your vocabulary, training your ear to recognize strong language, and introducing yourself to new ideas.

10. Don't Blow Off Your Summer

While it may be tempting to spend your whole summer sitting by the pool, try to do something more productive. Summer is a great opportunity to have meaningful experiences that will be rewarding for you and impressive on your college application. Travel, community service, volunteerism, sports or music camp, and employment are all good options.

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