By Amelia Spring
For many high school students, especially 9th and 10th graders, college seems light years away. You may not be actively thinking about college applications and preparations now, but if you plan to go to college, you should be taking those plans into consideration throughout high school. Colleges look at the “total student”: your grades, past jobs, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities, to name a few. Worrying about all of these things at once may seem overwhelming, but you can prepare one step at a time. You will be thankful you thought about college preparation earlier than when it is time to apply to colleges in your senior year.
9th graders have four years of high school ahead of them, and they can choose to shape those years whichever way they want. For this reason, the College Board, an organization that aims to help students achieve college success, recommends that 9th graders make a plan for the next four years of high school. This plan could include which classes the student should take in high school, which extracurricular activities the student should get involved in, and any other objectives. Creating a plan like this can guide the individual through her entire high school career. If you choose to make a plan like this for high school, you can show it to your guidance counselor so he or she can revise it and offer advice that will steer you in the right direction towards college. Ms. Teresa Callanan, one of the guidance counselors at Council Rock North, advises freshmen to avoid the myth that “[only] the junior year counts. So freshmen and sophomores should focus on earning the best grades they can and also get involved in clubs and community service.”
In 10th grade, it is important to still keep your grades up. This year, you can begin to take a more in-depth look at colleges and potential careers, but there is no need to make a decision yet. One way to evaluate these colleges is through the “College Visit Program” offered by Council Rock North for 10th through 12th graders. Through this program, over 100 college representatives come to the school to meet with students in the fall. It is also possible to take the PSATs in 10th grade, so if you are interested in taking the PSATs to prepare for the SATs, you can talk to your counselor. In sophomore year, it is also a good idea to start moving towards leadership positions in your favorite extracurricular activities because colleges value leadership characteristics, and being on the board of a club at school is a great demonstration of these important qualities.
11th grade is when you should take time to start making lists of colleges you are interested in. This process will be done with your school counselor. You also need to take the PSAT and SAT/ACT tests. These tests can be scheduled with your counselor at school. Junior year is a great time to begin scheduling college visits, and at Council Rock North, juniors can take up to three excused absences to visit colleges. Keeping up grades and volunteer hours and continuing to pursue leadership positions in extracurricular activities is important as well. Council Rock North alum and freshman at Penn State Colin Slavtchef advises juniors that “this is the year for you to take a volunteer trip if you plan on it.”
When choosing classes for 12th grade, it is important to choose challenging classes. Colin Slavtchef advocates taking AP courses to prepare for college: “[Seniors should] take AP courses. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from college freshmen how they wish they took more AP courses. You will get credit for college and be ahead of the curve, allowing you to take more classes that interest you rather than just being part of your major.” During senior year, you will also submit applications to colleges. You will need to ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, fill out application forms, and write application essays for the colleges you plan to apply to. Make sure you meet with your guidance counselor throughout the entire application process. Colleges still look at classes and grades from senior year, so be sure to keep your grades up.
Hopefully, by the end of senior year you will be accepted into the college that is the best fit for you. By taking college into consideration early, working with your guidance counselor, acquiring leadership positions, and maintaining good grades while taking classes that challenge you, you will have an application that will be more attractive to colleges, and you will have higher chances of being accepted to better colleges.
Although thinking about college may seem stressful during high school, the best way to alleviate that stress is to prepare, so continue to work hard and stay involved, and you will be ready when it is time to apply to colleges.