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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

8th Graders: How to Kick Off Your Freshman of High School

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Most people will tell you that eighth grade is way too early to start thinking about college. After all, a lot can change in the next five years, so why get your heart set on something now? Plus, it’s not like you can start to study for SATs or meet with a college advisor just yet, right?


It’s true; eighth grade is too early to make plans for college—but it’s not too early to think about your future. In fact, if you want all the options available to you when you send off your college applications in four years time, you need to make sure that you’re keeping every door open. While this might sound like a lot of pressure for an eighth grader, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. In this post, we’ll outline the four keys to keep in mind as you kick off your freshman year of high school.



1. Understand What College Prep Entails

Yes, we already said that it’s too early to start college prep work, but it’s certainly not too early to understand what we mean when we talk about college prep. It won’t be long before you’re knee deep in it, so grasping what college prep entails now will ensure that you hit the ground running when the time comes.


First of all, you should know that a big part of college prep is your high school coursework. This is important for a few reasons. First, your GPA and your transcript, which includes the grades you receive in each class, are big components of most college applications. Colleges want to know that you’re ready for advanced level work. One way that you can prove you are, is by achieving in advanced level courses during high school.


Another reason your grades in high school are important is because they indicate how well you are grasping the concepts that will become foundational for college level work. For example, if you want to take math classes in college (and keep in mind, at many colleges they are required), you’ll need to master the fundamentals of basic algebra first. Similarly, if you want to take college level English or writing classes, you’ll have to know all the high school level basics before tackling them. Achieving in your high school classes prepares you for success in college level coursework.


Finally, you should understand that colleges review your academic and extracurricular achievements for all four years of high school. If you do poorly during your freshman year, you’re not necessarily out of the running at top schools, but you’ll need to demonstrate a marked improvement during 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. Remember, all four years of high school count towards your college applications.



2. Explore Your Interests

If you’re reading about extracurriculars and wondering what the heck they are, don’t worry. Extracurriculars is just a fancy word for the activities that you pursue outside of your required classes. For some students, these are sports teams or drama clubs. For others they are art classes. For still more, they are academic in nature like the robotics club or the French club.


Extracurriculars aren’t just limited to school sanctioned clubs, either. They can include just about any hobby or pursuit, so long as it’s beyond your required course work, takes up a significant amount of your time over a prolonged period, and is something you’re passionate about. To learn more about what qualifies as an extracurricular, read our posts:


How to Turn Your Interest or Hobby into an Extracurricular Activity

What Counts As an Extracurricular?


The important thing to understand about extracurriculars is that colleges generally want to see you pursuing a few different extracurriculars over a longer period of time, like several years, with increasing levels of dedication and leadership. This could mean playing soccer for four years and eventually becoming the captain or league MVP. For less traditional extracurriculars like volunteering at a soup kitchen, it might mean devoting increasing hours to your work there over a period of three years, ideally culminating in some formal recognition for your commitment.  


One key to a great extracurricular is that it should be something that ignites a passion. You can’t fake these. They need to be things you genuinely enjoy doing. Eighth and ninth grade are a great time to explore a few different extracurriculars before choosing which ones you’ll focus on. Try things you know you enjoy, try things you’re not sure if you’re enjoy, or even try things you didn’t used to enjoy. Now is the time to experiment, and when you find one that you’re passionate about, run with it.

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3. Read

Reading is something you should do as much of as possible during the next four years. Read novels, read newspapers, read science journals and other nonfiction. Reading as many different genres and publications as possible provides a few benefits.


First, reading increases your vocabulary. The more you read, the more new words you’re exposed to, and these will come in handy in your own writing and speech. Students who are well-spoken and who write well are better able to communicate their strengths during the college application process.


In addition, reading across the curricular fields will mean that you’re exposed to a variety of styles and formats. On the SAT and ACT, it’s not uncommon to encounter excerpts from a scientific journal or passages from historical texts. Building a familiarity with these kinds of writing ensures that you’re on your toes when you see them on standardized tests.



4. Set Goals

It’s too early to set goals like, “Get into Harvard” or “Score a 1500 on my SAT,” but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to set shorter term goals pertaining to your high school years. Think about things like course load, grades, activities, and social events. Where do you want to be in four years? What do you need to do to get there?


For example, if you want to apply to selective colleges, you know you’ll need strong SAT scores and good grades. Goals like reading for 20 minutes every day or spending an hour every weekend reviewing your returned assignments and preparing for the week ahead will help to prepare you for your longer term goals.


Similarly, if you want to play varsity softball or place into upper level language classes during 11th or 12th grade, you can set goals like working out for an hour every weekend or watching foreign language films regularly. Setting short term attainable goals with a vision for the long term will keep you on track during your early high school years.


If you’re in eighth grade, thinking about high school can be an intimidating prospect. You might worry about making friends, getting good grades, or even staying on track for college. Luckily, if you start thinking about it now, you’ll have plenty of time to get off on the right foot. For more information about starting high school and staying on track over the next four years, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from course selection and extracurriculars to college applications and career aspirations, all from successful college students.


For more information about tackling 9th grade, check out these posts:


Starting 9th Grade: 6 Things You Need to Do To Own Your Freshman Year

8th Graders: Here’s How You Can Prepare for High School This Summer

Make the Right Moves: Your 2018 Freshman Year Action Plan

5 Tips for Incoming High School Freshmen

What To Expect Your Freshman Year of High School


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.