An Easy-to-Use College Planning Checklist for Sophomores
Congratulations! The awkward adjustment year of high school is behind you. You are now in 10th grade—still an underclassmen, but experienced enough to be able to take on leadership roles in your high school community. Additionally, college applications and acceptances are getting closer, so it’s time to get serious about some of your commitments while letting some of the less useful ones go.
We at CollegeVine have developed a comprehensive checklist to help you allocate your time effectively so that you maximize your sophomore-year potential.
Tasks to Continue from 9th Grade (Ongoing Tasks)
1) Maintain Your Grades
Hopefully, you did well in your schoolwork during your freshman year, so this year will just be about keeping up the good work. However, if your grades last year were not as high as you would have liked them, don’t worry too much! While freshman grades do matter, colleges will take note if you show improvement in your sophomore year. This is known as an Upward Grade Trend, showing a steady progression of academic improvement. This year is also when the harder AP courses begin for some students, and colleges want to see how you handle rigorous material.
2) Maintain and Deepen Extracurricular Involvement
Freshman year was about discovering which activities and clubs most interest you. This year, you should aim to keep yourself involved in those extracurricular activities you enjoyed last year (feel free to drop the extracurriculars you didn’t like) and try to gain an official leadership position in a few of them.
Some schools and organizations only allow juniors and seniors to hold leadership positions, so you may have to be creative when searching for leadership opportunities. Try looking within your community, like at a local charity or a public library for a project or initiative to lead. However, be mindful of the extra time commitment involved in being a leader. You don’t want to take too much time away from your studies.
But don’t be afraid to continue branching out into new extracurriculars. If you see a club that interests you, join it! It’s still early enough in your high school career that you can join extracurriculars and have enough time to make a difference in them.
3) Continue Developing Relationships with Your Teachers and Counselors
One important aspect of your college application is securing recommendation letters. Sometimes, teachers barely remember students who ask them to write a recommendation letter, resulting in a generic letter that will not impress colleges. You need to maintain a good relationship with those teachers that you will want to write you a letter of recommendation throughout high school. It’s also a good idea to get to know your guidance counselor now and meet with him or her routinely. Then he or she will have years of interaction with you to reflect upon when writing your recommendation letter.
Some ways to maintain a good relationships with your teachers and counselors are offering to help out in the classroom, making appointments to develop a four-year-plan, or simply stopping by the office to say hi. For more tips on how to maintain a relationship with your guidance counselor, click here.
4) Continue Researching College Costs and Financial Aid
It is never too early to start thinking about how you are going to pay for college. Many students get jobs in order to start saving for college, but you should look into the laws concerning working age requirements in your state before filling out applications. What you are old enough to do, however, is apply for scholarships and financial aid. Many students are not aware of the multitude of scholarships that are offered to students in their sophomore year of high school. Some examples are the Weekly Three Sentence Essay Scholarship, Voice of Democracy Scholarship, and the Anthem Essay Contest. Your high school counseling office may have scholarship and financial aid applications available, and you can always find them yourself with a quick Google Search. Many scholarship and financial aid forms do not take that long to fill out, so it’s relatively easy to apply.
5) Take Care of Your Health
With more challenging classes and time commitments to extracurricular activities, sophomore year is often when high school starts to get tough. With the increased stress, many students often neglect their health and well-being by not getting enough sleep and skipping meals. Damaging your body like this only adds to your stress, which can have major negative side effects on your body. Be sure to remember three simple health goals: eat three healthy meals a day, get eight hours of sleep, and exercise for at least 12 minutes a day.
Sophomore Year-Specific Tasks
1) Start Thinking About AP Courses
Depending on your school, Advanced Placement courses may become available to you at different times; for some, it is sophomore year, but for others it may be junior year. Either way, now is the time to start thinking about rigorous classes and preparing yourself to take them. It is up to you to find out when you can start taking AP courses and fulfill any prerequisites you need before you can enroll in these courses.
One way to prepare yourself for AP classes is by taking honors courses. They are more challenging than regular-level classes, but may not be as rigorous as AP classes. Depending on your school, certain regular classes may have an honors equivalent, and honors courses could be more available during your sophomore year than during freshman year. However, note that some schools require you to maintain at least a certain GPA level in order to register for honors courses.
Many top-tier college like to see students take five to seven AP courses throughout their high school career on average; however, this varies by the college. These courses are more challenging, since they essentially cover college-level material. To learn more about the value of AP courses and how to prepare yourself for them, click here.
2) Make Constructive Plans for the Summer
Colleges expect you to spend the summer between your sophomore and junior years doing something productive, rather than simply relaxing. You should start thinking about what activities might be valuable to you, as well as how they will appear to colleges.Often, summer activities require an application and perhaps even an interview process, so start planning early so you don’t miss any deadlines.
Some examples of worthwhile summer activities include earning money through a minimum-wage job,working at an internship, getting involved in a community service project, or becoming a camp counselor. For more information about planning your summer activities, click here.
3) Demonstrate Interest in Colleges that May be the Right Fit for You
It’s not too early to start talking to colleges. With standardized tests and other college-related activities right around the corner, you should start looking into colleges so you can plan and prepare.
The easiest way to figure out which colleges might peek your interest is to subscribe to mailing lists (Tip: when you take the PSAT or SAT, you can also register for the College Board Student Search Service, which will allow colleges with students who had scores in a similar range to receive your basic information). You might also email an admissions counselor at a college that interests you with any questions, or visit a campus to get a feel for the school’s environment.
If you have an idea of which colleges interest you now, you’ll have a better idea of what test scores, grades, and kinds of activities you might need to be accepted to your school of choice.
4) Start Taking SAT Subject Tests
Some students wait until their senior year, when they start applying to colleges, to figure out whether they need to take SAT Subject Tests for their applications. As a result, they’ve forgotten most of the material by the time they take the test and must spend extensive time re-learning.
A better plan is to assume now that you’ll need at least two SAT Subject Tests, the general requirement for many top-tier schools. As soon as you’ve finished a course, sign up to take the corresponding SAT Subject Test if one exists, since the material will still be fresh in your mind. For example, you should consider taking the World History Subject Test soon after you’ve taken AP World History.
Often, preparing for an AP exam prepares you to take the corresponding SAT Subject Test. However, if you take a course with similar subject matter to an SAT Subject Test that is not an AP course, you should look at some study guides and practice tests to determine if you have really learned all the material that you need for the related SAT Subject Test.
If you find that you haven’t learned all the material, don’t worry. You can either try to learn the material on your own through practice books, or you can wait until you’ve taken an AP course to take a SAT Subject Test.
5) Take the PSAT Early
This is completely optional. We recommend that students take the PSAT during their junior year both for practice and to potentially qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. However, some students will choose to take the PSAT in Fall of sophomore year in order to gauge where they are academically and how much more they need to learn and study in order to get their goal score.
This is a very low-risk assessment that colleges will not see and does not qualify you for any scholarships. You don’t have to study extensively for the sophomore PSAT, though doing so is always valuable. Just keep in mind that an average sophomore year score is from 470-480 in each section, while an average junior year score is much higher due to greater knowledge base.
Students must register for the PSAT through their school, so check with a counselor to see whether your school allows its sophomores to take the PSAT. If you’re a homeschooler, you will need to register with a local high school that allows sophomores to take the PSAT.
6) Want to Graduate early? Start Planning Now!
Though CollegeVine does not necessarily recommend doing so since it has a number of drawbacks including compromising the number of advanced courses you can take and limiting your time for extracurricular involvement, some students will choose to graduate early from high school. However, this requires extensive planning early on so that you can fulfill the minimum requirements before you graduate. For example, you may need to double-up on your English courses for one year in order to get through all of the required English material in three years. You may also need special approval from your counselor to accelerate your coursework and receive your diploma early.
If you haven’t already started planning by your sophomore year, meet with your counselor ASAP to make an early-graduation academic plan. For more information about graduating early, click here.
7) Plan for Your Junior Year
Junior year is the most important year to colleges. This is when you will take many of your AP classes and have the most opportunity for leadership positions and extracurricular involvement. While this will all continue into your senior year, you may be applying too early to report some of what you accomplish in 12th grade on your application.
It is important to start planning for your junior year now so that you accomplish as much as you can. Some questions to get you started are: How many AP courses can you reasonably take (and do well in) during your junior year? Which leadership positions do you want to try to secure (since some elections might happen at the end of your sophomore year)? Will you have time to study for the PSAT and SAT?
What to Expect in the Future (but can’t act upon yet)
1) Many, Many Standardized Tests
We’ve mentioned the PSAT and SAT Subject Tests, but you should keep in mind that neither is required during your sophomore year. If you want to hold off on taking standardized tests until your junior year, you can. Just know that there are strict deadlines for registering and brief windows in which you need to take them in order to get your scores to colleges on time for your application.
Mark important dates on your calendar so that you know how many tests you’re going to be taking during your junior and senior years, when you’re going to take them, and how much time you’re going to have to prepare for each.
Some important dates to note are the registration deadlines for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, the deadline to send these scores to colleges, and the dates of the next two to three available SAT administrations.
College Board’s SAT calendar only goes until the end of each school year, so you will not be able to get the exact dates until the summer before each school year. Be sure to bookmark or note the link for the online SAT schedule, however.
2) College Applications and Essays
“But wait! I’m only a sophomore!” Yes, you are, and those college applications are coming a lot faster than you think. However, you don’t need to look at any applications or start writing essays just yet. They will probably change by the time you apply to college anyway.
What you can do, however, is start organizing your grades, awards, and extracurricular achievements into a list or a resume, so that when it comes time to report your achievements on your college applications, you can look back at it. After all, you wouldn’t want to forget to mention an impressive accomplishment on your application because it happened three years ago.
3) When It Comes to Extracurriculars, It’s All About Improvement
You’re only in your second year of high school—you are not expected to be a state champion on your speech and debate team or the MVP of your athletic team yet. Instead, you are expected to use this time to learn and improve your skills to set yourself up for success later on. Colleges don’t expect you to be a prodigy from day one. So don’t worry. You have time to improve.
Sophomore year is all about planning and honing your skills. Your most important years are ahead of you, but if you make the most out of this year and start achieving early, you’ll be well set up in the future. It can be overwhelming, but just remember that you have plenty of time to get it all right.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
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