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Getting Ready to Apply to College: Freshman Year
Everyone knows that your senior year of high school will be busy with tasks relating to college, from taking your standardized tests to composing your applications to managing acceptances and rejections. However, the college planning process actually starts much earlier. Working on college-related tasks throughout high school will help you get ahead, get on the right track, and make more informed decisions once senior year rolls around.
In this series, we at CollegeVine will cover the specific college planning tasks you should focus on in your freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school. In this installment, we’ll focus on freshman year, and everything you’ll need to consider during this time in order to ensure that you’re on track for college.
When is it Time to Start College Planning?
You may be wondering whether, as a freshman, you’re too young to start planning for college. In a word, the answer to this question is no. There’s nothing wrong with starting your college planning process in your freshman year of high school. In fact, starting early is a great idea for the reasons we’ve enumerated in our past post Is Freshman Year Too Early to Start College Planning?
9th grade is the right time to start researching colleges you might like and learning about what applying to those schools would require. Learning about the application process will help you to plan your high school experience and fit in all the goals and activities you’ll eventually need.
Of course, there are certain aspects of the college planning process that you won’t be able to address yet. For instance, your actual college application forms won’t become available until the fall of your senior year, so you can’t fill out your applications or write your essays this far in advance.
It’s also important to stay flexible this early in the process and not lock yourself into any rigid plans. You still have a lot of time left in high school to figure out what you want and need out of your college experience, and you may eventually decide that the colleges you liked best as a 9th-grader aren’t actually right for you.
First and foremost, it’s important to get a strong start on your high school academics in your freshman year. Ninth grade is when your grades and GPA start to matter for college application purposes. This is the time to take school seriously, adopt effective work habits, and develop good relationships with your teachers. It’s also the time to notice and address any difficulties you’re having with school before they have time to get any more severe.
Course choices are another important area for freshmen to consider. Every high school has certain academic requirements that must be completed in order for you to earn your diploma. As a freshman, you still have plenty of time to complete these requirements, but it’s a good idea to start planning out when you will fulfill them. Getting these requirements out of the way early, if possible, can also help to free up your schedule in later years.
Colleges always like to see that you’ve taken advantage of the most challenging academic opportunities available at your school. As you’re choosing your classes for your freshman year, consider whether you’re taking the correct prerequisites and getting on the right academic track so that you’ll be able to take higher-level courses, such as AP or IB courses, later in high school.
You may notice that we haven’t mentioned standardized tests. That’s because 9th grade is too early for the typical student to take the major standardized tests, namely the SAT and/or the ACT. For most people, it’s better to wait until you’re a junior in high school to take on these exams, at which point you’ll have a better chance at getting a high score.
Your freshman year of high school is the time to try new things and branch out. You’ll have tons of new extracurricular opportunities at this time, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do something unfamiliar or that you’re unsure about. It’s normal (and totally okay) for some of these activities not to pan out, so at this point, you shouldn’t worry about the impact of quitting an extracurricular.
In particular, of course, you should seek out extracurriculars that are related to your potential fields of academic and career interest. Participating in these activities can help you confirm and solidify your interests, and potentially introduce you to more specific paths you can pursue.
Once you’ve chosen extracurriculars, 9th grade is the time to build your skills for the future. You’re new, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be at your best as a freshman working with and/or competing against older students. You’re also unlikely to take on many leadership positions this early because you don’t have the experience level of older classmates.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and you have three more years to grow. Right now, focus on familiarizing yourself with your extracurriculars, building your skill sets, improving your performance, and learning from your older peers. Don’t worry if you’re not a high performer immediately—you’ll have plenty of chances to shine later, and your dedication to something that isn’t easy at first will reflect well upon you when it’s college application time.
For more information about managing your extracurriculars in 9th grade, check out our blog post A Guide to Extracurricular Activities for Grade 9.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s way too early for you to actually start your college applications—you’ll need to wait for your senior year to do that. However, you can definitely start researching colleges, learning about their admissions requirements, and considering which schools might eventually make it onto your list.
In addition to formal college research, keep your eyes and ears open for ideas. What colleges do you see linked to your fields of interest in the media? What do your friends, family, and teachers or guidance counselors think about certain colleges? What schools did people you admire attend? (I first heard about the college I would eventually attend through the author biography in one of my favorite novels.)
As you research colleges, you can start thinking about what factors you like or don’t like in these schools. Identifying your preferences is important, and will also provide another avenue for finding more colleges you might like. With over 7,000 post-secondary educational institutions in the U.S., narrowing your search to schools in urban settings, schools with strong study abroad programs, or any other category can help immensely.
It’s a good idea to keep track of the information you collect in some form— it’s too early for you to establish a rigid college list or make any commitments, but you’ll still want to record what you learn. In particular, keep an eye out for information about each college’s admissions requirements so that you can consider whether your current academic plans will prepare you for that school’s expectations, and make changes if necessary.
In ninth grade, you’re likely fourteen or fifteen years old, and that means you’re in the midst of a time of growth and change. As you gain more knowledge and experience in the world, you’ll come to consider more seriously the life you want to live and the goals you want to pursue as an adult, and consequently, the path you’ll need to take to get there.
Academic pursuits and extracurriculars will help you to grow, but they’re not the only avenues you can or should use to pursue personal growth. Outside of these settings, you’ll need to spend some time thinking more consciously about what topics and career fields appeal to you. You don’t have to commit to anything yet, but it’s a good idea to start this process early so that by the time college application season rolls around, you have a firmer grasp on your goals and preferences.
One special thing to consider is how you’re spending your summers. There are a range of summer opportunities for high school students— perhaps more than you would expect— and competitive colleges will expect you to have used the time wisely. It’s okay to spend some time resting and relaxing, but you should also find more substantive activities to take up some of the summer after ninth grade. (Start looking for these opportunities during the winter of your freshman year—some may have early application deadlines.)
You don’t have to predict your entire future accurately right now. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to change your mind, even after you go to college, and it’s important to be flexible as you continue to grow and learn about the world. However, now is the time to take your future seriously, and to spend some time thinking about what you need to do now in order to have the life you want later.
For More Information
Interested in learning about these topics in more detail? CollegeVine has you covered. Check out these posts for current high school freshmen.
Freshman year is only the beginning. Stay tuned to the CollegeVine blog for the rest of this series, in which we’ll detail what you should be doing to prepare for college application season during your sophomore and junior years of high school.
Looking for personalized advice on how to make the most of high school, prepare for college application season, and choose a college that’s right for you? CollegeVine’s experienced near-peer mentors are here to help you identify your passions, set appropriate goals, and achieve great things. To learn more about the services we offer, visit the CollegeVine Student Mentorship Program on our website.