Getting Ready to Apply to College: Sophomore Year
Sophomore year is the time to settle in. While freshman year was one of transition, and junior year will be time to kick things up a notch, sophomore year is the time to hit your stride comfortably.
While college applications are still a ways off and it’s not quite time to worry about standardized tests yet, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps you can take during your sophomore year to put you on the road to success. To learn about how you can set yourself up as a sophomore for future success when it comes to college applications, read on.
It goes without saying that your academic transcripts and achievements will be reviewed closely when you apply to college. If you plan to apply to colleges that are especially selective, you’ll need to present a squeaky clean academic history, representing the most challenging course load available and good grades to match.
What does this mean for your sophomore year? This is the year that grades really begin to matter. If you stumbled your freshman year, that’s okay. Now is the time to put in the hard work hard that ensures that your records will reflect an upward grade trend. If you excelled during your freshman year, that’s great—now keep that momentum going.
During your sophomore year, you should continue to select challenging courses (so long as they won’t overwhelm you) and continue to consider the prerequisites needed for classes that you might like to take as a junior or senior. Meet with a guidance counselor to discuss your goals and ensure that you’re on the right track.
To learn more about course selection during your sophomore year, see our post How to Pick Your High School Courses Freshman and Sophomore Years.
Also begin to think about AP classes. In some high schools, AP classes during sophomore year are a normal part of the most challenging track of classes. If this is the case, you should definitely consider taking one or more.
To learn more about AP classes, check out our post What Is an Advanced Placement (AP) Class?.
Finally, it’s important as a sophomore to continue to build the relationships with teachers that you’ll need to rely on later during the college applications process. Connect with mentors, counselors, and teachers who seem to recognize and respect your work. Make an effort to get to know them. These might become the people who write your college recommendations, but even if they don’t, it’s not uncommon to have the same teacher more than once or to need some academic guidance later during your high school career. Laying the foundation for these support networks now ensures they’re in place when you need them later on.
Sophomore year is a great time to really hone in on your extracurricular involvement. While freshman year was the time to cast your net wide and experiment from a number of different choices, during your sophomore year, you should begin to shift your focus more heavily towards the activities you actually enjoy and excel at.
This year, you should think about dropping out of activities that aren’t enjoyable. Remember, the goal is to find clubs, teams, competitions, and events that you’re passionate about. If you aren’t passionate about them, it’s time to consider if they’re worth your time and effort. As you select your activities, think about the areas in which you excel, the activities that you enjoy pursuing, and the skills and experiences that will be relevant to a possible future major or career path.
Ultimately, you should try to narrow your involvement down to around three or four activities, representing a variety of interests. Then, try to really maximize your participation in each, advancing to leadership roles or gaining other forms of recognition.
To learn more about extracurriculars, check out this post:
Preparing Your College List
It’s never too early to start thinking about a college list, but the ways in which you think about it will change from year to year. As a sophomore, you should be thinking about what it is that attracts you to certain colleges. When you find or hear of a college that you think you like, do some research. Try to identify what exactly it is that draws you to it. If you can do this, you’ll be able to identify other, similar colleges that might also be good options for you. You might even be able to get a better idea of what’s most important to you in a college.
Sophomore year is a good time to start a college filing system. Grab an accordion folder, hanging file cabinet, or other organizer and create spaces for each college that interests you. Include notes about what is attractive about that college and make a pro/con list if you feel inclined. At this point, your college list is still very much a work in progress, but it’s one that should be taking shape.
To learn more about making a college list, check out our Seven Tips for Creating Your College List.
Good news! Sophomore year is still too early to begin thinking about standardized tests in earnest. Your first real exposure to these won’t come until fall of your junior year when you take the PSAT and begin to think about whether you’ll take the SAT or the ACT.
Sophomore year is often a time of immense personal growth. Sometimes, the transition into freshman year and high school quality work takes so much time and energy that you might feel a little like you’re treading water. During your sophomore year, though, you should be hitting your stride. This is the year to seek out mentors, start bouncing around college major and career prospects, and take a good hard look at where your strengths and weaknesses are. Use your interests to spark exploration into possible career choices. Seek out professionals working in these fields to explore them further and to decide if they’re the right fit for you.
By the end of sophomore year, you should have some objective idea of your strengths and areas in need of improvement both personally and academically. These can sometimes be hard to pinpoint on your own, but pay attention to recurrent feedback from teachers and any personal obstacles that seem to keep reappearing.
It’s likely that during the summer after sophomore year, you are still too young to get an official job. Don’t let this stop you from exploring opportunities like less formal work, such as babysitting or lawn mowing, or volunteer opportunities. If you can find a service project that is personally relevant to you, this is a great time to explore it. If it becomes something you’re passionate about, you may even choose to continue your involvement once school starts back up in the fall.
If you still need some help getting a realistic idea of these strengths and weaknesses, reach out to a counselor or trusted mentor. You might even consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.
For more information about sophomore year, check out these CollegeVine posts: