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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)

How Important Is Freshman Year of High School?

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Starting high school is major milestone. For most students it means a new, bigger school. For some it means a new social circle, new extracurriculars, and new responsibilities. The transition into high school and freshman year is an almost universal rite of passage.


As is the case for nearly any transition, it can be hard to find your footing at first. You’ll need to figure out your place in a new academic and social setting. It might be your first exposure to selecting your own courses or joining new school-sponsored clubs. You’ll have new teachers to get to know. With so many changes, it can be a hard transition for some.


If you’re a freshman in high school, you might be wondering how much of this actually matters in the long run. College is still four years away. Is anyone really going to care what grade you got in English when you were 14? What about the long weekends you spent volunteering at the senior center? Or your hard work on the JV soccer team?


In this post we’ll break freshman year down into distinct categories and discuss how much each one will matter in the long run. Specifically, we’ll talk about course selection, grades, extracurriculars, standardized tests, college planning, and the relationships you build at school. To learn more about how much these factors from freshman year will matter when you apply to college, read on.


How Much Do My Freshman Year Course Selections Matter?

The course selections you make in freshman year are actually fairly important, but not for the reason you might think. College admissions committees are not going to be combing over every class you took as a freshman in high school. In fact, they may not even look at them at all.


What the admissions committee will look at is your overall track through high school. Did you take honors classes? Were you in an IB program or AP classes? If you ultimately want to get into a selective college, you will need to take your high school’s most challenging courses, and most of those classes have prerequisites.


For example, if you want to be taking AP Calculus BC by your senior year, you’ll need to make sure you’ve finished or placed out of your school’s algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus courses. Carefully review your school’s course catalogue and plot a path based on the classes you aim to take senior year.


While the college admissions committees probably won’t ultimately care which science class you took freshman year, they will care what classes you took during your junior and senior year, and those will largely rely on the choices you make during your first year of high school. Be sure that those choices leave you with options for your classes later on.


How Much Do My Freshman Grades Matter?

Grades from freshman year are another factor that is ultimately important later on if you aim to get into a selective college. While your specific grades in each class might not be put under a microscope, your overall GPA will be front and center. Grade point averages (GPAs) are generally calculated based on all of the classes that you’ve taken in high school, so your freshman classes will weigh into your GPA just as heavily as your junior year coursework.


That being said, if you get a few B’s or even one or two C’s, it won’t be the end of the world. One thing that admissions committees do look for is an upward grade trend. They like to see how you learn from your mistakes and use them as tools for improvement. Getting a less-than-stellar grade during your freshman year will be less of an issue if you improve steadily afterwards. You could even use it as a discussion point on one of your college essays, if you want to make a point about personal or academic growth.


Ultimately your freshman year grades are important because they will weigh into your GPA and affect your class rank, both of which are factors that a college admissions committee is very interested in. At the end of the day, though, a C during your freshman year is not nearly as detrimental as a C during your junior or senior year. You still have plenty of time to improve.



How Important Are Extracurriculars During My Freshman Year?

Extracurriculars during freshman year alone will not be a major player on your college applications. Instead, admissions committees are usually interested in seeing sustained involvement and increased responsibility or leadership roles in activities throughout your high school years.


As such, freshman year is the time to find the right activities for you. You should test out several different extracurriculars during your freshman year. While it’s not a great idea to change activities every few weeks, you can certainly drop out of one or two activities during the course of the year if you find that they aren’t things you’re interested in pursuing.


Take advantage of this chance to test the waters during freshman year until you find activities that inspire you or spark passion. Try to find a few extracurriculars that you really enjoy, so that you can commit to them fully and hopefully continue to participate in them throughout the rest of your high school career.


How Much Do Standardized Tests Matter During My Freshman Year?

Don’t worry, freshman year is too early to take any of the major standardized tests! Most students take the PSAT during their sophomore or junior year and their first SAT or ACT later in their junior year. Taking any of these tests during your freshman year would be ill advised, since your score is likely to reflect your academic inexperience and might even increase your test anxiety. You have plenty of time for tests later on.


One set of tests that you should begin to consider during your freshman year is the series of Advanced Placement (AP) exams. If you hope to attend a top college, you will likely take many APs during your high school career. Some tests might follow AP classes that you take formally through your school, and others may be ones that you self-study for. Some students have even self-studied for APs as early as freshman year.


Whether or not you intend to self-study for an AP exam during your freshman year, it’s still worthwhile to begin thinking about which AP exams you will take during the course of your high school career, and when you will take them. Check out the AP calendar to get an idea of when different exams are offered.


How Important Is College Planning During My Freshman Year?

It’s never too early to start thinking about college, and freshman year is a great time to start. Will you be at a disadvantage if you don’t start thinking about college during your first year of high school? Probably not. But you will have a head start if you do.


Start by learning about the college application process, and then begin to research colleges that you think you might be interested in. Take some notes about what you like and dislike about each, and keep a running list of colleges that you think might be a good fit for you.


You should also begin to think about funding college. Consider family resources that might be available to you, potential eligibility for financial aid, and ways in which you might start saving some money yourself. You can also start to look into scholarship opportunities.   


The key point to keep in mind if you begin thinking about colleges this early is that your list can and should adapt with you as you grow and change during high school. The schools you set your eyes on as a freshman may no longer be the perfect fit by the time you graduate, and that’s okay. If you start planning now, you’ll have plenty of time to figure it out over the next four years.   


How Important Are The Relationships I Build During Freshman Year?

Building relationships with teachers, advisers, and your guidance counselor might be the single most important thing you do during your freshman year. These are the people who will guide, shape, and mentor you during the next four years, and they will ultimately play a big role in your college admissions process.


Make an effort to reach out to these people as a freshman so that you can build on your relationship over the next four years. They may have hundreds of students who pass through their doors each year, but they will remember you if you make the effort to get to know them. Often these relationships can provide valuable advice and insight as you progress through high school.


Eventually, you will need to collect recommendations from your teachers, so learning to build positive relationships with them should begin during your freshman year. You will definitely need recommendations for college applications, and you might need them even sooner for a job or scholarship application. Make sure that your teachers know who you are beyond your seat in their classroom. For more information about building these important relationships, read our article How to Get College Recommendation Letters: Building Recommender Relationships


There is a tendency to write freshman year off as a period of adjustment. This is true in many ways. There is definitely more leniency during your freshman year when it comes to grades, extracurriculars, and all the other factors that will play into your college applications. However, this does not mean that freshman year doesn’t matter. In fact, students who being their planning early and have a successful freshman year will have a head start over those who take more time to settle in to their high school years.


If you’re a high school freshman who is just starting to think about your future, and you think you’d benefit from the advice of successful graduates who have been in your shoes, consider CollegeVines Early Advising Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from accomplished college graduates of a top 30 college.


For more information about your freshman year, check out these valuable CollegeVine posts:



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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.