Seven Important Tasks to Complete the Summer Before Sophomore Year
If you’re wrapping up your freshman year, you are probably feeling some combination of excitement and nervousness. The first year of high school is almost over. You did it! The intimidating transition from the middle school years is behind you, and now you are starting to settle in to a new social life, filled with exciting extracurriculars and academic commitments.
At the same time, though, things are about to heat up. Sophomore year may be your first exposure to preparing for the PSAT, thinking about a college list, and getting serious about your GPA. The honeymoon period of high school is over. Now it’s time to get to work.
So, how can you prepare for sophomore year? Here, we outline seven ways to make the most of the summer before sophomore year so that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when school starts up in the fall.
What is the Goal of Summer Activities?
Summer activities during any year should serve a few key purposes. While not all colleges specifically ask how you’ve spent your summer (though some, such as Princeton University, explicitly do), many will ask about extracurriculars, service projects, or employment, and without schoolwork to take care of, the summer is a great time to get started on these.
When you apply to college, you will submit an application that outlines your achievements. Some of these will be academic in nature, others will be extracurricular, and still others will be service or work oriented. From these achievements, your essays, and your recommendations, admissions committees will piece together your overall profile as an applicant. This profile should more or less be an accurate depiction of who you are, what your values are, and what unique skills set you apart. Your summer activities should contribute to the profile you hope to build.
In this way, summer activities should either build upon existing experiences or fill in the gaps between experiences you’re missing. For example, if you’ve been a member of several sports teams during the school year, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to take a leadership role, coaching at a youth sports camp is a great way to seize some more leadership within an activity you already pursue. Alternatively, if you’ve been working hard to build a strong GPA but haven’t joined any clubs, summer is a great time to try a new activity in which you can hopefully participate during the school year as well.
Summer is also a time to test new waters. This three-month respite is a great opportunity to try out new activities without the pressure of having to participate for an entire school year. Think you might enjoy photography? Take a summer class! Considering a career in medicine? Shadow a doctor! Take advantage of this free time to try things you otherwise wouldn’t.
Finally, summer is the time to get organized. If you want to leap right into the school year come the fall, you’ll need a solid plan to get started. Think critically about your priorities and get organized to accommodate them.
Keep reading for seven smart summer activities to complete before your sophomore year.
1. Participate in a service project that’s personally important to you.
During the summer before sophomore year, most students are still too young to get a job. Don’t let this stop you from making a commitment. Take the opportunity to give back to a cause that matters to you.
Think about the issues that affect you and your community. If there isn’t already a service project in place to help with them, you can create your own. Do you have a family member in assisted living or a pet adopted from the local shelter? Think about personal connections that mean a lot to you, and then try to organize some friends to help. Soon, you might have a whole group of high school students teaching the elderly how to send emails or collecting donations of blankets and dog toys for the local kennel.
Of course, it is easier to join an established volunteer project that’s already underway, but only do so if the cause is something about which you feel strongly. As Harvard’s recent Making Caring Common campaign made clear, it is difficult to have a meaningful experience when you form only superficial relationships with the people, community, and causes you’re serving. Selecting a local cause that’s already important to you often means naturally forming these connections.
Think about the issues that are important to you personally and make a plan to get involved.
2. Begin to think about career choices.
Wrapping your head around life after high school, let alone life after college, can be an intimidating prospect. There is literally a world of opportunity out there. If you begin to think about possible careers now, you’ll have time to test the waters before there are any serious consequences to doing so.
Begin by taking some personality or interest inventories online. This is a fun, casual activity that can even be done with friends if you want. Career One Stop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides a whole section for young adults called GetMyFuture, which includes an interest assessment and information about various careers and industries and the education or training required for them.
Once you have some general ideas about possible career paths, consider shadowing a professional for a week to get a better understanding of what he or she does on a daily basis. These early experiences will help to shape your understanding of your own interests and career ambitions.
3. Begin to think about your college list.
Don’t worry, you don’t need a finalized college list until your senior year. But it’s never too early to start, and the earlier you get started, the more time you’ll have to refine and revise your list based on what you learn.
The summer before sophomore year is a great time to think about your priorities in making a college list. For some ideas on where to start, check out CollegeVine’s 10 Considerations for Making Your College List.
If you have some general ideas about schools you might be interested in, now is a good time to do some more in-depth research into them. Sign up online to receive promotional materials. Take a virtual tour, either through the college’s website or through eCampus Tours. If a school still seems like a good fit after you’ve done some research, put it on your running list of schools you’re interested in.
Keep in mind, though, that this list can and should adapt as you learn more about yourself through your high school experiences.
4. Plan your approach to standardized tests.
While it’s never too early to start planning for your standardized tests, don’t worry too much about the SAT or ACT quite yet. Instead, make a plan for tackling them so that you can approach them with confidence when the time comes.
During your sophomore year, you should take your PSAT, which will give you some indication of how you might do on the SAT. You can find the date of this test online. It’s usually administered in October. Once you’ve found the date, put it on your and your family’s calendar.
You should also consider whether you plan to take the ACT or the SAT. Talk with older friends, siblings, or mentors to get an idea of the local resources available to prepare for each, since their popularity varies widely by region. Check out our article, ACT vs SAT/SAT Subject Tests to get an overview of each.
Also, think about SAT Subject Tests. Many colleges and universities require subject tests for admission, and the easiest time to take these is as soon as possible after you complete the relevant class, since the material will be fresh in your head. If you plan to take biology or world history your sophomore year, you should consider taking these SAT Subject Tests in the spring.
See the complete SAT calendar for dates and deadlines.
5. Review your course selections.
During your freshman year, it’s possible that you were just getting used to a new school and a new phase in your life. It might have taken you a bit of time to settle in.
During your sophomore year, you’ll need kick it up a notch. Your grades from freshman year won’t be nearly as important as the ones your record during your sophomore year, which will hopefully reflect an upward trend if you struggled during your first year of high school.
If you want to attend a selective college, be sure you have plotted your path through challenging high school classes. You’ll often need to complete introductory or lower level classes before you can register for AP or honors classes, so be sure to take these during your sophomore year if you haven’t already.
It can sometimes be initially difficult to strike a balance between rigorous courses and academic success. For more information about course selection, read the CollegeVine post How to Pick Your High School Courses Freshman and Sophomore Years.
6. Get smart about your extracurriculars.
In general, when colleges review your extracurricular involvement on your college application, they are looking for deep engagement in a few activities. This means not simply participating in various clubs as the whim strikes, but rather selecting a handful of important activities and pursuing them deeply.
This might mean participating in the same sport for four years and eventually reaching a leadership position on the team. It could also mean being an active member of your school’s honor society and organizing a major fundraiser for it your junior year. Or, it may simply mean engaging in the same service project each year and forming meaningful relationships with those involved.
The important thing is that your involvement in these activities is not superficial. You choose what is genuinely important to you and you dedicate yourself to it.
The summer before sophomore year is a great time to consider which activities you’re involved in, and make a mindful choice about whether you should continue your involvement. Narrow your involvement down to three or four extracurriculars so that you’ll have the time and energy to pursue them with passion.
7. Get organized.
As the pace of extracurriculars, academic pursuits, and standardized tests pick up over the next two years, you’ll need a system to keep track of them. The summer before sophomore year is the perfect time to get this system in place so that you can take full advantage of it over the years to come.
Begin by creating a filing system. You can use a filing cabinet, a portable file box, or even an accordion folder. Label a folder for each school that interests you so far. You can always cover the name with a sticker and relabel it if your interest changes. Also label one folder each for extracurricular and academic achievements. Finally, make a folder for scholarship information along with one for financial aid.
As you begin to receive information in the mail from various schools or scholarships, organize the ones you’re interested in directly into your filing system. Do the same for any awards or other recognition you receive for academics or extracurriculars. Having all of your resources in one place will make it easier to find what you need further down the line.
As summer nears, it can be tempting to hit the brakes and enjoy a well-earned break. While you should definitely enjoy your time over the summer and use it to both refresh and relax, spending a little time preparing for the busy year ahead will be just the jumpstart you need to hit the ground running when classes start again.
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!
For more about your sophomore year of high school, consider these important CollegeVine posts:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.