The first day of freshman year. You walk into school, stomach churning with anticipation. “Are classes going to be a lot harder? How can I find the right activities? Am I going to fit in here? And holy cow! Do those upperclassmen have full beards?”
On a day like this, college applications are probably the last thing on your mind, and that’s okay. Nobody’s expecting you to start them now. However, thoughts of college should at the very least be hanging out around the outskirts of your brainbox. Why? Because from the moment you step foot into high school, everything counts.
This is both good and bad. It’s good because everything before is wiped clean. Tabula rasa, as they say. It doesn’t matter that you got detention every day in Mrs. Boogerman’s 8th grade math class (whether or not “she was asking for it” with those spitballs is an argument for another day). The point is that your middle school grades and record are not carried over into high school.
This is bad (for some kids) because now, everything you do matters: your grades, your activities, and your disciplinary record. Some students make the mistake of slacking off during freshman year, figuring that college admissions committees don’t care about it. Well, they do. A lot.
So here are some tips to make the most of your maiden voyage into the land of older kids with facial hair. Keep your head down, work hard, and always say no when an upperclassman asks if you want a “swirly.”
GRADES: While it’s true that junior year is most heavily scrutinized by college admissions committees, your grades during freshman year nevertheless matter. There might be a brief adjustment period as you get used to the more rigorous curriculum (everyone bombs a test or two during freshman fall), but you’ve got to bounce back and work your hardest to succeed. Don’t worry about how anyone else is doing. Focus on your own grades and ensure that you’re working towards your highest potential.
ACTIVITIES: This is another area where students slack off during freshman year. They might think that freshman activities don’t matter all that much, or maybe they’re intimidated by the prospect of joining clubs with older kids. But listen up and listen good! Activities are really, really important, especially during freshman year.
College admissions committees want to see that you’re active throughout all four years of high school. During freshman year, you should initially dabble, trying out many activities to see which ones you like best. Once you figure it out, focus on devoting a lot of time to your pursuits outside of the classroom. It’s depth not breadth that counts.
As your high school career progresses, you’ll want to angle for leadership positions within your activities. Also, it’s not a bad idea to participate in stuff that’s not school related. Starting your own activity or personal project is generally a smart move, as is participating in community service.
ORGANIZATION: We cannot stress how important it is to get organized as soon as humanly possible. You’re going to have a lot of stuff on your plate all at once, so it’s best to create a system of organization that will support you throughout your high school career.
We recommend discovering what approach works best for you—organizational apps, Google Calendar or iCal, and/or old school day planners—and then sticking with it. Disorganization is like a runaway train: the longer you let it happen, the more out of control it gets.
STANDARDIZED TESTING: Thankfully, you don’t have to take any standardized tests during freshman year… you’ve got enough on your plate already! But you’ve got to be aware that when the testing starts, it never ends. Okay, it does end, but not for a while.
Once you take the PSAT sophomore year, then you’ll go on to the SAT and/or ACT during junior year, plus the SAT II and AP tests, both of which have multiple subjects. Whew! Is it completely necessary to familiarize yourself with the PSAT and SAT during freshman year? No, it isn’t. But would it hurt? No, it wouldn’t.
TIME FOR YOURSELF: While we here at Admissionado advocate maximizing your time spent on extracurricular activities when you’re not in school, we also realize that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. You want to be sure to give yourself time to decompress and relax, especially after days that are particularly stressful.
Sometimes all it takes to recharge your batteries is a little R&R—an hour spent walking your dog, venting your frustrations over XBox Live, or keeping up with those krazy Kardashians. Just keep everything—especially Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim—in moderation. Hey, we heard The Shining is streaming on Netflix…
Ready for next year? Check out College Application Planning Tips For High School Sophomores.
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