Early preparation doesn’t mean you need to rush to Barnes and Noble on day one of high school to buy an SAT textbook and sign up for prep courses, OR be the only 14-year-old on a tour of Harvard’s campus.
You won’t help yourself, or your blood pressure, by being “that guy.” However, you should consider college admissions a long game, and you need to start playing freshman year.
So, what can you start doing to prepare as early as freshman year?
Keep Up Your Grades
There’s no way of sugar-coating it—grades matter. Admissions officers will be viewing your high school transcript in its entirety so that C+ that you got in biology freshman year will be taken into consideration during the decision-making process.
Focus on creating positive study habits from day 1, don’t be scared to reach out to your teachers if you need help, and take advantage of any tutoring resources offered at your school. However, even if you do have a little trouble early on (the adjustment to high school classes can be tough!), don’t beat yourself up. The adcom will respect an upward trajectory in grades that shows you learning how to be a better student and finding your groove. That said, as you continue your high school career, push yourself to take more academically challenging courses—the adcom will recognize the difference between an easy A and a hard-earned B.
Explore Your Interests
Grades are important, but they are just one part of early preparation. The other big piece of the puzzle is extracurriculars, and students should start exploring their interests at the beginning of their high school career, wither through academic extracurricular activities, sports, the arts, or volunteer work.
At Admissionado, we suggest attending as many club meetings during the first few weeks of freshman year as possible. Once you’ve gotten a taste of what your school offers, you can narrow down your selection and join clubs that interest you the most. Did you catch that? We’ll say it again: join clubs that INTEREST you the most. Students are often pushed to participate in as many activities as they can to “round out” college apps, or pushed to participate in particular activities that are supposedly “in demand” at colleges. There could not be a more misguided strategy.
Recommended Reading: Balancing Extracurriculars and Interests in High School
The key to valuable extracurriculars that will actually provide a boost to your application is passion, and the adcom has been around the block enough times to know when a student is participating in X, Y and Z simply because s/he “should” versus when the student feels passionate about a particular activity. Even better, your genuine interest in a pursuit will not only help you perform your best, but will shine through in your applications, and make for a much more compelling story.
In the end, it’s a much better strategy to participate in fewer activities, but ones you feel truly invested in, as opposed to spreading yourself thin with commitments you feel, well, not committed to.
The important thing to remember is that you want your college application to depict a well-rounded and REAL student. Freshman and sophomore year of high school allow you the time to find your groove: figure out who you are as a student and where your interests lie. By junior and early senior year, if you’ve done that “early prep” right, you’ll be ready, and maybe even eager, to share the person you’ve become with college admissions officers.
Now, read up and get smart:
- College Parent FAQs
- Supplemental Essay Analyses 2018-19
- Admissionado College Case Studies
- Admissionado’s Guide to Senior Year
- Admissionado’s Guide to Junior Year
- Essay Brainstorming Guide
- Admissionado’s Guide to Elite College Admissions
That’ll get you started. Still have questions? Reach out, and let’s gab.
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