I Wish I Had Known

I wish I had known.

I hear this quite a bit from the juniors and seniors working with me on college admissions.

This blog is written to you – high school freshman and sophomores, and even to you – students in middle school or junior high. I want to share with you RIGHT NOW, some of the things my juniors and seniors wished they had known. These students didn’t start working with me until later in their high school journeys, so they did not get the benefit of my knowledge early in their high school careers, but you can have it now!

Your Grades Matter

The number one thing my seniors are grousing about is their grades. If I had a dollar for every time a senior this year said to me, “I wish I had known how important my grades were going to be,” or, a refrain I’ve been hearing often, “No one told me how much my freshman grades would matter” I would have a tidy sum in savings! Well, I’m here to tell you, your grades will matter, and believe me, when you hit your senior year, and you’re trying to decide which colleges will be good fits for your academic profile, they will matter more than you can even imagine. I did not meet these students until their freshman years were distance memories for them, yet the grades they made during that year still can haunt them. You can read here for more experts weighing in on grades and college admissions.

I want all students to live without regret. Spend the extra time now to study and make sure that you have perfected the material presented in your freshmen and sophomore classes and that you are well-positioned to return “A’s” at the end of each semester. Keep up those study skills to deliver great grades your junior and senior years. This will show colleges that you are ready for the rigor of college courses.

My important life advice for those of you in your first or second year of high school is that your grades will matter more than any other aspect of your high school profile for your college applications. In addition to great grades, college admissions officers will also consider the rigor of the classes you have been taking.

The Rigor of Your Courses Helps in College Admissions

I know that you know this but bear with me. All classes are NOT created equal. There is a huge difference between a PE class where you make an A and an advanced math class where you make an A. I know you know this too but let me remind you. College admissions officers – the people who decide the fate of your application – are well aware of the difference in rigor between a blow-off course where you make an A and a rigorous course where you make an A. These people are professionals, and they know their way around a high school transcript. I know you can assume the following, but just in case, admissions officers give weight to classes that demonstrate rigor and college readiness.

Extracurriculars are Important

The seniors I am working with this year also regret not begin involved in extracurriculars early in their high school careers. The Common App has spots for 10 activities and 5 spots for honors. The Coalition App has 8 activities spots and 5 honors spots. How are you going to feel about your application if you only have 1-2 activities and 0-1 honors? How are you going to know what you like to do if you haven’t tried different activities while you are in high school?

I am not encouraging you to sign up for everything regardless of if it you inspires you or brings you joy. Instead, I encourage you to experiment with some activities your freshman year and then focus on the things you love for the rest of your high school. You should find a service club or organization, a club related to your passions or career interests (for example, future journalists should be working on their high school newspaper), potentially a sport, and an academic club to join. By the end of your sophomore year, you need to be positioning yourself for a leadership role in at least one organization for your junior and/or senior years.

Creating a Standardized Testing Plan Positions You for Success

Standardized test prep and completion has also plagued many of the seniors who signed up to work with me during the summer before their senior years. Your goal should be to have test scores you are happy with by the end of your junior year. This means that you need to put a testing plan in place by the end of your sophomore year. You need to plan to take your test of choice 2-3 times.

To make the most of your test prep, you should schedule two tests back-to-back with an 8-week (at least) lead up of organized and focused prep either on your own or with a test prep company prior to the first test. Then you can regroup and do some brush up studying prior to your second test. I like for students to do this in the fall of their junior year since they will likely have completed Algebra 2 – the highest level of math tested – their sophomore year. This also allows you to sit for the exam in the spring of your junior year if your fall testing does not produce the results you wanted.

Be Prepared for College Admissions

I encourage you to get to your senior year college admissions cycle with no regrets. Right now, the most important things you can be doing are making good grades, taking the most rigorous classes that you can manage without being underwater, getting involved in activities at your high school and in your community, and creating a standardize testing plan and following it. These four things will set you up for a fantastic application season, and even more importantly, an engaging and fulfilling college experience that will prepare you for your adult life.

Want to have personalized guidance tailored just to your needs as you prepare for college admissions? Contact me for a free consultation at [email protected].