I’ve just started high school and I know I want to attend a competitive college – what advice would you have for me? Do I need to be thinking about college admissions this early, and if so – what are the most important priorities?
One of my favorite “words of wisdom” to share with freshmen is, “Early Intervention Is the Key!” Now with that thought, many perspectives can develop. My goal with freshmen is to encourage as many motivators as possible, that will provide options, when they graduate.
I introduce the option of college to freshmen as a motivator for academic success in high school. The primary purpose is for exploration…not a definitive college choice. There are many college programs (Naviance, College Data, College Navigator,etc.) that can be used to explore admission requirements; in turn, making students aware, early, of the performance expectation in high school.
If the freshman is achieving at an optimal level, the student will be encouraged to continue the momentum in order to have a distinguished academic profile as a senior. If the freshman has had a “sluggish” or less than desirable start to high school, the information can be an excellent motivator to encourage better study strategies and a more focused goal the next three years.
Being aware of admission requirements can be helpful to a freshman when considering course selections for the following years. Sure, there are district and state credits that must be fulfilled for graduation; however, it can be very helpful for students to know well in advance, specifically before the senior year, a college’s expected requirements. For example, I always remind students to check foreign language and lab science requirements, as these might not correlate with their graduation requirements; meaning more will be expected at college.
There are several ways freshmen can get insight to the college world that are compatible to their maturity level:
- Attend a summer enrichment program for high school students on a college campus; commuter or residential.
- Attend a fine arts production, sporting event, or any other public event on a campus.
If available in your area, attend a college fair. I have freshmen whom I have informed about local events, as well as provided “GOODE Questions to Ask a College Admissions Counselor.
I admire and respect your curiosity about college planning as a freshman. Not all freshmen will be at your maturation level, but that’s okay. Since you have a curiosity to explore the college world, it could also be advantageous to do the same with careers. Sometimes you will find that one will be contingent on the other.
In summary, my advice to you, which is also consistent with college admissions at any institution, is to make education is your priority. Achieve academically at your maximum level and learn how to quickly problem-solve; be a self-advocate; learn from your mistakes; use good judgment when making decisions; good behavior is a lot more important than you might think; don’t be afraid to seek assistance (academic or personal); and enjoy high school.
Marjorie is an educational consultant. She has been a high school counselor since 1982.
You will hear a great deal from teachers and parents about the courses you need to take and the importance of doing your best. This information is accurate and vital. But you should also know that getting in is the easy part; staying in and doing well is harder, not because the work is difficult or your academic preparation is weak, but because you must bring more to college than good grades. Independence and self sufficiency are crucial to your success in the application process and in college. Gradually, during your four years of high school, you need to learn to handle money, to make your own appointments, to do your own laundry, to get yourself up in the morning and have enough self discipline to put yourself to bed at night. You need to do your school work and study for tests without reminders or nagging from your parents. If you have trouble with class material or an issue about a grade, you must learn to deal directly with teachers without parental intervention.
Also you need to seek out experiences which will take you away from home and family and challenge you to adjust to new places and situations. These experiences may require you to know how to read a map, take public transportation, and reach out to new people. They will also give you great material for those college application essays.
Don’t worry, you have four years to accomplish these goals. If you work at it, you will find yourself getting stronger and more confident with each passing year. As a senior, you will be more efficient in organizing your applications, more expressive in interviews, and you will be a more interesting person, one the colleges will be eager to have on campus.
Dr. Shapiro is a licensed psychologist and college counselor who works with students and their families at her office in West Newton, MA. She spent 16 years as chair of the Counseling Dept. at Newton North High School and is a former president of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling.
If you are interested in attending a competitive college, then yes–you should be thinking about college admissions now. Beginning in the ninth grade is not too early, though you should not be panicking because you still have lots of time.
There are several priorities:
- Establish a strong foundation across all academic disciplines so that you are prepared to take rigorous classes in as many areas a possible in your junior/senior years.
- Enjoy the learning process and build solid relationship with your teachers. The learning process will be more enjoyable if you are truly engaged in the process. In addition, most competitive colleges ask for letters of recommendation from teachers who have taught you in the 11th or 12th grade. If you have longstanding relationships with your teachers, their letters of recommendation will provide colleges with substantive information about you as a student.
- Show dedication and commitment to your extracurricular activities. Remember that colleges look for quality over quantity with regard to extracurricular activities. Stay involved with the activities that you are engaged in now as a ninth grader. By the time you get to be a senior, it is likely that you will have made a significant contribution to this activity and it also is likely that you will have been affected by the experience.
- Plan for the future, live in the present. It is great that you are thinking ahead and planning for the admissions process. Remember however to live in the present and enjoy the high school experience. It is the total growth that you will experience, both inside and outside of the classroom, that will make you an appealing candidate to a college or university.
Doris is an internationally recognized admissions professional with over 30 years experience working in undergraduate admissions at Ivy League schools and other elite universities. She specializes in providing campus tours of Ivy League schools as well as forums on applying for admission to elite universities. As an educational consultant, she works with students and secondary schools all over the world and regularly travels to Asia.