College Steps for Freshmen and Sophomores

High school juniors are now in full swing of their college search.  Yet, college is certainly on the radar of parents (and some students) in earlier grades. 

With the ever-increasing competition, as evidenced by the continually decreasing acceptance rates at colleges, more and more families are beginning the college journey in sophomore year. The extra time is a true bonus on every level, and it can – and should – be used to the student’s advantage.

Here are the steps that your freshman or sophomore can take right now to ease the pressure, and boost applications, later.


  • Visit your guidance counselor to discuss next year’s course selection. You want to take the most advanced classes available at your school, but only if you feel confident that you can handle the academic rigor. Discuss which AP or IB (HL) classes might be appropriate for you.

  • Stay focused on schoolwork. Freshman grades will  appear on your high school transcript so aim to finish the year on an upswing.

  • Participate in after-school activities and clubs. Find the one that interests you most and stick with it.

  • Volunteer for community service events in and out of school.

  • Talk to your teachers about possibly taking an SAT subject test this June.  It’s best to take these as soon as you complete a course so that the subject matter is fresh in your mind. [Most 9th graders are taking biology now and many do take the SAT Biology exam.]

  • If you do plan to take a subject test, make sure to enlist some test prep at least three months before the test. Also, register with the College Board in due time.


  • Focus on schoolwork. Colleges want to see an upward trend in grades throughout high school.

  • Concentrate your time on one or two extra-curricular activities that you are most passionate about.

  • Consider a summer program that enriches your extra-curricular interests and investigate internships and classes.

  • Speak with your school counselor or contact an outside tutor to assess your PSAT or ACT Aspire results.  Plan to start test prep this summer for the SAT or ACT in fall of junior year. 

  • Begin test prep now for the SAT subject test you plan to take this June. [Many sophomores take one of the History SAT subject tests or the Chemistry SAT.]

  • There is a huge advantage to getting a head start on college visits. Start a preliminary college list and visit campuses this spring.  [See blogposts from November 26 and January 8 for details on building a college list] 

  • If you do visit colleges this spring, take careful notes and make sure to send an email thank you to the college official who spoke at the information session and to the student tour guide (yes, get the student’s email address at the end of the tour!!)