The anxiety around college admission may peak during senior year, but for many families it begins much earlier.
If you start planning for college early, there’s no need to panic. Uncertainty increases anxiety, and knowing what to expect will help parents and students feel more in control.
Students can create a four-year high school plan when they start ninth grade.
Get the course guide for your school and map out what you will take each year. If you have some colleges in mind, you can check their admission requirements.
While colleges may officially only require two years of foreign language and three years of math, if you plan to apply to selective schools you will be a more competitive applicant with four years in every academic subject.
For most selective schools, you should take calculus and physics, and the more advanced placement courses the better, as long as you are doing well in those courses and are not so stressed that you have no time for fun.
Students who like the idea of a challenging, integrated program that includes writing an extended research essay can plan on completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma if it is offered at their school.
This four-year plan is subject to change, as some of the course selections will depend on your academic performance each year. Some schools require students to earn an A or B in a class in order to move up to an honors or APlevel class.
If you did not establish good study habits in middle school, this is the time to develop them. Low grades during ninth grade can pull down a grade- point average, so it’s important to get off to a good start.
Freshman year is also the perfect time to start exploring extracurricular interests.
Students can try a number of activities in and out of school. If you are interested in something and your school doesn’t have a club, consider starting one.
Since colleges do like to see long-term commitment, you need to find activities you really enjoy so that you will want to stay involved for all four years.
Ideally, you will take on more responsibility over the years, but interests can change, and I don’t recommend forcing yourself to stick with something throughout high school if you really don’t like it.
While few students have clear career goals at this point, you can start to identify strengths and interests that may lead to career options.
You may be able to access a career-interest survey through your high school’s Naviance program, a comprehensive college and career planning tool for families.
Many school counselors have huge case loads, which makes it difficult for them to get to know every student, but smart students make an effort to know their counselor.
The counselor can be a great resource throughout high school, and when it’s time to apply to colleges, they will know you well enough to write a more effective and personal recommendation.
Freshman year is not too early to start learning about the financial aid process as well as about scholarships. You will find a wealth of information about both at www.finaid.org.
Most students don’t need to take standardized tests at this point. But if you plan to apply to highly selective colleges and are doing well during freshman year in a subject you won’t take again, it may be worth taking the Subject Test.
For example, students who take biology in ninth grade and don’t plan to take AP biology will be at the peak of their knowledge and can take the Subject Test in biology in June.
Audrey Kahane, M.S., MFA, is a private college admissions counselor in West Hills. She can be reached at (818) 704-7545 or www.audreykahane.com.