What if college advisors guided families on search and application strategies sooner? High school students typically begin working with college advisors in 11th grade. Before that time, it is believed that students lack sufficient grades or reliable test scores for use in building college lists or doing admissions planning. Increasingly, I am hearing from families whose students are in 8th, 9th and 10th grade. Because they have been thinking about their child going to college since birth, they want begin planning earlier than 11th grade. They understand that the typical timetable for doing these tasks means that more than half of the data used will be unchangeable and mistakes made could have been avoided.
What are 5 keys to focus on for 9th and 10th graders that can optimize their college-going and scholarship potential?
- Grades are important
- Courses are as important as grades
- Use summers well
- Build a strong resume
- Make an academic plan
- Grades Are Important
Students should settle quickly into 9th grade and focus on doing well academically. Getting off to a good start is key to doing well. If early grades indicate that a student’s performance is lagging, make adjustments quickly so that grades reported on the student’s transcript are strong. It may be difficult to improve a GPA that begins low. However, having high grades but not preparing for success in higher level courses can limit college access. Increasing rigor and earning strong grades creates optimal opportunities.
- Courses Are As Important As Grades
Getting good grades yet taking a non-rigorous academic load may limit college admissions. Getting good grades and taking rigorous courses better prepares students for higher learning and increases access to more selective colleges. Broad learning prepares students for disciplines offered in college that build upon core high school subjects. If possible, high school students should take English, math, science, foreign language, and social studies every year during high school. Sometimes credit for arts and physical education can be earned via courses or through activities such as orchestra, theater or athletics. Credit for health can sometimes be earned during in the summer. Health courses these days seriously explore topics on physical and mental fitness. Prioritize core courses and balance your schedule for success.
- Use Summers Well
Search for high-quality summer academic enrichment. For 9th and 10th grade students, academic enrichment programs may be local. Consider opportunities to take classes at a museum, art institute, music conservatory or professional theater. See if area schools, community centers, nonprofit groups or colleges offer summer enrichment programs in debate, theater, math, robotics, literature, etc. Colleges may not yet offer sleep-away programs to 9th and 10th graders so you might focus on a commutable distance or having your student live with friends or family to study away. Occasionally, students can advance in math by taking a summer course. Even without earning credit, these courses can boost skills and college readiness. Using early summers well can be game-changing in college readiness for a student.
- Build a Resume
Documenting activities and keeping a file of awards, certificates, ribbons, playbills, programs from arts performances, essays, poems or journalism articles, and research projects. High school students don’t have to climb Mt. Everest or start a tech company to create a resume that summarizes accomplishments. Documented activities can include personal projects (knitting, woodworking, coding, etc.), caregiving, gardening, non-school reading, volunteering, religious participation, and neighborhood events. College applications ask students to highlight activities since completing grade 8. However, if your activities are limiting time required for academic success, you may need to recalibrate your commitments to raise your grade point average. Grades and courses are key determinants in athletic eligibility and college admission when applying to comprehensive colleges and universities. Also, unless applying to a specialty college like a music or arts conservatory, activities should not crowd out academics.
- Make an Academic Plan
As students move from middle school to high school to college, they have new curricular and personal choices. Sometimes students try to take advantage of them all rather than acknowledge the need to prioritize their finite available time. Build your academic plan and fit what is reasonable into it without overloading yourself to maintain a strong GPA. Also, expect academic work to become more difficult as course levels increase. Recalibrate your activities and academics often; be sure to prioritize what can take you higher versus diversions that do not. Again use your summers well (including between high school and college) and take on what you can handle well. Parents can try to help students understand time limits, balance their mental and physical wellbeing, and ensure they prioritize doing well academically.
The needs of younger students corresponds with services that I provide every day:
- Building strong academic plans
- Finding summer enrichment programs
- Creating college lists
- Developing strong resumes to highlight their strengths
- Applying for college admission
These days, I am using new technologies to better serve families who live across a wide geography. Consider a gift of my services to a student you know. Also, let me know how I can help your family or want to refer a potential client.