5 Crucial Ways to Prepare for College Admissions as a High School Sophomore or Junior

Looking ahead to your sophomore or junior year and wondering what you can do now to make your college applications stand out later? Taking challenging courses (AP/IB/Honors when possible), and doing extracurriculars will help with admissions, but there are a few key areas that will help you feel prepared for the fall of your senior year. We’ve worked with students from the beginning of high school through their application season successes, and have some tips to help keep the stress at bay and get ahead while you have both time and energy.

  • Seek feedback and advice on your academic writing. Use every opportunity in school to practice writing and reading. This might mean asking a teacher for a conference about that paper you stayed up until midnight to write, or working with your peers ahead of that deadline, but either way, learning to take feedback early will be priceless later. Even if (or especially if) English isn’t your strength, seeking guidance on essay writing and working on the art of revision can help you become a well-rounded student and prepare for your college admissions essays later. Try to cultivate good relationships with your teachers, and they might give you advice on your essays once you’ve left their courses.

  • Consider which teachers to ask for a letter of recommendation. This one can be tricky. Do you choose the teacher you click with the best, or the one who is known to write awesome letters? Hughes College Prep recommends you ask two teachers in a core subject, preferably in the area you hope to go into later (For example, ask a biology or chemistry teacher for a recommendation for STEM or a pre-health field, or an English teacher for Political Science). But choosing a teacher who knows you best also means getting to know your teachers. Talk to your teachers about what you’re interested in, and what you might want to do in the future -- ask advice, seek help, talk it out. They’ll be able to write to your strengths later, and can give you guidance along the way. Even if you received a less than perfect grade in their class, it’s more important for them to be able to speak to your work ethic or character than your GPA.

  • Be consistent with test prep. Take the official ACT or SAT as a junior but also continue to take practice tests (they’re offered for free on act.org and collegeboard.org) thoughout the rest of the year. Cramming for test prep doesn’t yield great results, and can lead to unnecessary stress and high expectations. Learning how to read the test questions and pinpointing problem areas early (and then focusing your work there) will help you far more than a couple of nights scanning advice on the internet before the big spring test date. Starting test prep as a sophomore will help familiarize you with both the material and, most importantly, the timing, which can often be more difficult to adjust later.

  • Strengthen your resume. Start by making one! An academic resume looks different than the one you might use to apply for a job. Update your advanced or honors coursework as you go, and any academic awards or leadership positions. With this much time ahead of you, you can figure out other ways to be more deeply involved, or how to expand the interests you already have. Find ways to share your strengths with your community, and keep track of them on your resume so that you can reference (and remember them) later.

  • Research colleges (any colleges!). They don’t even need to be the colleges you’ll apply to later on, but knowing your options (for example, what the pros/cons of low student-teacher ratios or whether Greek Life is important to you) in both financial and academic terms will help you make a well-researched and educated decision later on. This might mean visiting a campus nearby and sitting in on some courses, or contacting some students or admissions counselors at schools you’re interested in via email or phone. Follow the colleges you’re interested in on Facebook, SnapChat or Twitter. Demonstrating interest is good for your admissions chances, but also helps with sorting through the vast amount of diversity in colleges and universities and finding the right fit for you.

Mary Milodragovich