Sophomore Year and College Admissions

10 Areas Every 10th Grade Student Needs to Think About to Prepare for College

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Your college applications are still a couple years off when you start 10th grade, but you need to keep your long-term goals in mind. Work on keeping your grades up, taking challenging courses, and gaining depth in your extracurricular activities. 

Below are ten areas to think about in 10th grade to help ensure you're a strong college applicant when senior year rolls around.

01
of 10

Continue to Take Challenging Courses

Chemistry Student
Chemistry Student. NTNU, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology / Flickr

An "A" in AP Biology is more impressive than an "A" in gym or shop. Your success in challenging academic courses provides the college admissions folks with the best evidence of your ability to succeed in college. In fact, many admissions officers will strip out your less meaningful grades when they calculate your high school GPA.

Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Honors classes are an important part of a strong college application at selective schools. Even if you don't take these classes in sophomore year, make sure you put yourself in a position to do so junior year. 

02
of 10

Grades, Grades, Grades

Report Card
Report Card. Carrie Bottomley / E+ / Getty Images

Throughout high school, nothing matters more than your academic record. If you're aiming for a highly selective college, every low grade you earn might be limiting your options (but don't panic—students with the occasional "C" still have plenty of options, and there are some great colleges for "B" students). Work on self-discipline and time management in an effort to earn the highest grades possible.

03
of 10

Put Effort Into Extracurricular Activities

High School Marching Band
High School Marching Band. Mike Miley / Flickr

By the time you apply to colleges, you should be able to demonstrate depth and leadership in an extracurricular area. Colleges will be more impressed with the applicant who played first-chair clarinet in the All-State Band than the applicant who took a year of music, spent a year doing dance, three months of chess club and a weekend volunteering at a soup kitchen. Think about what it is that you'll bring to a college community. A long but shallow list of extracurricular involvement really doesn't amount to anything meaningful.

04
of 10

Continue Studying a Foreign Language

Spanish / English class
DElight / Getty Images

Colleges will be much more impressed by students who can read Madame Bovary in French than those who have a shallow smattering of "bonjour" and "merci." Depth in a single language is a better choice than introductory courses to two or three languages. Most colleges want to see a minimum of two years of language study, and at the most selective schools, you'd be wise to take a language for four years. Be sure to read more about college admissions language requirements.

05
of 10

Take a Trial Run of the PSAT

Elevated view of students writing their GCSE exam
Caiaimage/Chris Ryan / Getty Images

This is entirely optional, but if your school allows it, consider taking the PSAT in October of 10th grade. The consequences of doing poorly are zero, and the practice can help you figure out what type of preparation you need before PSAT and SAT time in your junior and senior years. The PSAT won't be part of your college application, but be sure to read why the PSAT matters. If you're planning on the ACT instead of the SAT, ask your school about taking the PLAN.

06
of 10

Take SAT II and AP Exams as Appropriate

Taking the SAT Test
Getty Images | David Schaffer

You're more likely to take these exams in your junior and senior years, but more and more students are taking them earlier, especially as high schools increase their AP offerings. It's worth studying for these exams—many colleges require a couple SAT II scores, and a 4 or 5 on an AP exam can earn you course credit and give you more options in college.

07
of 10

Familiarize Yourself with the Common Application

Teenage girl with laptop computer
Jay Reilly / Getty Images

Look over the common application so that you know exactly what information you're going to need when you apply to colleges. You don't want senior year to roll around and only then discover that you have gaping holes in your high school record. It's not too early to think about what honors, awards, service, extracurricular activities, and work experiences are going to make your application stand out.

08
of 10

Visit Colleges and Browse the Web

The campus tour is an important part of the college selection process.
The campus tour is an important part of the college selection process.

Steve Debenport / E+ / Getty Images 

Your sophomore year is a good time to do some low-pressure exploration of the college options out there. If you find yourself near a campus, stop by and take the tour. If you have more than an hour, follow these college visit tips to get the most out of your time on campus. Also, lots of schools offer informative virtual tours on their websites.

This preliminary research will help you make good decisions in your junior and senior years. Even if all you figure out is that you prefer small liberal arts colleges to large public universities, you will have helped narrow down your options considerably. 

09
of 10

Keep Reading

ACT Reading Strategies
Getty Images | Kohei Hara

This is good advice for any grade. The more you read, the stronger your verbal, writing, and critical thinking abilities will be. Reading beyond your homework will help you do well in school, on the ACT and SAT, and in college. You’ll be improving your vocabulary, training your ear to recognize strong language, and introducing yourself to new ideas.

10
of 10

Have a Summer Plan

Friends reading map in woods, France
Bernard Jaubert / Getty Images

There's no formula for what defines the best summer plans, but you should make sure you do something that leads to personal growth and valuable experiences. The options are many: volunteer work, a summer music program at a local college, a bike tour down the West Coast, apprenticing with a local politician, living with a host family abroad, working in the family business... Whatever your passions and interests, try to plan your summer to tap into them.