High School Sophomore Guide to Prepare for College

After getting used to high school during your freshman year, sophomore year is another important milestone towards graduation and applying for colleges. The earlier you begin asking important questions and drawing up a list of tasks, the more prepared you’ll be when it gets down to the wire.

For your sophomore year, here are some significant goals to aim for:

Fall

  • Guidance Counselor – Meet with your guidance counselor to discuss your classes. While AP classes are often the bulk of junior and senior year schedules, sophomore year is a good time to test the waters with one to three. Many sophomores begin with classes such as AP US History, AP Chemistry, or AP World History.
  • Tutoring – If you are struggling to keep up with challenging classes or the homework load, ask your teacher or counselor for a local tutoring recommendation.

    Working with another student or local program will ensure that your tutor knows your curriculum and your requirements, however, you can also look for a tutor online. Consider what best fits your needs out of websites like Course Hero and Wyzant.
  • Write out goals – After meeting with your counselor, and reading down through the rest of this list, create a checklist for your goals this year.  There’s a lot to keep track of, and having it all written down in one place, with deadlines, will help you stay organized.

    While I’ve listed items here when you should do them, some will take planning ahead, such as registering for a college fair, signing up for the PSAT, or applying for a summer internship.
  • Extracurricular – If you haven’t already signed up, make sure you’re participating in extracurricular activities. Pursuing clubs that relate to your potential career interests, and standing out through leadership positions, can really help boost a college application. For example  

    Let’s say you’re interested in studying law, perhaps pursue the debate club.

    You want to be a music therapist; you could do a choir and service club.

    Looking to be a teacher, try tutoring.

    Unsure what sounds interesting or what relates to your career goals, ask your counselor.
  • Take the PSAT: The PSAT is a practice test modeled on the SAT. It’s a good way to prepare for and get familiar with the format of the actual SAT, and it can also help you qualify for merit scholarships.

    Most students take the test at least once, sometimes twice, during their sophomore or junior years. The more you take it, the better prepared you will be for the SAT, and the more likely you are to nab a scholarship.
  • Register for the ACT/SAT: Like the PSAT, the earlier you begin taking these tests, the better. However, this time, your score will directly impact your college applications.

    Therefore, it’s also a good idea to take a prep class: ask your school if they offer one, and if not, here are some external courses that will increase your score.

    Magoosh 

    When it comes time to register for your first try, the easiest way is to do so online. I recommend waiting to report your scores until you know what they are, and if you’d like to take the test again.  You don’t have to do that when you register initially.
    • Register for the ACT online here.
    • Register for the SAT online here.
  • Athletic Finances – If you’re an athlete, you have other responsibilities too. Talk to your coach about the best way to prepare information and video highlights for college coaches. 

Winter

  • Check-in on your grades: talk to your guidance counselor and make sure you’re maintaining a competitive GPA. Most colleges expect applicants to have a GPA of at least 3.0, and around a 3.5 to compete for scholarships.

    The higher your grades, the more schools you’ll get into, and the more financial aid you’ll receive. At my undergrad, merit scholarships were directly correlated to test scores and GPA.

    • If you’re struggling, consider cutting back on challenging coursework, unnecessary extracurricular commitments, or getting a tutor. Remember: the best way to manage your grades is to be realistic about your limits and to set yourself up to succeed.
  • Begin thinking about possible career paths: it can help to take a career aptitude test, which you can find both online or with your guidance counselor. These can help you narrow down potentials which will help you select possible future majors. See below for some online tests which may push you in a good direction.

    • 123 Career Test.
    • Princeton Review Career Quiz.
    • My Next Move O*NET Interests Profiler.
    • MyPlan.com.
    • MAPP Career Test.
    • Career Strengths Test.
    • PathSource.
  • Research colleges: After taking a career aptitude test, and thinking about potential majors, it’s a good time to start researching colleges. If you have a major in mind, do some research on which schools excel in the field.

    Familiarize yourself with those programs and the kind of students they’re looking for, and make sure you’re pursuing extracurriculars that will prepare you to apply. Here are some beginning questions to ask as you begin that research:

    • Do I want to attend an in-state or out-of-state school, or do I want to apply for both?

      Public or private?

      How will tuition costs affect these decisions for me?
    • What are the admission standards for different schools, and what kind of schools am I likely to be admitted to? (It’s good to include a range of selectivity, with some safety schools, some medium schools, and a few dream schools).
    • What schools have the best programs for my potential major(s)?

      What makes one program better than another for this field?

      What offerings are important to me?

Spring

  • College fairs: A good way to learn more about the college application process is to attend a college fair. At a fair, you can talk with college admissions representatives in person, and get their advice and perspective on applications.

    You can also pick up brochures and information from specific universities, to help narrow your search. Your school may have a college fair, and if not, you can search for one at this college fair guide. As always, your guidance counselor can also point you in the right direction.
  • Finances: In preparation for your college search, it’s time to think a little bit about your financial plans. You can begin by getting an estimate for your own personal budget for college, through calculators like FAFSA calculator.
  • When doing your financial planning, you’ll also want to think about the average salary of your potential career, and the job placement rates. You can do some of this research on salaries for each career.

    Make sure to weigh the tuition at your school of choice with how much you’ll be making when you graduate.
  • Graduation rates: In thinking toward your graduation, it’s good to also be aware of graduation rates. While typically the goal is for students to complete their education in four years, that’s not always the case.
  • Junior year: Begin to plan for next year. Check-in with your guidance counselor to clarify what classes you need for Junior Year. If you’re not already taking AP classes, Junior year is a good time to start, and you’ll want to take advantage of honors offerings as well.
  • Volunteer: If you’re not already volunteering, this is a good step towards building up a college application. 

    Many high schools have service clubs that can help you find volunteering opportunities. If not, think about what you’re passionate about (helping the homeless? libraries? mental health?) and seek out volunteering possibilities in those fields.

SUMMER

  • Work: As you transition into being an upperclassman, it’s important to use your summers strategically. This can mean adding professional value to your resume, saving money for tuition, or if you’re lucky, both.
  • Internships: This is a great way to test out career fields, gain professional skills, make connections, and demonstrate seriousness on a college application.

    There are tons of programs for high school students, so ask around and look online with organizations or businesses you’d like to work for one day. Though many of them are unpaid, they carry a lot of weight on a college application and future job resume.
  • Summer job: On the other hand, if you’re trying to save up, a summer job can help secure some financial stability when you begin school. Seek out places that may be interested in hiring you for future summers, and which may carry some transferable skills over to your potential major and career.

    For example, when I was in high school I worked at a bookstore and a library, and my eventual career goal was to study English and pursue publishing, so not only did I make some money but I also demonstrated a thorough interest in different facets of my field.
  • Planning: While you’re not taking classes, this is also a good time to dive into college planning: strategize with your parents about your application process and financial plan. Begin researching scholarships, loans, grants, and special programs such as ROTC if that interests you.

Conclusion

You need to really start to focus on the path you need to take to get into the college of choice and to take classes towards your career path. It is ok if you are not sure what you want to be as a sophomore. You still need to make the effort to really dig deep on what major may be of interest.

You can narrow your interest and major down during your junior or senior years in high school. Many people wait until their freshman year in college to pick a major or they may stay undecided until their sophomore year. Don’t stress out but put some thought into your future path.

You can also check out our other guides:

High School Freshman Guide to Prepare for College

High School Junior Guide to Prepare for College

High School Senior Guide to Prepare for College