During sophomore year, you don’t want to spend too much time obsessing over college admissions. Instead, focus on figuring out what kind of student—and person—you want to be.
This year, budget your time according to what your different activities mean to you and the value they add to your life. Extracurriculars should be authentically tied to your experience and passions. Grades and school performance should be motivated by a hunger for learning and growth.
All that being said, don’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to college admissions. As a sophomore, there are some key things you should keep in mind about the college admissions process.
1. Everything matters, but some stuff matters more
You’ll be evaluated as a “whole candidate.” Your test scores, letters of recommendation, region, academic history, and extracurriculars are all going to be considered by college admissions. But some of these things carry more weight. To get a sense of what college admissions officers value most, check out this chart created by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling: http://www.nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/NACAC/2014SoCA_nxtbk/#/28
2. Test scores and grades in college-prep courses matter the most
Seriously. Your grades in your college prep courses (AP, IB, and Honors) and your standardized test scores are most important for admission. At the very minimum, focus on keeping your grades strong and taking the most challenging courses your school offers. Get help early on any areas where you might be struggling.
3. ...and extracurriculars are also super important
Get involved with activities outside of classes. Depth here is much more important that breadth. Do something meaningful with other people. Not only will this help you stay sane, it will help you learn what you want from life and help you build important skills.
4. Don’t forget about fit!
In the college application process, fit is essential. Don’t get caught up in the hype of going to a popular school. There are 3,000+ schools to choose from—find ones that actually fit your interests, personality, and goals. You’re much more likely to gain acceptance, and to succeed while you’re there.
5. Make time for relationships
Having good relationships with students and teachers is important. Colleges want students who are good community members—do your best to build community around you by being curious, open, helpful, generous, and getting involved. Plus, the only way to get stellar recommendation letters is by having good relationships with teachers. Make sure you’re taking time to form those strong bonds.
It’s a lot of work, but the good news is, you’ve got four years to do it. Freshman and sophomore year you’ll be building a strong personal and academic base. Then you turn towards actionable items in junior and senior year. The most important thing right now is to be authentic, and be engaged. From there, as long as you’re organized, everything will work out.