College Admissions Advice for Sophomores

Sophomore year—that’s too early to start thinking about college admissions, right? The answer is, sort of.

We don’t like to dwell on the college admissions process too early. But after working with thousands of families, we’ve noticed that parents and students can make less-than-ideal decisions if they don’t understand the basics of the college process. Anxiety around what’s actually important and misinformation from friends, family, and even sometimes schools can lead to a lot of hype and unnecessary stress.

Our hope is that by giving you a sense of what’s ahead, you’ll be able to make smart decisions for your family based on facts instead of rumors.

College Admissions Priorities

When it comes to college admissions, sophomore year is really about establishing the kind of student—and person—your child wants to become. During sophomore year, it’s important to focus on things for their intrinsic value. Grades and performance in school should be motivated by a desire to learn and grow, and extracurriculars should authentically broaden your student’s horizons and experience.

Reporting from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has statistics to back up this approach. Here are several factors that admissions officers use when considering candidates. The results might surprise you:

  • Curriculum matters more than class rank, but grades in courses reign supreme. Grades in college prep courses are the most important factor in admissions, according to 79.2% of the colleges polled, followed closely by grades in all courses. Interestingly, class rank is considered “”highly important”” by only 14% of colleges polled.
  • Extracurriculars matter, but not as much as academics. Extracurriculars are considered “”moderately important”” by 43.3% of officers polled, meaning that while they are important for the admissions process, grades and test scores matter much more. In our experience, extracurriculars become a more important factor in admissions as the schools become more selective.
  • Test scores matter—but not all scores matter the same. SAT and ACT scores are crucial for admissions, but SAT Subject Test scores are less important. There’s constant debate about the value of standardized testing, but even as schools increasingly go test-optional, there’s still value in prepping for and sitting for the SAT or ACT!
  • Teacher and counselor relationships are important. Nearly 43% of colleges consider these relationships “”moderately important”” or “”considerably important.”” In our experience, the more selective the college, the more this factor matters. So forming valuable, meaningful, and authentic relationships with teachers, starting now, is imperative!
  • Small colleges care more about the “”whole student”” than large colleges do. According to NACAC’s research, small colleges take a more holistic approach to the admissions process. This means that admissions officers use more than raw scores (GPA, SAT, etc.) when evaluating a student.

Intro to the College Admissions Process

Now that you know a bit more about what colleges are looking for, here are the phases of the college admissions process that your student will go through. We’ll share more information on each of these phases in the coming months, but feel free to share this directly with your student:

1. Self-discovery. Ask questions about what you’re looking for in the next phase of your life. Sophomore year into junior fall.

2. Research. Look for schools that could be a good fit based on what you’ve uncovered in self-discovery. Junior year.

3. Testing. Take the necessary standardized testing. This is ideally complete by the end of junior year but can extend to the top of senior year. Junior spring and summer.

4. Visit schools. Summer is a great time for this. Junior spring and summer.

5. Initial application prep. Start your applications over the summer. Junior summer and senior fall.

6. Whittle down your list. Use your final grades for junior year, standardized test scores, school research, and personal interests to select schools that are an appropriate fit admissibility-wise. Junior summer and senior fall.

7. Apply. This can be a time-consuming process, so plan accordingly. Junior summer and senior fall.

If your sophomore were to do one thing today for the college admissions process, it would be simple: start thinking about what they want from their college experience. Leave the question open-ended and don’t force any conclusions just yet. Keep the door open for your student to continue learning and growing as their high school journey continues!

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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