When your teen is a sophomore in high school, it can still feel like college is a million years away. Especially for them. Parents on the other hand, already know how fast the time will go. The world isn’t the way it used to be and a lot has changed since most of us applied to college. Things have gotten a little more complicated and a tiny bit more competitive, which is why it’s important to start planning for college early.
However, this doesn’t need to turn into a stress fest for you and your teen(s). In fact, that is part of what planning early will help you both avoid. There are a few key areas to be considering during sophomore year, that can make the whole process much easier along the way.
Here are five things that every sophomore can be doing to help them start preparing for college now.
Have A Family College Planning Discussion
The beginning of sophomore year, before your high school student really begins looking into colleges seriously is a time to talk about fit and finances. If you haven’t had this conversation already, it is essential that parents and teens discuss expectations such as what is affordable and attainable. Many students have big dreams of going to pricey out of state universities or private colleges, but that isn’t a reality for the family budget.
Does that mean this option is off the table? Does the student have an academic profile so far that might make them eligible for scholarships? How does your family feel about debt and taking on school loans to help pay for college? And let’s be honest, even if the student is happy to go to an in-state university, there still may be many of the same concerns.
And finances aren’t the only thing to discuss. You and your teen should at least begin discussing what kind of college is going to be right for them. In state and out of state isn’t just about cost, but also about comfort level. There are also questions about big schools vs small schools, the type of social environment, and how difficult admissions may be relative to the student’s academic achievements so far. If your teen’s grades weren’t as strong as expected their freshman year, as as sophomore there is still time to turn things around.
Begin Researching Colleges
There is a good chance that the family discussion will lead to this step. Your high school student may not really have any idea where they want to go or what kind of college will be a good fit. There is also a good chance that they have many misperceptions about college admissions. They may not have a clue what the requirements are for schools they think they are interested in (and honestly, you might not either).
Many school’s have seen admission criteria get more competitive in the last few years, so even the grades and test scores that got an older sibling into a school may no longer be good enough. Also, may teenagers don’t know which colleges are better for what types of degrees.
Now, during their sophomore year is an excellent time to start looking at what colleges are out there. There are many different resources available to high school students to help them start to narrow the list. There are books to help students research colleges , students can visit university websites for information and to take virtual tours, they can attend college fairs at their school and it isn’t too early to start talking with the high school guidance counselor.
By the end of their sophomore year is really when parents and students should aim to have a pretty solid list of schools the student might want to attend. There should be reach schools, target schools and safety schools.
Evaluate Your Academic and Extra-Curricular Schedule
As you begin to narrow down a potential list of colleges, you and your teen will become more familiar with their admissions criteria. This is the time to make sure that your teen’s classes and activities align with their interest.
Does your student need to add some AP classes? This route is not for everyone and it doesn’t mean that every student has to take a dozen or more. However, AP classes can potentially help save money because students can place out of certain introductory courses. But be sure to check individual college policies on this as it varies greatly from school to school. Colleges also view these courses as having “rigor”, which can be important if your teen is looking at a more competitive college.
Is your student taking the classes they need for an intended college major? Many students still are unsure what they will study in college, but other students are much more clear about their abilities and interests. If your student thinks they want to study engineering or medicine, they often have to finish a minimum level of math and science before graduation. You just want to make sure they are on track.
Lastly, most colleges are looking for well rounded students and will also want them to have volunteer hours. Even better, when they show commitment to both over time. So, make sure your teen is making an effort to be involved both at school and in their community.
Planning for the PSAT (And Other Standardized Tests)
Most high school students will take the official PSAT at the beginning of their Junior year. However, more and more schools are offering an opportunity for students to take a practice PSAT during their sophomore year. The PSAT is what qualifies students for National Merit Scholarships. So, if you have a student that tests well, doing some preparation for this test during their sophomore year is not a bad idea.
If your high school doesn’t offer any pre-testing, there are plenty of books and online courses available to help students maximize their scores. Ultimately, you and your teen have to determine if this a good investment of time and money and it isn’t right for everyone.
(As a side note: if you have a high school student who is planning to pursue an extremely competitive university, it isn’t a bad idea to also consider taking some practice ACT/SATs near the end fo their sophomore year. If they aren’t a strong test taker, they may need to spend some of their summer working on test prep and it is better to know sooner than later)
Go On A Few Summer College Tours
If that college list that your high school student made is pretty long, take advantage of the summer after sophomore year to start campus tours. Colleges might sound nice on paper, but in person may not be a good fit. Going to see them in person can really matter, but trying to cram in a ton of college visits during their junior year or beginning of senior year can be too much. Especially as those years really ramp up with other parts of the process like testing, and actually filling out applications.
It is so much more fun when visiting colleges doesn’t feel rushed and it can help your student make a better choice. So, turn them into a few family trips and take a couple long weekends over the summer to tour some schools. You can schedule official tours on each university’s website.