SAT and Admissions Timeline: Freshman Year
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High school. Four of the best years of your life, but also four of the most important. It's crucial to begin planning for college as early as your freshmen year, because all of your high school classes, grades and activities will be scrutinized by college admissions boards.
Before School Starts
In most school districts, high school counselors visit graduating 8th graders to help plan their first year of classes in high school. It is extremely important to take challenging courses throughout high school; college admissions board give much more weight to a 'B' in Honors Algebra than to an 'A' in Pre-Algebra. However, don't take Honors Algebra if you aren't prepared. Discuss your options with your new counselor, and take the courses that will be specifically challenging for you.
The fall of your freshman year is an active season. Not only are you adjusting to a new school and new routine, but you are starting athletics and extracurricular activities that will hopefully follow you through the next four years. In the midst of all this activity, you should start planning for college.
Begin by meeting with your counselor. This powerful ally is the one person in the entire school who will be assigned to you for the next four years, and he or she can help with scheduling, college and career planning, and general guidance. Because so few freshman actually meet with their counselor at this time, you will set yourself apart from the crowd, and hopefully establish a connection and rapport between the two of you. Ask your counselor to help create your tentative schedule for the next four years, and seek advice on particular classes and activities.
You should also build a rapport with your teachers. You will need teacher recommendations to get into college, and admissions boards would rather hear from a teacher who has known you four years than from one who has only known you one semester. Plus, teachers are strong supporters of hard-working students; chatter in the staff room is heard by other school personnel and your path in high school will be much smoother if you have the approval of your freshman teachers. We aren't telling you to "brown-nose," as a teacher can see through that pretense. We're just recommending that you work hard in the classroom and maintain a respectful and friendly relationship with all of your instructors.
Once you settle in at high school, examine your schedule and your routine. Do you have time for extracurricular activities, athletics, service work, or a job? College admissions boards look highly on students who have demonstrated a passion for one or two areas rather than students who have participated in every activity a high school has to offer. Pick one sport or one hobby to be your focus. It's okay to participate in other activities, but you should spend the next four years demonstrating your commitment to a select few. If you choose basketball, join summer leagues and attend sports camps. If you choose the Drama Club, show your interest by also joining community theater.
Students should also choose a service activity or secure a job. Volunteerism reflects well on a college application if you show a long-term pattern with one charitable cause. For example, dedicate time to working with children. You can volunteer in the children's hospital ward, at the local Boys and Girls Club, and at an after-school tutoring service. A long-term pattern of volunteerism is much more impressive than a scattering of ten different volunteer activities that have no consistent connection. An admissions board would just judge the scattering as an attempt to boost your resume.
You may be a student who needs to secure college loans and scholarships in order to pay for school. In this case, skip the service work and get a job. Students who display a continual work history are more likely to gain college acceptance and financial aid offers. A strong work record is evidence of a student's dedication and dependability.
Two types of subject tests are given by the College Board and used for college admissions and credit. The first is the SAT Subject Test (link to an article on the SAT Subject test in the Guidance Department). These tests are given in specific subject areas, such as US History and Chemistry. They are required by some highly selective colleges and used for placement in college classes. The other test is the Advanced Placement (AP) exam. These subject-specific tests are derived from AP classes, which are college-level classes given at participating high schools. The AP exam is optional at the end of the year, but its results can earn you college credit. Students do not need to be enrolled in an AP class to take the exam. For more information on both exams, visit College Board.
If you are planning on taking an SAT Subject Test or an AP exam, take them upon the completion of the course, rather than waiting until your junior or senior year. If you are enrolled in Honors Biology in 9th grade, that the Biology subject test at the end of your 9th grade year when the material is fresh in your mind. Waiting until junior year will result in having to re-study curriculum you learned two years ago!
At the end of your freshman year, review your freshman grades with your parents or your counselor. Are there any course changes you need to make for the coming year? Can you sign up for a more challenging class? Should you reconsider any of your choices? Once your schedule is confirmed, set academic and extracurricular goals for your sophomore year.