Helpful Tips For Underclassmen on the College Process

Photo courtesy of Hotel-R: While you may not need an A-plus, your grades as an underclassman do matter in the college admissions process.

While college may seem far away right now, you too will eventually start visiting campuses and sending in applications. Here are some tips to help you get into the school of your choice come senior year.

Get involved. With so many different sports teams, musical ensembles and student-led clubs, there’s no shortage of opportunities for getting involved at MHS. Admissions officers prefer to see that students participate in their school and community, as getting involved shows an interest that extends beyond simply studying the required school curriculum. In their eyes, involved students are the ones most likely to bring initiative and leadership to the college campus, so it’s important that you show them your ability to contribute early on.

Find your passion. Schools want students who will change the lives of the people around them, and this change arises from those with a strong passion; if you like something a lot, you’re probably good at it and can use your skills to benefit those around you in college. In the real world, the overwhelming majority of people make a living off of being good at one thing. Nobody cares whether Beyoncé is good at math or not, and nobody cares if Bill Gates can sing. We don’t have to be well-rounded and decently competent at everything to be successful.

To show your passion and commitment, it’s better to dedicate your time towards one or two areas that you’re truly interested in, rather than try to set your feet in as many different activities as possible without diving deeply into any of them. Spending enough time on your true passions can lead to leadership positions, regional and national recognition, and other honors that will let your application shine above the rest. You don’t have to become the typical superstar athlete or Science Olympiad champion to demonstrate your passion–plenty of birdwatchers, magicians, chefs and other kids with “weird” hobbies have gone to great schools through their dedication and accomplishments in their respective fields. If there’s something you love, chances are you can turn that interest into great achievements.

Your freshman grades matter. While colleges will pay more attention to your grades as a junior and senior, that doesn’t mean that your grades as an underclassman don’t count at all; the transcript that admissions officers see will display all your marks starting from ninth grade. Focusing on your grades as a freshman will allow you to develop the strong study habits that you’ll need to handle the more challenging honors and AP courses as a junior.

Challenge yourself academically. When looking at your grades, admissions officers will take into account not only the final number you earned, but also the rigor of the courses you take. Colleges like to see students who take the most challenging courses offered at their school, as this shows that you’re ready for the more difficult classes you’ll encounter in college. A very high grade in a regular level class like French 2 often means less than a slightly lower grade in a more demanding course with a heavier workload, such as French 2H.

Don’t drop that language. When looking at academics, admissions officers focus on the five core subjects: English language, social studies, math, science, and yes, foreign languages. As torturous as it may seem, learning to communicate with people of different cultures remains essential in the eyes of colleges; like the SAT or the ACT, it’s another one of those things you should stick with even though you may not enjoy it. Dropping French or Spanish or Chinese will leave a hole in your transcript and make colleges wonder why you chose not to take a more challenging course load in the first place. Unless your foreign language class is truly difficult for you, it’s advised to keep it on your schedule for all four years of high school.

Though it can help to position yourself well for college applications as an underclassman, it is important also to have fun during high school. Dedicating time for relaxation will allow you to de-stress and enjoy what is supposed to be a fun experience. Colleges would rather choose the kid who spends his weekends playing rec soccer or video games over the genius who sits at his desk all day reading a textbook. With good planning and time management, it’s very possible to balance grades and extracurriculars with your favorite TV shows, hanging out with friends, and everything else you would normally do for fun.

By Kevin Shen

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