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College Bound

Students Sow Seeds for College Search as Early as 9th Grade

Even as freshmen and sophomores, students can begin planting the seeds for a successful college search. When I meet with students shortly after they settle into secondary school, some are surprised to hear that everything they do in high school—not just the classes and activities of upperclassmen years—is reviewed by college admission officers. This reality should not create panic. Instead, I hope it inspires a growing awareness about making choices that corresponds with students’ already emerging maturity and sense of self.

This is all new to freshmen, who are often eager to know how to build a strong transcript. I encourage students to pursue the most challenging classes in which they can earn a B+ or above. We also talk about the importance of life balance. Always taking the hardest class is not necessarily the best choice. A more productive goal is for students to learn how to take on rigorous classes, while also maintaining the personal foundation that fuels steady effort and growth. Parents often have questions about how early coursework defines course options for juniors and seniors. When parents have questions about such “tracking,” we discuss how to clarify a school’s criteria for class placement.

Also as early as 9th grade, we explore what students know about their own learning styles. Do they benefit from sitting near the front of the class? Do they need a designated workspace for homework? By positioning themselves inside and outside the classroom to participate as much as possible, students can maximize each learning opportunity. For students who are weak in specific areas, high school is a good time for getting extra support, which can reduce stress while building skills so that students can achieve at the level they want to achieve.

Outside the classroom, high school students can explore new clubs and activities—both at school and in the wider community—that were not available at an earlier age. Colleges want students who know themselves, and trying out different experiences is integral to building self-awareness. Gradually students focus in on a few things, perhaps discovering a passion for coding, beekeeping, or lacrosse. Students should keep an ongoing record of their activities. When the time comes, a student’s commitment to self-discovery and unique interests will help set him or her apart.

By 10th grade, I also talk with students about time management and timetables for upcoming standardized tests. If students plan to take SAT subject tests, for example, those are best done soon after students complete the most relevant coursework. When students have been thinking about college from the beginning of their high school careers, the college search activities of Junior and Senior years become logical next steps. I am always available to meet with families to get the thinking started.

Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors, and plans both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at