College Preparation in 9th Grade

You're just starting high school. It's the beginning of a four-year adventure that you've been anticipating for years. The last thing you want to do is start thinking about college. But that's exactly what you should be doing. Real college preparation begins in the 9th grade.

You don't have to stress out too much. There is still plenty of time. But the 9th grade is when things start to count. It's important that you get yourself on a track for success now. Start thinking in terms of the big picture: where you want to go and what you want to do, both in college and beyond.

Use the 9th grade to figure out what kind of student you are and work to become a better one. Doing so will not only help you get into a good school, you will perform better once you're there. Follow these steps and you can ensure that the work you do now will pay off later.

Get Good Grades

The 9th grade is when your grades start to count for more than just an allowance bonus from your parents. Depending on the school, your high school transcript begins now. These grades will be reflected on your college applications. It's time to get serious as a student.

But don't panic. This is just the beginning of a long road, and there will be bumps along the way. Unless you're planning on attending an elite university, you can probably afford a few B's and C's in the 9th grade. Many colleges will overlook this if you show steady improvement throughout high school. And some colleges don't even look at freshman year grades.

Use this year to get better as a student. Improve your study habits. Read as much as you can outside of class work. And perhaps most importantly, learn how to manage your time. Figuring out how to juggle everything in high school life now will save you lots of stress down the road.

Challenge Yourself

Getting good grades is the most important thing, but it won't mean much if you aren't challenging yourself. College admissions counselors don't just look at your GPA as a static number. They will dig deeper to see if you got your grades taking easy classes or hard ones.

If you only take the easiest classes, you may coast through high school with no problems, but you won't be preparing yourself for the rigors of college. Take honors, AP and IB classes, depending on what your school offers.

Utilize Your Guidance Counselor

Many high school students write off guidance counselors. But if you use them wisely, they can be an invaluable resource for your success in high school and your preparation for college.

Talk to your guidance counselor sooner than later and develop a general plan for high school. Find out what upper-level classes your school offers. If needed, check into tutoring, mentorships and other programs. They are there for more than just checking off your diploma requirements.

Your guidance counselor can also help you prepare for college. Ask what kind of college resources your school has, including literature, college recruiting fairs and college classes you can take while still in high school.

Extracurricular Activities

A big part of high school is exploring new activities and discovering things that you love and excel in. Start participating in extracurricular activities. Whether you go for sports, art or computer programming, invest your time and energy wisely and you will see great rewards.

Many high school students try to do too much and are overwhelmed. It's very easy to commit yourself to too many things and before you know it, your grades are suffering and you're stressed out. This is where time management becomes so important. Learn to prioritize the things in your life. Schoolwork should always come first.

Most successful students are involved in many different activities, but you want to have something that you pursue in depth. College admissions offices like to see students that are dedicated and see things through, rather than ones who constantly jump from one thing to another. The more you can get involved in something, the more you will learn and grow as a young adult.

Foreign Language

Foreign language is a basic requirement for high school and college admissions, but it can also be used to strengthen your academic record. With some exceptions, most colleges have a high school foreign language requirement of two years. But it is always recommended to study more. A third or fourth year in one language will add a huge boost to your college application.

That's one language. If you study two or three different languages, your high school requirements will be fulfilled, but you will be hurting your chances to get into a good school. Admissions officers are looking for proficiency and commitment. Pick your language carefully and stick with it.

Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help

The 9th grade almost always has a greater workload than middle school. Some students adjust easily, while others struggle with the transition. If you find yourself feeling confused or falling behind in any classes, do something about it sooner than later. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It means that you're proactive as a student.

Start by talking to your teachers. In addition to clarifying a subject, this will help you develop personal relationships with them. Down the road you may have additional classes or extracurricular activities with some of them. You may even ask one to write your letter of recommendation in a couple of years.

Aside from teachers, you have a number of resources for support, such as parents, siblings and other family members. Your school provides tutoring and academic support services. You can also start a study group with classmates. Studying alone and isolated can be frustrating. A study group can make it more fun, and as you see how others study and learn, you'll have a better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses as a student.

Work on Reading and Writing Skills

Many high school students don't realize their full potential due to a lack of reading and writing skills. This is something that will help you in every subject. Not only will you be a better student, you'll become a smarter, more articulate person.

The more you read, the smarter you will be. Read whatever you can. Fiction, non-fiction, news, history, poetry; whatever it is, it will improve your cognitive and analytical thinking. Go one step further and talk to others about what you read. Whether it's family, friends or the librarian, discussing a book or news article with someone else will expose you to new ideas and perspectives.

To develop stronger writing skills, sit down with teachers and get specific feedback on your papers and/or essays. You may also want to enroll in a writing course or workshop. Even if you think you are a good academic writer, there is always room for improvement in this realm.

AP Exams and SAT Subject Tests

If your school offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes, you may want to try some of them out in the 9th grade. AP classes are more rigorous, but more rewarding. You will develop better reading, writing and critical thinking skills, and your academic record will be much stronger for it. AP exams are taken in the spring, and a high score (4 or 5 out of 5) can earn you college credit.

SAT subject tests, also known as SAT II, are multiple-choice tests that are specific to a single subject. They are not required, but many high school students take them to pad their resumes. If you just took an advanced class and did well, that's the best time to do it. You have nothing to lose. A bad score can be withheld from your record.

Begin Thinking About Colleges

You've still got plenty of time so don't worry too much about where exactly you'll attend college. But the 9th grade is a good time to start what will be a long and complex process.

The internet makes it very easy to do basic research on schools that interest you. Most colleges offer online virtual tours of their campus and academic programs. If you're traveling in another city and have the time, visit the campus for an hour or two. Many campuses have a regional flavor. East coast schools tend to have a different feel than those in the South or on the West Coast.

Even if you have your heart set on attending college away from home, take a look at the options in your area. You may be surprised by what you find. At the very least, you'll have something to compare other schools to in the future.

The more exposure you have to different colleges, the better you can judge and compare them when your college search becomes more serious.

Use Your Summer Wisely

Now that you're in high school, your grades aren't the only thing contributing to your resume. You want to engage in extracurricular activities, and the next four summers will present opportunities you couldn't take advantage of during the busy school year.

Use your summers to do something worthwhile that builds character and adds to personal growth. It can be almost anything, such as travel abroad or a road trip to cultural or historic sites. You can get a job or volunteer in your community. Maybe you want to start a group, club or special project with friends. Whatever it is, think about how it will contribute to your experience as a young adult.

Think About the Big Picture

College is still a long way off, but the 9th grade is the beginning of that journey. Use this year to develop good study habits and improve yourself as a student. Start thinking about your future and where you want to go in life. Even if you have just the slightest hint, it will help you prepare for college.

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