A High School Timeline
By Alex Stepp
I don’t know about you, but personally, I like a set of instructions. I like to have a list of deadlines and guidelines that I can follow while I am accomplishing a task. So, when this summer rolled around – the summer before my senior year – I felt myself wondering what all I needed to do and feeling frustrated by the vagueness of some instructions that I found. So, I am going to compile a list for you of all of the stuff that you need (a term I use loosely here) to do in each year of high school. Please note that this will be done with the best of my ability, and some of the information may not apply to all of you. Here’s hoping it helps, though!
Freshman Year (9th Grade)
So you’ve made it to high school…congratulations! Now, I know what you are thinking: it is my first year in high school. There is no way I should be planning for college already.
Sadly, my friend, this is not the case, and I will tell you why. Now, as a senior, there are colleges, beautiful colleges that look like Hogwarts and witnessed the attendance of John Green, to which I cannot apply because I did not take the right classes. No, instead of taking 4 years of one foreign language, I took two years of two different languages. Instead of taking Physics, I took Earth Space Science. If I had known that I needed certain classes were required for this dream college that I happened upon too late, I would have taken them. So…
-Know what classes your dream college(s) is looking for. Take them. (No, you do not have to have a dream college at this point, or any point).
-Take fun classes! Take classes that interest you. Try to find out what you like to do as early as you can so you have as much time as possible to do it! This will help you later on in college when you are trying to pick a major (see Krista’s article).
-Join clubs. This will also help you discover what you like to do, and you will make tons of friends and memories while doing so.
-Mainly, have fun. This is a time of discovery. Find what you love to do, and do it.
-Keep your grades up. When it comes time to apply to colleges, you will want your GPA to match a college’s requirements. If you don’t apply yourself now, you will regret it later. If you are really struggling, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask your teacher or a tutor for help. Ask Rose (http://www.askrose.org/) is a good resource, and there are plenty more like it.
-Lastly, volunteer. To me, there is no better time spent than that spent helping others. Sure, it looks good on college applications (or so I’ve heard), but there are so many other benefits to volunteering. You know, like helping the world to be a better place.
Sophomore Year (10th Grade)
-Continue to keep up your grades. Now that you have experienced high school classes, consider taking honors classes in the subjects you excelled in last year. Challenge yourself!
-Continue to take classes that interest you. Don’t be afraid, though, to take classes that you don’t think you would normally take. You never know unless you try!
-Take the PSAT. This is a test that is kind of like a practice test for the SAT. It is important because as a junior you will be entered into the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) when you take the PSAT. This is a program that allows you to get many scholarships if you get a high enough score. So, it is imperative that you take it your sophomore year so that you have the practice that you need to excel next year. For more information on the NMSQT, click here: http://www.nationalmerit.org/entering.php. Also, make sure to check out our articles on how to study for standardized tests like these!
-Take the PLAN. This is like the PSAT, but instead of preparing you for the SAT, it prepares you for the ACT. I actually never took it, so I cannot give you much information on it, but any practice can help! For more information, click here: http://www.act.org/planstudent/tests/index.html.
-Start thinking about college. Maybe do a bit of research on some colleges that you think you might want to attend.
-Continue to volunteer and participate in clubs!
Summer Before Junior Year (11th Grade)
Okay, so hopefully you have been spending your summers volunteering and reading and basically doing educational activities that can benefit you, but now is the time to get serious. Because…
-It is time to take the SAT and ACT! Duh duh DUH! Okay, so technically you don’t take these tests right in the summer of your junior year. Most people take them at the end of their junior year and again at the beginning of their senior year. But, now is the time to prepare. Trust me when I tell you that your junior year will be crazy. Now that you are able to take AP classes, you might want to. That’s great! Talk about a challenge and a boost for the GPA, not to mention that these classes prepare you for college classes. Plus, colleges appreciate AP classes. Your stress level might not. I don’t know where you go to school, but at my school, AP classes are extreme. This is not a bad thing, though, but these classes take a lot of time if you want to get a good grade. You most likely will not have as much time to prepare for the SAT and ACT as you want/need. Silly me, I didn’t realize that I should have started studying so early, so I had to struggle to balance school work and studying, and it was not fun. So start studying! (Make sure to check out our articles on preparing for standardized tests if you need tips!)
Junior Year (11th Grade)
-Continue to keep your grades up.
-Take AP classes and honors classes to be fully prepared for the college experience.
-Take any AP tests you have taken classes in.
-Take the PSAT/NMSQT. Good luck!
-Make your college list. Do not limit yourself when choosing colleges. It is an excellent idea to include several realistic colleges on this list, meaning colleges that are close to you that you can afford (or colleges far away that you can afford. Basically, colleges that provide you with a good education on a budget, unless you are wealthy, in which case: go wherever is ideal to you!). Do not exclude colleges that you think are not realistic. Even if the college is too expensive or too far away, do not immediately throw it out! You may receive enough grant and scholarship money that you can attend the college at a price much lower than the tuition posted on their website. If it is important enough to you, please do not think it impossible.
-Keep volunteering and participating in clubs. Maybe try out for the student body or school newspaper if either interests you. Aim high!
-Tour some colleges close to you that you might attend. Ask if you can sit in on a class.
-Take the ACT and SAT in the spring. If you don’t like your score, don’t worry! You can always take them again.
-Start searching for scholarships. It is never too early to start doing so. You can even start earlier than this. But junior year is definitely a good time to start your search if you haven’t at this point, especially if you will need to rely heavily on financial aid for college.
Summer Before Senior Year (12th Grade)
-Narrow down your list of colleges to the ones you will apply to.
-Create a list of deadlines and application requirements for these colleges.
-Acquire all of the materials needed for the application. This means print out the applications, send test scores to colleges, and gather any documentation you might have from throughout your high school career.
-Work on the application. This doesn’t mean that you have to finish your applications in the summer. It is a good idea to get a head start, though, especially if you are applying to colleges with low acceptance rates. Create your résumés and work on your essays so you have time to study for the SAT and the ACT come fall.
-Study for the SAT and the ACT if you are retaking them.
-Find and apply to scholarships (see more information on scholarships in some of our other articles).
Senior Year (12th Grade)
-Take challenging classes. Don’t slack off just because it is senior year.
-Take any AP tests that you have taken classes in.
-Register to take the SAT and ACT (if you feel you need to) and take them again.
-Narrow down your list of colleges to the top three-five.
-Send in your applications after gathering recommendation letters, lists of club participation and community services, essays, test scores, etc. Make sure to apply before the deadlines!
-Apply for more scholarships.
-Start thinking about what you would like to major in. You don’t have to pick now. You don’t even have to pick as soon as you get into college. Just think about it so that you can come to a decision. That way you can spend even more time studying specifically in the area in which you would like to have a career.
-Tour the colleges on your narrowed list.
-Choose the college that you would most like to attend and that would work the most for you.
-Make sure to get your cap and gown for your big day!
-Congratulations! You did it! You made it through high school! Sure you still have college, the military, a job, or whatever else you decide to do, but you accomplished a major task. Be proud of yourself! We sure are proud of you.
That’s it! That is the list that I have compiled. Again, I might have left some things off, but I hope it helps in some way.