Planning Ahead for College: Preparing for College in Middle School
Competition for coveted spots at selective colleges can cause much
stress among high school students and their parents. But a little
careful planning and preparation can minimize any anxiety and
position you to be a stronger candidate. Following are some yearby-year
guidelines to help.
Develop a four-year academic plan. Be sure to account for prerequisites
you will need for courses you will want to take later. Include AP
courses or the equivalent, but don’t feel that you must take them in 9th
grade unless they are right for you.
Take SAT subject tests and AP exams for relevant courses you’re
taking this year. Postpone those for which you’ll be better prepared
after additional coursework, such as English.
Begin to identify activities outside of the classroom that you want
to devote time to. Serious engagement in them will help you stand out
among other college applicants.
Begin to explore college options. Review websites, attend a college
fair, or tour colleges while on vacation. Identify attributes that appeal to
you, but hold off making any decisions about which colleges you might
want to attend.
Use your summer to deepen your learning. Enroll in a summer
program, travel, or volunteer in your community; read widely to expand
Take challenging courses. Include some AP or equivalent courses
this year if you plan to apply to highly selective colleges. Evaluate your
school’s offerings and whether you should look outside of school for
opportunities (e.g., college or online courses or internships).
Take the PSAT in the fall as a practice test. In the spring, take SAT
subject tests and AP exams for which you are prepared.
Commit to one or more extracurricular activities. Work toward
distinction such as attaining a leadership position, winning awards, or
Continue to explore college options. As you learn more about your
needs and goals, identify colleges that will meet hem. This can also be a
good time to combine college visits with a vacation without the pressure
of having to make final decisions.
Work hard in your courses. This may be the most important year for
obtaining a strong academic record to show to colleges. Take some AP or
equivalent courses, and, if necessary, supplement with coursework from
outside of your high school.
Take standardized tests. PSAT scores will determine eligibility for the
National Merit Scholarship Program. Also take the SAT and/or ACT, and
any SAT subject tests and AP exams for which you are prepared.
Assume a leadership role or gain recognition in your extracurricular
activities. If STEM is a strong interest, consider finding a mentor to
help with a project that could be submitted to a competition.
Identify the colleges you plan to apply to. Discuss options with your
parents and counselor. Evaluate your need for financial aid. Arrange college
visits, and schedule interviews, tours, and possibly overnight stays.
Plan a great summer with meaningful activities. Also work on
essays for your college application, and consider whom you might ask to
write recommendation letters.
Continue to excel academically. Colleges may rescind an offer of
admission if your grades drop significantly senior year.
Demonstrate leadership, initiative, and excellence through your
extracurricular activities. Again, this is an opportunity to stand out
from other applicants.
Take any standardized tests you still need. Retake the SAT or ACT
if you believe your scores will improve. Take SAT subject tests in time for
application deadlines and AP tests in the spring.
Finalize the list of colleges you will apply to. Be sure it includes at
least one or two colleges where you are confident you will be accepted
and where you will be happy.
Mark your calendar with admission deadlines and be sure to
meet them. Finalize your essays after getting feedback on whether they
truly reflect who you are. Complete and submit the Common Application
and other required documents. Request test scores and recommendations. Check to be sure that all parts of your application—including transcripts,
test scores, recommendations, and requests for financial aid—are
received. Schedule college interviews.
After acceptances come, make your final selection. Attend events
for accepted students. Send thank-you notes to your guidance counselor,
teachers, and anyone else who helped you in the admissions process.
This article is reprinted with permission from Imagine Magazine (http://cty.jhu.edu/imagine), a publication of the The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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