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6 College-Planning Tips For High School Sophomores And Their Parents

High school juniors and seniors are well into their college preparation — taking the SAT, visiting schools and filling out applications. But it’s not too early for sophomores to start planning.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson gets some tips on what 10th-graders — and their parents — should be thinking about from  Lisa Micele ( @LisaMicele), director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois.

  • Scroll down to read Lisa’s tips for students and parents

High school is indeed a four-year journey. Lots of energy is given to freshmen and their transition to high school. Juniors and seniors often have regular programming geared toward the national timelines of college admissions. What is a sophomore to do? This is a group of students that may get overlooked at this time of year.

Here are proactive tips for those in Grade 10 and their families — to build early college planning on a healthy foundation.

6 Tips For Sophomore Students

  1. If you participated in any practice tests this year (i.e. practice ACT or a practice to the PSAT you will take as a junior), now is the time to correct your mistakes. Review your results with your school counselor and seek assistance from your high school English, science and math teachers to correct mistakes as well. Use free online test preparation tools. Your practice PSAT, for instance, will connect you to Khan Academy (in partnership with the College Board).
  2. Begin to take more ownership of your education. Take the initiative to talk with teachers. If you are seeking advice on how to best prepare for the next test, or you need help finding summer opportunities, you (as the student) should reach out to your school counselor, teachers and mentors. And, if you need a letter of recommendation to endorse you for any summer opportunity, this request should come from you (and not your parents).
  3. Start creating your profile on free scholarship search engines. Here are two great sites to get you started: Cappex and Fastweb.
  4. Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts as you begin to think more deeply about your likes, dislikes, hopes and desires for the future. College planning starts with you knowing yourself first — not grabbing a list of colleges. Here are a few sample questions to get you started. Be open to this journey of self-discovery, and embrace the fact that you will grow and change over time.
  5. Nothing is more important than a strong high-school curriculum. Review your course schedule plans for next year with your school counselor and parent/guardian. While you do not need to declare a major in order to apply to college, if you are showing natural curiosities in an academic area, see what advanced courses, electives, online learning or community resources can feed this interest.
  6. Summer is right around the corner. You should seek a balance of organized activities with fun downtime. Share your hopes for summer with your parent(s) or guardian(s), and make sure that you show initiative in planning out a summer that is rewarding to you both intellectually and socially. Do you have a genuine desire to serve others? Check out local volunteer efforts that are happening in your backyard, and don’t forget about simply reaching out to a friend in need. Summer employment may be in your future, too.

6 Tips For Sophomore Parents

  1. Educate yourself on the landscape of admissions and financial aid. Talk with your student’s high school counselor about healthy ways to support your student through this process. Don’t get sucked into the “prestige game” when it comes to thinking about colleges. Show your student that you are doing early steps, too. For example: It’s never too early to use Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator and online tools to understand the costs of college.
  2. Consider visiting campuses. College visits for sophomores are a great way to expose them to types of schools (urban, rural, large research universities, small liberal arts, etc.) This is a low-stress time to let your student experience an admission talk and tour. Remember that it’s not about building a list of colleges — just remove this from your mind. It is about having them hear about cool residential college systems; unique academic calendars; campus traditions; internships that connect them to a larger world. There is no such thing as a wasted visit. Hearing what your student doesn’t like is just as helpful. Take notes when you see them smile and when something sparks their interest. Debrief a bit in the car to journal first impressions. Here is a great little tool to take on college visits.
  3. Reframe the conversation. Don’t ask a sophomore: “What do you want to major in?” Instead, ask them what their favorite classes have been and why. Ask them how they would construct an entire day for themselves, if given the freedom. Where do their natural curiosities lie? Inquire with the high school if they have any inventories on interests, values and abilities that will help your student to explore possible majors. You can also contact your local community college career services office for assistance on this front as well. (And remember to relax on this front. “Undeclared” is a popular major for freshmen!)
  4. Model good behavior. Do you talk about certain colleges and potentially discount others? Your student is listening to you. They will pick up on your “values” based upon your words and actions. Focus on personal fit over name.
  5. Just stop! To channel Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult,” parents must start to put independence in their student’s way. The college application process is a student-centered (and student-driven) process. If students are accustomed to having their parents handle and manage everything in their lives, they will not be ready for the many steps in this college search journey that require them to “step up” and take the lead.
  6. Yes — let them take the lead! This philosophy applies to summer planning as well. While it may be tempting to map out their summer filled with academic camps, sports and volunteering, parents must listen to their student more than they talk. (see student tip No. 6)

To all of the grade 10 students and parents out there, #YouCanDoThis!

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