Freshman Year High School College Prep, 33% of your College App?

What should my high school freshman do to begin preparing for college?

This may be the easiest blog post I write all year. Not because it will be short, but because it is a simple plan that is pretty cut and dry. Freshman year of high school is solely an academic year. This is about planning and mapping out your entire high school game plan. Notice I used the words “high school” without any mention of college planning.

To me, this is an extremely critical year for indirect reasons related to college planning. It is a year where students explore by gaining more variety in their schedule and can begin to find real interests and take a deeper dive into those interests. Freshman year is critical to establishing their extra-curricular activities, their floor for their GPA, and areas of study that interest them. Ironically, all of these play a large part in the college application process but, freshman year just isn’t a time to be focusing so far downstream. Be in the moment and focus on execution.

As far as curriculum planning is concerned, students often wonder if they must begin taking the hard courses right away. Everyone has their opinions, but I’m staunchly against it. Look, if you’re math inclined and have always taken the Pre-AP / Advanced math courses and excelled, definitely continue taking them (same goes for any other subject). Do not slow down. However, freshman year can be a difficult transition period in a high school student’s life and, because of this, sometimes it is better to know when to hold off.

All of that being said, here’s why we want you to focus on execution. Freshman year should be your easiest year of academics, yet it counts for 33% of your overall GPA. You read that right. 33%. Realistically, when you are looking at a full college application timeline, they are due around November 1-15 during your senior year. This means that the GPA that college institutions review on your application are from your freshman, sophomore, and junior years! Now do we have your attention?! This is a prime time to establish a great GPA while still figuring out the rest of your high school focus. Just execute.

I don’t want to make it sound like a student shouldn’t think about challenging themselves in an effort to attain a higher GPA, we just don’t believe there is much to gain this early. By allowing yourself to ramp up for harder courses later in your high school endeavor, you can create an upward trend in rigor and focus. Freshman year is simply a foundation year to begin establishing your identity across key areas. The things that ARE going to matter when you do get to the application process will be:

  1. SAT scores
  2. GPA / Overall Trajectory / Course Rigor
  3. Your Essay
  4. Extra-curricular Activities / Leadership
  5. Life Experiences and your contribution to a student body

Most of the items on this list cannot be impacted wholly by your freshman year and must be curated through experiences and time. We will be coming out with sophomore, junior, and senior year advice blogs, but I want to talk a little bit about the rest of your high school planning that should occur during your freshman year. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have had my parents get in touch with a few junior’s and senior’s parents that are pretty highly ranked in their class. I’d have them ask which teachers were perceived to be easier and which Pre-AP / AP courses were perceived to provide the best opportunity to garner the highest grades. For my high school, it was apparently well known that you can get a high A relatively easily in Biology AP (and for our AP courses you got an extra 10 points tacked onto your grade). This provides a big time boost to your GPA in addition to embellishing your resume along the way. Unfortunately for me, I was the oldest child and could only pass this information along to my younger siblings AFTER it was too late for me.

I really debated typing that last paragraph, but frankly, it is the honest truth. It is a jungle out there. Some teachers and some classes are easier than others. If the goal is a higher GPA and a better perception on paper, then you must game the system. Trust me, other people already are. That being said, I hope the message is clear for parents of freshmen out there: keep it simple![/fusion_text]

July 17, 2017

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