As an online student, your time in school can certainly fly, especially if you’re working through your grade levels more quickly than in a traditional school setting. That means that you’ve got to take special care to be sure that you’re on the right track for college. Northgate Academy wants to see you succeed, so we’ve assembled a list of grade-level appropriate tasks that you can take care of to make sure you’re ready for college when the time comes.
Freshmen (Grade 9)
Before 9th grade, you’ll want to figure out a loose schedule for your four years of high school classes. That way, you know you’re headed on the right pathway toward whatever you want to study in college. You can meet with your Academic Success Coach to talk about your options and figure out what the best set of courses for you looks like.
During freshman year, your primary focus should be on getting used to high school level academics and figuring out who you are and what your interests are. It’s a great time to pick up some extracurricular activities or find ways that you can serve your community. But mostly, you’ll want to make sure you know how to take great notes that you can use on assessments and that you know how to review those notes to prep for quizzes and exams.
You also want to be sure you understand how your GPA is figured so that you can recognize that your grades in every year of high school matter! If you ask an upper classman who didn’t earn great scores freshman year, they will most likely tell you that they wish they had understood that their grades freshman year count, too. GPA stands for Grade Point Average, and it’s basically the average of all of your classes’ grades. It’s a little more complicated because sometimes you take semester classes and sometimes you take full-year classes. So to skip the confusion, you can use a GPA Calculator to figure out your GPA. What’s really tricky about your GPA is that once you let it drop, it’s very hard to get back up. That’s why upper classmen will tell you, take your grades seriously from day one!
Sophomores (Grade 10)
Now that you’ve got a good grasp about how you learn best and how to keep your grades up, you want to keep up with those useful notes and start really getting involved more seriously with other activities. You can easily fall into the trap of “I’ve got this!” and then accidentally start ignoring your grades, so don’t let them slide! But it’s really important to find some activities and community service projects to keep you busy outside of school, too.
If you don’t know of any way to help out in your community, you can ask your youth pastor or parents what ideas they can come up with. Does your church need someone to help in the nursery, teaching preschool, or mentoring middle school kids? One relatively simple way to get involved is to search for the nearest food bank and ask what items they most need. You can gather items from your neighborhood, church, or family and friends. Another idea is to find out what the local animal shelter most needs and either raise money or collect items to donate to them. They always need volunteers to clean cages or socialize with the animals, too. Remember, you aren’t limited to community service projects that already exist! You are able to get creative and get involved in some way to make the world a better place.
Because extracurriculars become pretty important during sophomore year, it will be important to try to narrow down what your interests are a bit so that you can be more deeply involved in those. If you’re into theater, are you participating fully in your church’s theater productions? Have you thought about organizing with other teens to make a children’s theater? Are you helping with community theater? If you’re into sports, are you in a community or travel league? Are you participating in a robotics club or exploring your interests in auto-mechanics? If you’re into crafts, have you looked into crafting groups in local craft stores, hobby shops, or the library? Making sure that you are discovering and diving more deeply into your interests is important for the rest of your time in high school.
During sophomore year, you also want to start prepping for the SAT by taking the PSAT. You can find reviews online through the College Board, but your local school district is also required to allow you to take the PSAT when their students take it. You’ll want to find out right away when they plan on taking the PSAT so that you can arrange to do it, too. The PSAT is a great way to get a feel for the SAT before you take it junior year. You can also start taking an SAT prep course either at the end of 10th grade or during the summer after your school year is done. It’s really up to you!
It doesn’t hurt to start looking into colleges that offer the programs you’re interested in pursuing at this point, too. You’re going to start applying soon enough, so narrowing down your search and making some college visits junior year means that you need to do some work ahead of time. The U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard is a great way to check out what schools offer the type of program you’re looking into pursuing after high school. You can also start learning about Federal Student Aid at this point so that you know what kind of financial commitment you and your family will be making and what kind of aid is available. The price of school is a big determining factor for many students, so being realistic about this is important. Knowing the facts and the process will help you make good decisions as you prepare for college.
Juniors (Grade 11)
During junior year, you’re still going to want to keep up those grades and stay involved in community service and extracurricular activities. Check in with a counselor or Academic Success Coach to make sure you’re on track to graduate and are taking the best classes for your goals. And now is a great year to job shadow and start doing some campus visits, too!
Since you want to seriously narrow down your college list, going to college fairs, meeting with different college counselors and reps, and seeing the campuses will help you do that. There’s a big difference between looking at the college’s statistics online and actually seeing how students and staff behave in person!
It’s also a good year to seriously think about what mentors in your life you want to write your college recommendations. You can approach them and ask them early on if they would be willing to write those letters for you when the time is right. You don’t have to have letters from a bunch of different teachers! You can use your youth pastor, a boss, someone you’ve volunteered with, or even a coach or director. Asking them ahead of time will help you show them that they mean something to you and give them time to observe your work ethic and character in the light of college acceptance.
You can take the PSAT junior year, and even qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program based on those results. However, you will definitely want to take the SAT or ACT during your junior year, and you can even take the tests multiple times if you’d like. If you don’t perform as well as you would like, an SAT prep class might be the best choice for you, or you can always get some one-on-one tutoring from Train The Brain before you take it a second time.
If you’re looking for early acceptance, you can start applying to colleges at the end of junior year, but most students wait until the fall of senior year to really get into the application process, so there’s no real stress for you to do that unless you really want to.
Junior or Senior years are a great time to look into job shadowing and leadership opportunities. You can check out these programs that have virtual or in-person opportunities available:
Project Echo – Project Echo offers live and virtual after school programs that allow you to participate in business and entrepreneurship programs.
Microsoft High School Internship Program – Microsoft offers high school juniors or seniors in-person or virtual experience in an internship setting. You work on projects and have a chance to explore who you are as an individual and as a part of a team.
Bank of America Student Leader Program – Bank of America has locations across the U.S. They offer a leadership program to help students work with local nonprofits and participate in a national leadership summit. This program begins accepting applications in November, so keep an eye out for this opportunity.
Seniors (Grade 12)
It’s senior year! You can stop worrying about everything and just slack off, right?
Senior year is your time to keep focusing on your grades, continue working on community service projects, and remain deeply involved in extracurriculars. Before you start school this year, meet with a counselor or your Success Coach to be sure you’re on track one last time as well as to check to make sure you’re signed up for the right classes.
You want to be sure to retake the SAT or ACT if you weren’t happy with your scores and sign up for a prep class if you feel you need to. Senior year can really pass quickly, so be sure you don’t put this off! You’ll be surprised how quickly second semester pops up!
As you begin to apply to colleges in the fall, you’ll want to reach out to those mentors who you asked to write your college recommendations. At this point, you’ll want to give them specifics for their letters. It can help for them to know what schools the letters are for and maybe even include a little “cheat sheet” of your accomplishments to reference as they write. They know you, but when it comes to recommendations, it’s easier for the person writing the letter if they’ve got a reference, too.
You’ll probably be expected to write some college essays, too. Because you want to do a good job on these, make sure you have someone to check them over and give yourself time to get that feedback and make any necessary changes.
Since most applications are done online, you’ll be able to monitor them online, too. Acceptance notices will start coming in during senior year, so you’ll be making important decisions. Talking to your parents and other trusted adults can help you make the healthiest choice for your future. You’ll want to focus on your goals and the fact that you are your own person. However, you are making plans for your future, so considering the wisdom of the adults who care about you is a mature and healthy choice to make.
At some point, colleges will also need your official transcript before they will officially allow you to enroll, so be sure not to drop the ball on those little things that the school of your choice asks of you. Senior year is busy with all of the deadlines and requests, so you’re going to want to keep track of all of this in your phone’s calendar so that you can set reminders and stay on the ball!
But once you’ve made your decisions and turned in all the paperwork, it’s time to spend time with family and friends and celebrate the accomplishments you’ve achieved! If you follow these important steps, you will be well on your way to a successful high school career getting you ready for the amazing opportunities you have waiting for you in the future!