Entering high school can be intimidating because it feels like all your decisions are weightier. For some students, knowing college admissions officers look at your entire high school transcript for your college applications is worrying. Other students wonder if they’re starting high school off right or making the right choices to set themselves up for success.
Parents may equally be concerned, as they want the best for their children. Some parents have told us their children appear to lack motivation or haven’t transitioned well into high school from middle school. Others are unsure how to help their children lay a foundation for building a competitive profile.
In order to help alleviate these concerns, we’ve broken down what 9th graders need to be focusing on with college admissions in mind.
Extracurricular activities can be any activity you participate in outside of the classroom. They can be clubs and organizations, summer activities, volunteer projects, sports teams, and more. At selective schools in particular, admissions officers like to see about 8-10 extracurricular activities over the course of your high school years.
It's important to build up your extracurricular activities because admissions officers use them to evaluate your abilities and understand what you're capable of completing outside of the classroom.
Getting started on your extracurriculars in the freshman year of high school will allow you to demonstrate growth and breadth on your college applications. Freshman year should be used to explore your passions and determine a path for the rest of your high school years.
But just going to club meetings isn’t enough — how you participate in your extracurriculars really matters! As you progress in an extracurricular, you’ll want to show increasing responsibility and commitment. This means creating a plan to establish a leadership position or considering creating your own organization! You want to be able to show concrete results for the time you spent in these extracurriculars.
There are many different types of extracurricular activities. Students should feel free to explore different passions and interests over the course of high school — admissions officers are interested in seeing your authentic interests and how you’ve pursued them!
A good start is often to join clubs at your school that are relevant to your interests, like Model UN if you’re interested in foreign relations, band or orchestra if you’re interested in music, or a community service club if you like volunteering.
From there, you can take leadership positions in these clubs or use them as the starting point for your own projects, or even create your own club!
Many students find that their school doesn’t offer an activity for their specific interest, like going to medical school or watching classic movies, and so they start their own. Self-started extracurricular activities are often particularly great ways to demonstrate leadership on college applications.
But extracurricular activities are more than just clubs — they’re also summer activities, part-time jobs, volunteering in the community, and many other activities that combine your interests with action! The best extracurricular activities are those that you were strongly committed to and worked hard in over the course of high school, because you genuinely cared about what the extracurricular was all about.
We've worked with over 10,000 students and know that developing your extracurricular profile is extremely important for college admissions.
That’s why we’ve developed free resources to help you find the right extracurriculars for you. Check out some of them below, including our free guide to freshman year.
Admissions officers like to see an “upward trend” when they examine students’ high school transcripts. This means that you took gradually harder and harder classes, and also either maintained high levels of academic success or got better grades every year.
For instance, you’d demonstrate a great upward trend if you maintained As or A-minuses all through high school, and took 3 AP classes in sophomore year, 5 in junior year, and 6 in senior year. Admissions officers want to see that you continued to challenge yourself with rigorous classes.
Many freshmen aren’t given the option to take AP classes in the first year of high school, but you can still demonstrate that you’re aiming for success. Try to take the hardest classes available for your year (that you can handle), such as Honors classes or pre-AP classes.
Also, you should focus on core academic subjects such as math, English, social studies, and science, as most selective colleges have requirements on how many years you need to take each.
While freshman year grades are slightly less important than grades later on in high school, it’s still absolutely critical that you do your very best in class as a freshman.
The strongest candidates in the admissions process, particularly for selective schools, are those who earned great grades in freshman year and never stopped getting strong grades even as their class schedule got more rigorous in later years.
Just like extracurricular activities, summer activities show admissions officers what you do when you’re not working on schoolwork and how likely you are to challenge yourself and take on new responsibilities. Freshmen summers don’t have as much of an impact on your college application as future summers, but they can still help lay the foundation for academics and extracurriculars. The best summer activities, like the best extracurriculars, are those that you can be fully committed to and are also genuinely passionate about.
There are a few key pathways for summer activities that are quite popular and are usually helpful in the admissions process. These include academic summer programs run by colleges, prestigious study abroad or subject-area-specific programs, and summer internships. These programs usually require a formal application, which is usually due sometime between January and March.
However, there are many other ways to spend the summer that can still demonstrate valuable qualities in the admissions process. Some students choose to get a part-time job, work on a personal project, teach themselves a new skill, or self-study AP classes over the summer. As long as you’re spending your summer doing something that you’re personally interested in and excited about, and that will show admissions officers that you’re curious, dedicated, a leader, or any other great traits, you’re on the right track.
Many students struggle to transition into high school because the way that classes work is so different. While some middle schoolers might not even get real grades in their classes and have few large exams that they’re responsible for studying for on their own, high school classes are much more challenging. Suddenly, every assignment, quiz, and test matters, and you’re often on your own for figuring out what will be tested on and how to study.
There’s no single answer to this question. Almost every student approaches studying a little differently, so while some tips might work for some students, they might not help at all for others.
As a 9th grader, it’s important to study hard and try out a lot of different study habits that can sustain you through high school when academics will likely get more stressful. For instance, you might try completing your homework as soon as you get home from school and giving yourself a study area that’s fully stocked with school supplies and snacks. You could try motivating yourself to power through reading assignments by rewarding yourself every time you get through a certain number of pages. There are all sorts of study habits that make studying easier, and freshman year is the time to figure out which ones work for you.