PSAT Results

PSAT scores are finally released, about a month after they were initially expected. While some students are still having difficulty accessing their scores, those who have been able to get in have been confronted with scores that look quite different from previous PSATs.

Total PSAT scores are between 320 and 1520. The total score is a combination of the Math and “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing,” each of which is scored between 160 and 760. While these score ranges are not the same as the SAT – the upper and lower limits are shifted down by 40 points – College Board maintains that they are basically predictive of a student’s performance on the SAT.

The Selection Index will appear lower this year due to the new scoring ranges. For the class of 2016 (the last class to take the “old” PSAT), the highest possible score was a 240, and state-by-state NMSQT/PSAT cutoffs for semifinalists varied from 202 to 225. This year’s maximum Selection Index is a 228. Estimates of this year’s cutoffs vary considerably, and it might be easy to obsess over all of the possibilities if you believe your score is in the range for National Merit consideration.

Percentiles have also become more complicated on this year’s reports. Online score reports will include both percentiles – a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” and the “User Percentile.” The Nationally Representative sample will generally be higher, and provides the score as a percentile of a “nationally representative” group of 11th grade students. This measurement demonstrates how a student’s score compares to all high school juniors in the United States, including students who “don’t typically take the test.” The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile is the one that will appear on a students’ hard-copy report. The User Percentile is the percentile rank we’re more familiar with, comparing the scores of students who actually took the test. The User Percentile is only available online.

With so much uncertainty remaining, what useful information can we gain from the PSAT? If you’re still debating which test to focus on – the ACT or SAT – your PSAT score can help you decide. If you do decide to move forward with the SAT, a more thorough review of your PSAT can help. When your hard copy score report is released, take the time to review your test booklet for additional insights and make a study plan for the SAT.

Tips for Second Semester of Junior Year

Second semester of junior year is a stressful time for most students. In fact, it might be the most stressful semester of high school. I don’t want to add too many things to your likely-unending to-do list, but here are a few important things to consider including in the whirlwind that is this semester, and (bonus!) a couple of things that can wait until after finals.

This semester, you may want to:

Consider an internship. Not while school is in session. On top of everything else you’re attempting to juggle – test prep, school work, extra-curricular activities, actually sleeping at some point – one more commitment in your schedule is probably not advisable. Now is the time, however, to spend some time researching summer opportunities. Consider your interests, investigate your connections, and make a plan for summer now.

Keep working on that college list. All of the planning and scheming that lurks between now and your admissions deadlines next year will hinge upon your college list. If I had a catchphrase, it would probably be “it depends on the school.” Is your ACT score high enough? Do you have to schedule interviews? Can you take a gap year? The answers to all of these questions depend, at least in part, on specific schools you’re considering. If your list has 30 colleges on it, narrow. If you’ve only got one, more research is in order. Research, go to events, and plan more visits!

Prepare for AP or SAT Subject tests. Depending on your college list, you may be required to take SAT Subject tests. Even if the tests aren’t mandatory for you, some schools recommend that you submit them, and others will consider them if you choose to submit them. If you’re in AP courses now, and plan to take AP exams, consider whether taking the SAT Subject test will benefit you as well. The best way to figure it out is (you guessed it!) to look at the colleges on your list.

Connect with teachers and advisors. Second semester is the time to begin asking for recommendation letters. The best teacher to ask is one who knows you well and who can write about your specific strengths, and the best time to ask them is this semester. The sooner you ask, the more likely it is that you’ll get good letters.  You can generally expect that you’ll need two letters, but depending on your college list, you may need more, or there may be additional requirements placed on which teachers can write them.

Overwhelmed yet? Here’s the good news. You can wait until this summer to:

Write your college essays. College essays can be overwhelming. Working on them too soon, before you even have access to the applications, can be downright maddening. The Common App goes live on August 1st each year. There is not much to be gained by obsessing over drafts before you have a solid college list and the essay prompts for those colleges. Focus on your grades, your test prep, and your college list, and save the essays for this summer.

Plan the entire rest of your life. Actually, this one can probably wait even longer. However, if you’ve got seemingly pressing, urgent questions about your future (my junior year, it was do I want to be an architect?), you don’t have to answer them right now. The key is to avoid limiting yourself too much if you’re unsure. If you think you might want to go into an engineering program, the answer to do I want to take that extra science class? is probably “yes.” Prepare for multiple possibilities. Embrace the creative uncertainty. Explore your options, but don’t feel like you have to be certain right this moment.

For what it’s worth, I had registered for classes in ASU’s architecture program before I changed my mind and enrolled in a tiny liberal arts school on the other side of the country. I don’t really recommend that course of action, but you have time. It’s OK if your college list still looks like a 16- or 17-year-old student who isn’t exactly sure what they want to do for the next fifty years wrote it. I promise.

Dealing with Deferrals

If you submitted any Early Decision or Early Action applications this fall, you have probably received the college’s response: yes, no, or “maybe.” Deferrals are very common, and at many schools they outweigh both the “yes” and “no” groups. (That is, when a school even has a “no” pile for EA-applying students. Georgetown, for example, defers everyone not accepted EA.)

This post is for the “maybes” – those whose early applications were deferred by their first choice schools. What are your next steps?

First, and absolutely the most important, is to finish the rest of your applications. If you were procrastinating in the hopes of not having to complete them, you may not have much time to wrap up essays, get your scores sent, etc. You may even need to consider rounding up a school or two with rolling admissions if you haven’t already been accepted to one, depending on how much time you have left and how much work you have to do.

The second thing is to not panic. (Normally I’d put that first, but those deadlines are looming!) Being deferred is obviously maddening. It’s hard to formulate a plan with so much lingering uncertainty. However, you still have options, and remembering that can help dull the panic. Consider how much you still want to attend the school that deferred you. Consider, also, what your plan of action would be if the answer had been “no” instead of “maybe.”

If you’re still certain you’d like to attend the school, write a “deferral letter.” Explain that you’re still interested in the school, and include any new, relevant information that might bolster your case for admission. In addition to the letter, if possible, you may want to consider another visit. This helps demonstrate your continued interest, and might also provide new information to you about whether or not your number one school is still, in fact, your number one.

Test again. If you have test scores you haven’t sent, send them. If you have time to retake the SAT or ACT, do so. Depending on the school in question, you may consider taking/retaking SAT Subject tests in January.

Finally, keep your grades up. One of the main things admissions officers look for in deferred applicants are mid-year grades. A challenging senior year course load with stellar grades can only help your case!

Being deferred can feel like a disaster, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You still have steps you can take, you still have options, and you can still end up at an amazing school. Good luck!

Winter Break Time Management

Winter break is fast approaching, and you’ve probably got serious plans. Maybe you’ve got ACT prep to do or college applications to (finally) complete or volunteer work or rehearsals or practice or family projects…it’s all doable, right?

Until suddenly you’ve got two days left until class begins and it feels like you’ve done nothing but scroll through Unimpressed Cats and moderate an unwieldy group text between some people who, honestly, shouldn’t be allowed to group text.

Here are some tips for how to manage time wisely and make the most of your upcoming break.

  • Schedule time for interruptions.

If your schedule is too tight, one unexpected distraction can throw everything into chaos. Your mom wants you to pick up your little brother from soccer? Where is that time going to come from? You don’t even have time to get a glass of water until tomorrow at 3:15 PM.

Build time into your schedule to allow for the unexpected so that you can move things around, be flexible, and not lose all of your momentum. If you don’t end up using your extra time, resist the urge to cram more (unnecessary) activities into your day. Take a break. Go for a walk. Take a nap.

  • Examine

Procrastination can be a source of frustration and guilt, but it can also be a source of information. What kinds of things are you putting off? Examine what your feelings are about those tasks. This might not be pleasant, but it’s important!

You might find, at the root of your strong desire to avoid a task, you’re feeling uncertain about the requirements, or anxious about the outcome, or just generally overwhelmed. Getting to the bottom of your procrastination is the first step towards solving the problem.

  • Focus on one thing at a time.

Multi-tasking is a waste of time.

It’s been proven. With science. Work on one task at a time. You’ll actually get more done. If you’re worried you’ll waste all of your time on one thing when your to-do list contains 75, see tips #5 and #6.

  • Don’t waste time waiting.

It may not seem like it, but you probably have time you’re not using. Down time is important. I am not suggesting that every moment be dedicated to accomplishing tasks. However, time that is neither productive nor restful is wasted time.

Waiting for an oil change? Bring a book or an assignment. Five minutes, ten minutes, twenty – these little bits of time add up, so don’t kid yourself into thinking they don’t “count.”

  • Don’t be a perfectionist.

One of the best time management tips I ever received was from this textbook: “Define ‘acceptable’ and stop there.”

For those of us used to overachieving, this might sound blasphemous. You can’t just get by with acceptable! You’ve got to do the very best job possible! But when doing the very best job possible one on project means that something else doesn’t get done at all, it’s time to re-evaluate your system. Some tasks don’t require lots of flair. What is the expectation? Fulfill the expectation, meet the requirements, and move on.

This doesn’t mean you’re turning in shoddy work. It does mean that if you’ve got a 10-point worksheet of French sentences to write, writing them neatly and correctly might be enough. Maybe you don’t also have to create a delightful story out of them, if that’s not even part of your assignment.

  • Set time limits.

If you have many things to do, decide how long you’ll spend on each task. Set a timer or an alarm and stick to it. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish in an hour or even 15 minutes.

Setting a time limit helps you to stay focused on your task because you have less time to waste. If I have two days to write a paper, spending two hours on Instagram doesn’t seem like a big deal. If I have an hour to come up with an outline and an introduction, I am less likely to waste that time.

Time limits also help coax you into approaching tasks that seem frightening or unmanageable. You can do anything for fifteen minutes. Even brainstorm college essays.

  • Take care of yourself.

If you’re already ruthless about getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, taking breaks, etc., congratulations! Keep those habits up.

If you’re the type of person who misses out on basic self-care in favor of getting more done, know that you are actually less productive than you would be if you were eating and sleeping and taking regular breaks. Leave enough time in your schedule for meals, breaks, sleep, and social activities. You’ll feel better, get more done, and be less likely to get sick.

This is a busy time of year for everyone, but if you approach it intentionally you may be surprised at how much you can accomplish while avoiding mind-numbing panic. Good luck!

College Interview Tips

College Interview Tips

Most students will not be required to complete an interview as part of their college application process. However, many schools offer interviews, some going so far as to “strongly encourage” applicants to complete one – online, on campus, or in person with an alumni representative. Some scholarships applications also require interviews, even if the college or university itself does not. Here are some college interview tips for navigating the process.

  • Do your research. What is the interview policy for the schools on your list?

Some schools offer only informational interviews, which are a great opportunity to ask questions about a college, but don’t become part of your application. Preparing for an informational interview will quite different than preparing for an evaluative interview, which is the kind that does impact your application. Some schools offer interviews to all students, while some have a limited number. Some colleges and universities require interviews from only specific applicants, and some will invite a number of students to interview. Knowing how the colleges on your list approach interviewing will ensure that you’re prepared!

  • Practice, but don’t rehearse.

Get help with this part. Practice with a friend or family member. Give your helper a variety of questions, and let them choose the order, so that you’re not simply memorizing a script. Similarly, don’t try to prepare verbatim answers. It will be helpful, for example, to choose a book to discuss, but you’re better off being familiar with the book than memorizing paragraphs of analysis. Select some stories to tell about your life, your academic career, and your goals for the future. Feel comfortable with those stories, the way you might feel if you were telling a new friend about the time your dad tried to drive you to school and help you review for a calculus exam – at the same time. (Bye-bye, hubcap.)

  • Be friendly but professional.

The interview is a great opportunity for the school to get to know you – even more than the essay, this is your opportunity to bring life to the numbers and lists of activities that make up the rest of your application. Actually being a real person is an important part of that process. Be yourself. Try to enjoy the conversation and engage with your interviewer(s). At the same time, be professional. Dress neatly, give the interviewer your full attention, and keep your language appropriate to the setting.

  • Do your research.  Be knowledgeable about the school and city.

Presumably, you’re going to an interview because you actually want to go to this college or university. Think about why you want to go, and if your answers don’t sound like interview material, come up with something a little deeper. Spend some time connecting with the school and its current students, if possible, and figure out how to explain what makes this particular place special. When the interviewer gives you an opportunity to ask a question of your own, be ready. Showing your interest and curiosity about the college is important, but it’s also a good chance for you to learn more about the school!

 

Social Media in Admissions

Will that post come back to haunt you? According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Certain violations on social media have the potential to completely end an applicant’s case for admission.” Depending on where you apply, the chances that your online presence will be scrutinized vary significantly. Some schools just don’t have the time, and some actually prohibit the practice.

The NY Times reports that, at Oberlin, “admissions officers may review only the material submitted by students as part of their application.” That means they’re prohibited from considering other information in making their decision. Washington College in Chestertown, Md., takes a more moderate approach. “Admissions officials do not proactively seek out candidates on social media. But while monitoring the college’s brand online, admissions officers often happen upon applicants who have publicly commented on the college, and they immediately forward those posts to Satyajit Dattagupta, the vice president for enrollment management.”

Do those posts affect admission chances? You bet. Dattagupta “looked favorably” on applicants who kept things positive, but was “troubled” by students who spoke negatively about any college online.

What Colleges Are Looking For

According to Kaplan, 35% of admissions officers look for information about students on social media, and 16% report that they have found things that negatively affected a student’s chances. Protecting online reputations has become big business – Forbes reports that companies may charge as little as $100/year for a simple service to alert them to problematic material, or as much as $1300/month to bury troublesome information on the third page of Google search results.

OK, you’re thinking, I know all of this. None of this is new. You’ve changed your privacy settings or even deleted your accounts. You’ve gone underground, and you’d challenge an admissions officer to even find any trace of you online, at all. You’re all set, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. You might be missing an opportunity. US News suggests using social media in your favor to support your application, demonstrate interest, and create a positive presence. Monitoring your privacy settings and removing photos of you holding a red Solo cup? That’s 101-level stuff. Let’s talk about the advanced version.

How To Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Is your application an ode to your service work? Post pictures of that work on Facebook. Passionate about sports or music? Upload videos of your performances. Are you proud of your writing or design skills? There are plenty of ways to create an online presence that reflects those things and will support your application, should your admissions rep go digging.

Social media can also facilitate networking with schools and demonstrating your interest and interacting with them in ways beyond the traditional campus visit. Consider seeking out programs that catch your interest, and even specific professors you’d like to work with, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It won’t take much time, but it can make a difference to your admission chances.

Guessing on Standardized Tests – LotD-R

I apologize if this is a little more “dense” than most of our wonderful blogs – just bear with me & I think we’ll learn a little something new together!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – Letter of the Day Strategy

Many tutors use various strategies when it comes to guessing on the ACT – one of the most common strategies is the Letter of the Day Strategy. With this approach, if a student comes across a question that they don’t know the answer to (and can’t do any eliminating of other answer choices) or if they are running out of time and need to fill in bubbles – they use the same letter every time throughout the entire test. Guessing is a very important and easy concept for a lot of tests – particularly the ACT and LSAT, as many if not most students have trouble with the timing of these tests.

Using the LotD Strategy is considered to be the gold standard of guessing methods – as it gives you the best shot at getting one out of four questions correct on average (or one out of five in the Math portion of the ACT). Randomly guessing is much riskier: you may have a chance to get more of the questions correct, but you also have a chance of getting all of the questions incorrect. **(You still technically have a 25% chance – 20% in Math – of getting the question correct – but the odds are now positioned in a much riskier manner, statistically speaking).

While the LotD Strategy is certainly a good, risk-aversion approach to guessing on standardized tests, particularly multiple-choice test, I think for many students it is found lacking based upon a given student’s performance leading up to the guessing. What if we can increase the odds of getting questions correct from 25%, on a four answer choice test, to 30-40%?

Regression Toward the Mean 

In statistics, there’s a phenomenon call Regression Toward the Mean – which basically says that even when things are randomized, there’s a tendency for the average to be achieved over a larger sample size. For instance, if you are looking at just four Reading ACT questions, the odds that one of the answers will be A/F is ¼, but in such a small sample, it could be that it will be two correct answers or more. Or conversely, none of the answers could be A/F.

When looking at the Reading test as a whole, the sample is larger (40 questions total), so the odds that ¼ of the questions’ correct answers are A/F becomes more reliable, as the random variance has been reduced (not eliminated – as there can still be statistical anomalies).

What does this Mean?

What does this mean for a student on test day?! Particular students who are accurate with the questions that they’ve answered, but still have timing issues with particular sections (very common on many entrance exams), can improve their odds of guessing correctly by applying the aforementioned statistical concept.

For example, if a student has ten questions remaining in a set of 40 questions, they can quickly take inventory of the answer choices they’ve selected on the first 30 questions and guess the letter that has been used the least. If done correctly, the student should have a good opportunity to increase their accuracy in their guessing – which in the end will lead to a higher score.

The LotD-R strategy isn’t for everyone – and learning to quickly assess previous answers is a new skill that many haven’t previously practiced – but for some students, the strategy will allow for an improved score with minimal effort.

– Caleb Pierce

Tips for Surviving College Essays

Tips for Surviving College Essays

Brace yourselves, kids! The Common Application went live on August 1. Of course, you already knew that. You’ve been chomping at the bit to get a peek at this year’s supplements for your top choice schools. Right? Right.

Of course, the Common App prompts have been posted on their blog since March, and many of them are the same as last year:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

These prompts are specific enough to help you brainstorm, but open-ended enough to allow for some creativity in how you answer. However, for many students, that essay is just one of many. Depending on your list of colleges (I’m looking at you, Stanford), you may be facing a seemingly endless list of writing tasks.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. How does one even begin? What is this madness? You know “what outrages me,” Wake Forest? The fact that I need to write forty-seven essays.

Here are Ten Tips for surviving college essays to make your college essay writing experience less terrible. Trust me, it is possible.

  1. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes, inhale deeply. Exhale. Repeat. We’ll wait.
  2. Seriously, breathe. You skipped that because you didn’t think it was important, however it is. I promise. Your brain needs oxygen to come up with the words that make essays.
  3. Put this in perspective. These essays might seem like the most important thing ever, but they’re not even the most important part of your applications.
  4. Get organized. If you don’t have a solid college list, start there. If your college list contains 38 colleges, consider narrowing. Take stock of the essays you need to write. Make a list, or even a spreadsheet. (I know. I know. Trust me.) Include what school the essay is for, word count, and the prompt. Don’t forget essays for special majors, programs, or scholarships.
  5. Think about your experiences. The best essays are stories that only you can tell. Be specific. Your experiences don’t have to be huge, impressive accomplishments. They do have to be authentic and important to you.
  6. Are you still breathing?
  7. Connect ideas to prompts. Go back to your list. If you’ve decided you want to write an essay about how reading a certain book influenced your attitude towards life, where might that fit? Devise a plan that allows you to write less than 47 essays.
  8. Just write. You can’t revise a blank page. Set a timer for five minutes and don’t stop typing. Don’t hit backspace. Just write. It’s OK if you hate it. It’s OK if it’s terrible. Just write.
  9. Revise. Be ruthless. Cut superfluous words. You’ve got to get down to 650, or 500, or 250, or 50. You’ve got no room for anything that doesn’t have a purpose. Delete. Save your drafts. They might be useful later. Don’t get too attached to sentences. They might be beautiful. They might also be unnecessary. Go back to the prompt(s). Are you answering the question(s)? Get specific. Go deeper. Read it aloud to yourself. Does it sound like something you’d say? Record yourself. Play it back.
  10. Ask for help. It’s important that your essay be your story, in your words, but feedback is critical to any writing process. You might ask your teachers, friends, or family to read your essay and provide their thoughts. Get Smarter Prep is here to help, too. Our College Essay Writing course is designed to help you develop your ideas and write your best essays! Contact us for more information or to get started!

Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II

Tips for a successful school year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year. For Part I of this series, which focuses on Freshmen and Sophomores, please click here!

For Juniors

1) Breathe.

For many students, Junior year is the most stressful of their high school career. Remember to balance self-care with all of your other goals. “Challenge yourself” is not the same thing as “destroy yourself at the altar of academic and extracurricular perfection.” Part of time-management is knowing when to take a break.

2) Continue taking challenging courses.

For many Juniors, Junior year means AP courses. Be realistic, but challenge yourself. Talk with your counselor about the right number of AP courses based on the classes you’ve taken so far and your future goals.

3) Pursue leadership roles within extra-curricular activities.

Stick with the activities you’re most passionate about, and consider becoming more active within those environments. Look for opportunities to pursue leadership roles and responsibilities

4) Create (or Narrow) Your College List.

If you don’t have a college list, now is the time to start. If your list currently includes every mid-sized private school with a decent psychology program, it’s time to start narrowing. Keep researching, evaluating what’s important to you, and work towards creating a list of schools that you’re truly excited about.

5) Visit More Colleges.

Take tours, meet professors, and sit in on classes. Visiting will help eliminate some colleges from your list and solidify the position of others, and it’s also a great way to demonstrate interest.

6) Get your test scores in order.

If you haven’t taken a Practice ACT, do so. If you have, and you’re happy with your score, take a real test, get an official score, and move on with your life! If you’ve taken a practice test and want to boost your score, work with a tutor to get the score you need.

7) Start thinking about recommendation letters.

Think about which teachers you might want to ask, and plan to do so in the second half of Junior year. Participate in class and make connections with your teachers.

For Seniors

1) Keep up your strong academic performance!

Senior course selection and grades are important! Remember, colleges are interested in your trajectory. Keep challenging yourself with difficult courses, including AP/IB classes, and keep your GPA up.  How you perform in difficult classes your senior year will give admissions officers insight into how well you will do in challenging college courses.

2) If you need to, take the ACT or SAT one more time.

Do you need one more point to get into the middle 50 for your top school? Go for it. Take one more ACT. Don’t take one more ACT if you’re “just wondering” if your score might go up, and you haven’t spent/don’t have any time to spend on prep.

3) Ask for recommendations.

If you didn’t do so at the end of Junior year, ask for letters as soon as possible. Your favorite English teacher is going to be asked to write recs for a lot of students. Writing good recommendations takes time, and bad recommendations are not going to help you.

4) Get organized.

Know your deadlines – applications, scholarships, everything. Make a plan and stay on task. Filling out applications can be overwhelming unless you break the process down into manageable steps. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.

5) Keep visiting colleges.

Even after applications are submitted, you may want to keep visiting colleges. If you apply to 6, 8, or 10 schools you’re really excited about (and hopefully you ARE excited about all of your schools), you may need more information to make your final decision.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Tips for a Successful School Year, Part I

Tips for a Successful School Year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year.

For Freshman

1) Start taking challenging courses.

Challenging yourself now sets you up for better test scores and a more impressive transcript. Select courses that cover the core subject areas first. Choose electives that look challenging and/or represent interests you may wish to build on later.

2) Explore activities and interests.

High school may provide an opportunity to explore activities that haven’t been an option previously. Trying out a few different things (while balancing your time with schoolwork, of course!) is a great way to find strengths and passions that you can continue to pursue in the coming years, and also eliminate things that perhaps just don’t interest you as much as you thought they might.

3) Read!

Reading for pleasure has many benefits – higher test scores is just one of them. If you’re already a reader, that’s fantastic! Make time to keep reading. If not, work on cultivating the habit. Take a trip to the library and let yourself explore. Pick anything that interests you! Commit to reading one book a month this year.

For Sophomores

1) Continue taking challenging courses.

Build on your successes from last year. When colleges look at transcripts, one of the things they evaluate is your trajectory. If you took two honors courses last year, take more than two this year. Set a goal for your GPA that is higher than last year’s. Keep taking your core courses and challenging electives. Set challenging, but reasonable, goals.

2) Narrow your extracurricular activities.

You don’t have to do everything. Having some focus is beneficial, not just for your resume, but also for your life. Volunteered at three different, totally unrelated places last year? Pick the one that speaks to you the most and log some serious hours. Didn’t love yearbook? Drop it. Your time is valuable, and your activities should be things that you value.

3) Start generating a college list.

Yes, you’ve got time. But there are thousands of schools in the United States, and beginning your research now – when there’s less pressure – can actually be kind of fun. Don’t feel the need to make specific plans yet, just explore your options and see what sounds interesting.

4) Start your college visits.

Visiting colleges might seem premature if you don’t have a list, but your first visits should be less about meeting with admissions counselors and more about getting a feel for a few different colleges. Walk around a small liberal-arts campus, a big university, a medium-sized Jesuit school. Visiting colleges in your region, or that happen to be nearby on a family vacation, is a great place to start.

Look for “Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II, which focuses on Juniors and Seniors, out next week!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.