I am often asked what 9th and 10th graders should be doing to prepare for the college application process. I am a strong believer that high school kids should have time to just be high school kids. There is so much pressure on these kids as it is - it doesn't seem fair that the the whole high school experience should be overshadowed by the concern of the appropriate college admissions outcome. Teenagers need time to explore their interests, understand their strengths, take risks, develop strong peer relationships and have fun. Not all students may be ready to think about college, particularly not right after high school.
Yet, the reality is that there are some things that you should be thinking about in the beginning of high school if college is the next step. Many of these were addressed in a recent podcast episode of Your College Bound Kid. I will focus on one of these today:
When you are planning your courses, look ahead. Consider how the choices you are making now will play out in 11th and 12th grade. Colleges and universities all have course requirements for admission, but many also have course recommendations. If you are a student who may be looking to apply to a selective institution, you do not want to be in 11th grade and begin your college research, only to find that you should have stayed with that foreign language (if you can, you should, by the way) or that your intended major requires at least pre-Calculus, but preferably calculus. Students may run into scheduling trouble as they move through high school and having a plan early on will ensure that you can prioritize the courses you need.
For example, if you look at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's admissions requirements, they "highly recommend advancing through pre-calculus or calculus, if available"and they look for 3-4 years of science, social science, and a world language, in addition to your 4 years of English.
Each college/university will indicate their admissions requirements on their website. To give yourself the most options when it is time to apply to college, I recommend the following:
4 years of English
4 years of Math
At least 3 years of Natural Sciences, including at least 1 lab course
At least 3 years of Social Sciences/Social Studies
At least 3 years of the same Foreign Language (many schools will count the 8th grade year towards a unit of language)
At least 1 unit of visual or performing arts
The goal is to pursue the most academically rigorous curriculum you can handle, while maintaining good grades (As and Bs). It is absolutely recommended to push yourself to try a more challenging class even if it means risking a grade lower than A.