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College planning is certainly not my specialty area, but I do listen when our college counselor talks to students and families. Here are some key points I have heard her say many times.
Ninth grade matters. In most schools, the grade point average is calculated beginning in 9th grade. In some schools, certain 8th grade classes such as Algebra II might be counted in the GPA. Most 9th graders are not thinking much about their GPA and how important their grades are in upper school. It is important to help them understand how a GPA is calculated and what it means.
Extracurricular activities are important. Not only is it important to participate in things like band, drama, art, or sports, but it is also important to stick with it for the long term. If your son plays basketball in 9th grade and does well, he should continue through high school. Colleges pay attention to whether an applicant has interests outside the classroom and has the fortitude to stick with them for the long haul.
Take challenging courses. Your child does not have to take all advanced placement courses, but it is impressive if she chooses a discipline such as history or science and takes all the classes available in that track. For example, she might take honors world studies courses, AP US History, and AP Government to finish out the social studies track at the highest level possible in her school. When admissions offices look at her transcript, they will evaluate whether she is willing to challenge herself or whether she tends to take the easy path.
Do community service. Colleges also like to see that your child demonstrates an ethic of caring for others. Serving food at the local food bank or coaching younger students in the Special Olympics shows that he not only cares, but he is also willing to work to make a difference in the world.
Moving from 8th grade into 9th is a big change. It is important to discuss with your young high schooler the importance of working hard and doing her best. Seek advice from the college guidance counselor to help choose appropriate courses and to make sure she is doing all the right things to get ready for success in college.