High school sophomores are often the invisible students. They don’t get the same attention as when they were freshmen, but they’re not yet under the often-intense college prep pressure that begins in junior year and continues through graduation.

“Nobody’s hyper yet about sophomores,” says John Boshoven, counselor for continuing education at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. “They’re just glad they survived 9th grade.”

So when it comes to preparing your sophomore for college, Boshoven’s primary advice is just to pay attention. Don’t let her be invisible. Make sure she is taking the right classes and focusing on doing her best. Nothing carries as much weight in college admissions as a strong GPA.

He doesn’t recommend launching full-on into the college selection process at this stage. Most students are not developmentally able to plan so far in advance, says Boshoven, who is active in the National Association for College Admission Counseling and counsels families privately on college admissions.

“Rather than focus too much on college, I prefer the child have the best high school experience,” he says. “By junior and senior year, it will be time to create a realistic list.”

Here are Boshoven’s tips for encouraging your sophomore to reach his potential:

Talk about college in a positive, general way. Some kids want to talk about college all the time, wondering “Will I have a car?” “Will I have my own dorm room?” “Will I have to take math?” Other sophomores never mention life beyond high school. As a parent, it’s best to talk about college when it comes up naturally in conversation, keeping your comments general and upbeat. Let your child know you’re confident he’ll do well at the college that is right for him.

Focus on the now. Don’t get caught up in planning for the future. Instead, focus on the present. Is your child getting his homework done? Getting to school on time? Getting good grades? Making time for friends and family? Most important, is your child happy? If she seems stressed out and miserable, help her find a way to excel in school and have time for fun.

Choose courses wisely. The courses your child chooses to take her sophomore year can affect her college options. Some kids want to take easier courses because they want a high grade-point average. Others try to take the hardest classes they can in hopes of impressing college admissions officers. Boshoven’s advice: “Take the most rigorous course you can be successful in.” And don’t shy away from teachers with reputations for being tough. Those teachers will prepare you well for college and beyond, he says.

Address motivation. Lack of motivation is a common problem for sophomores. Some may be burned out after years of working hard. Others might be more interested in socializing. Work with the school to find ways to reach your child. “The school and parents really need to hold hands here,” says Boshoven. If your child isn’t listening to you, maybe the college counselor at school can get through.

Help your child set and reach goals. You can’t do your child’s geometry homework for her, but you can help her set shorter- and longer-term goals and manage her time. Many teenagers need help breaking large projects into manageable chunks and figuring out the steps needed to reach the finish line.

Encourage your child to pursue passions. Instead of signing up for every extracurricular activity offered, encourage your child to pick one or two things he enjoys. College admissions officers are not impressed with a long resume of activities. They like to see a student who makes room for the activities that matter most to him.

Don’t force your dreams on your child. If you had a great experience at Penn State, it’s normal to want your child to follow in your footsteps. But ease up on your enthusiasm for your alma mater during your child’s early high school years. You want her to pursue her own dreams, not try to relive yours.

Your child’s sophomore year should be about feeling comfortable in high school and figuring out how to balance school and home life. Tenth grade doesn’t need to be about stressing out over college admissions or zeroing in on the school she absolutely must attend. By paying attention and listening to your sophomore and not letting her become invisible, you’ll help her get on a path to the college that is right for her.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.