Apply to vetted scholarship programs in one clickAdvertiser disclosure
Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
How to Begin the Admissions Process as a Freshman or Sophomore
The process of college admissions seems to loom over your entire high school experience; to some extent, it’s on our minds from the moment we show up for our first day of freshman year. But how can you begin preparing for the admissions process in those first few years? This guide will tell you all you can do during your first two years of high school to work towards a successful admissions process down the line.
At this point, the process is much less specific and tactical, but there are certainly many things that students should keep in mind as they navigate their school year.
The best way to succeed in the admissions process is to ignore the admissions process
By this, I mean that students and families should look inward instead of outward. Too many students think about admissions as following a formula (ie: good grades + this leadership position + one essay topic = Harvard). This is not a good mentality and will often backfire on an applicant. One of the toughest things about admissions for admissions officers is that so many applicants look the same.
Instead, students should work on developing their interests and passions. In the admissions process, it is more important to be authentic and interesting than having simply “achieved.” Explore your interests and test your assumptions through activities and projects that reflect real interest and passion.
Academically, you should be pushing yourself as much as possible
Generally, there are three aspects of your academic schedule that you should take into account:
Depth: Continue to take subjects beyond the minimal requirements. Even if you don’t have to take another science course, you should continue to take science for all four years.
Breadth: If possible, you should take four years of all of the core academic subjects: English, math, science, social science, and foreign language.
Rigor: You should take the most challenging classes that you can handle. Obviously, it is not a great situation if you are getting multiple C’s or staying up all night to finish your homework, leading you to be stressed all the time. However, an intellectual workout is never a bad thing. For more information on striking a healthy balance here, check out our guide on how many AP courses you should take in high school.
Develop meaningful relationships with teachers
While I may not remember all of the details of the War of 1812, I certainly remember my 8th grade teacher (thank you, Mr. Aronis) and the impact that he had on my education. Remember, teachers can be fantastic resources and mentors! Not only will you do better in your classes, but your teachers will get to know you better (which is key for when they write your recommendations).
As someone who has written recommendations for many students, the easiest recommendations to write were for the students I knew well. When I knew a student, it inspired me to write a more authentic recommendation as opposed to rehashing the student’s resume.
Keep an open mind
You will probably change quite a bit in the next few years. Your interests, preferences, friendships, and goals may all change (or at least some of them). The admissions process is really about your transition into adulthood, so the decisions that you make now will matter down the line.
Try to keep a journal with some of the meaningful changes that you undergo – this will prove very helpful when college essays roll around, and it’s time to reflect on your passions and what motivates you. Even the process of writing down your thoughts will make you much more capable at writing an essay about yourself down the line.
In this vein, college is not the only end-goal to the admissions process. Rather, a meaningful and purpose-driven life is, which college can certainly play a role in creating. So, keep that in mind as you continue to mature throughout high school.
Apply for scholarships
While it may be too early to actually start filling out your college application, it’s never too early to start on scholarship applications. Check out our lists of scholarships for high school freshmen and high school sophomores to start.
Since most students wait until later to start applying, you’ll have less competition in these scholarships, and what’s more, you’ll find yourself responding to prompts that are very similar to what your college essay prompts will be.
So, you’ll end up with some practice for your college applications, (hopefully) some money to fund your education, and you’ll lighten the load of scholarship searching during your more hectic junior and senior years. A win-win-win!
Start your scholarship search
Enjoy your high school years!
Although a lot of emphasis is placed on the admissions process during high school, remember it is not the only important thing. Enjoy your time in school, build friendships, and immerse yourself in classes.
Check out our high school checklist for a guide to some of the goals you may set for yourself in order to have a great four years in school. And bookend your school years with some great summer programs for high school students to complement your classroom education and enjoy the summer!
Frequently asked questions about how to begin the admissions process as a freshman or sophomore
Is it hard to get into college?
Can I only ask teachers for recommendation letters?
What GPA do I need to get into college?