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How to Begin the Admissions Process as a Freshman or Sophomore

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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Updated: November 28th, 2023
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. 

Also see: What are extracurriculars and why are they so important?

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!

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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?

It depends. Each school will have its own essay requirements and GPA standards. For instance, it’s more difficult to get into an Ivy League school than a Public Ivy. Your likelihood of getting accepted also largely depends on how good your application is, so get started early!

Can I only ask teachers for recommendation letters?

 Nope! You can ask coaches, mentors, bosses, or any other adult in your life that isn’t part of your family. As long as they know you well, and play an instrumental role in your academic life then they can write your recommendation letter.

What GPA do I need to get into college?

For most colleges, it’s best to have at least a 3.0 GPA when applying. The higher the GPA, the better it might look on your application, but that’s not all colleges look at. Schools want well-rounded applicants, and they take extracurriculars, essays and extenuating circumstances into consideration .

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