If you know a student in 8th grade or their freshman year of high school, hear me now – freshman year counts. When students apply to college in the fall of their senior year. they have only three years’ worth of grades to share. So freshman year is one third of that cumulative GPA. For every “C” grade a student earns in freshman year, they will need an “A” to bring that up to a “B”. Imagine what a “D” does to a GPA.
I worked with a client who fell in love with a particular college. The student was a good fit for this school, except in her freshman year she hadn’t applied herself to her studies they way she did in subsequent years. While colleges will be pleased to see her improvement, there’s nothing she can do to change what that year did to her GPA, removing her from their typical GPA range for admitted students. Her response when I brought this up was that she wished that someone had told her this in her freshman year. So I’m telling you.
The other thing I can’t fix for students in their senior year is the level of involvement and engagement they’ve had in high school. While it’s true that most schools are concerned with your GPA first, the rigor of your high school curriculum second and your ACT or SAT scores third, your extracurricular activities are not to be dismissed. Colleges want students who will be active on their campuses and the number one predictor of that involvement is whether a student has been involved with his school and/or community in high school. If you decide to spend your freshman and sophomore years crushing opponents in Call of Duty or folding thousands of origami fish or becoming a leading expert on The Vampire Diaries, don’t be surprised that most colleges will not find those pursuits as valuable as you have found them.
What is valuable to schools? Depth, not breadth. That translates to: don’t join everything, join things you’re truly into and stick with them. Being a “member” of 6 clubs is not nearly as impactful as being a leader in one club and competing at the state level with another. And if you’re not a natural athlete or artist or actor or musician, your best bet is to think outside the box.
What do you really love? Animals? Start a non-profit, or align yourself with a local animal shelter and become their biggest supporter – take photos, tweet and Instagram for them, ask everyone you know for old towels. Blog for them.
Do you love traveling? Convince your family to host an exchange student and see if you can later stay with that student’s family. Look into summer travel programs for students – some have volunteer components and can be very inexpensive. Others have scholarship programs to help defray expenses.
If gaming is your thing, take it to the next level. Create a summer camp for kids obsessed with Minecraft or teach basic coding and/or gaming skills. Organize a game-a-thon to raise money for a charity.
The final thing that’s important about freshman year is your choice of classes. If you aren’t taking the most challenging courses available to you from the outset in high school, these types of courses are not going to be offered to you later. Part of that is a simple matter of course sequencing, the other part is that you will be stereotyped as someone who either can’t or won’t work at a higher level. So when your counselor offers you Honors courses, take them. If your counselor doesn’t offer you advanced-level coursework, ask why. Push to be given the chance to prove yourself.