Weekly College Column

The College Planning Calendar – for high school freshmen and sophomores

Most of the fall and through the end of the year I focus my column on seniors since they’re in the middle of the application process; writing essays, getting letters of recommendation, applying for scholarships and financial aid and so much more.

But now, it’s January, and counselors like me get to change their focus to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.  Here’s what freshmen and sophomores should be doing and thinking about over the next several months. Next week I’ll go deep into what’s important for juniors.


It’s never too early to plan for the future!

  • Build strong academic, language, mathematics, and critical thinking skills by taking challenging courses.
  • Study hard and get excellent grades.
  • Strengthen your vocabulary by increasing your reading.
  • Become involved in extra-curricular activities.
  • Meet your high school guidance counselor and discuss your plans for the next four years.
  • Browse through college literature or research colleges online to get an idea of what kinds of schools may be of interest to you.
  • Take career assessments, and college major assessments to determine if you should apply to specific kinds of colleges.
  • Check out what high school courses colleges require.
  • Know NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) requirements if you want to play sports in college.
  • Keep an academic portfolio and co-curricular record.
  • Research career possibilities.
  • Start saving money for college now if you haven’t already done so – consider 529 plans and consult with a financial advisor to understand how, how much you save and where you put it has impacts down the road.


Concentrate on academic preparation and continue to develop basic skills and co-curricular interests.


  • Keep studying!
  • Volunteer—a great way to identify your interests and to develop skills.
  • Start thinking about your summer (academic programs, community service, job-shadowing/internships, etc.)


  • It is never too early to start researching colleges and universities. Visit your guidance office to browse through literature and guidebooks or surf the Web and check out college and university home pages.


  • Apply for summer programs.
  • Create your initial college list.

 April & May

  • Continue to research career options and consider possible college majors that will help you achieve your career goals.
  • Make arrangements to visit a few college campuses over the summer.

 June – July – August

  • If you work, save some of your earnings for college.
  • During the summer, you may want to sign up for a PSAT/SAT prep course, use computer software, or do the practice tests in books designed to familiarize you with standardized tests.
  • Make your summer productive. Continue reading to increase your vocabulary.

September – October

  • Take the PSAT (pre-SAT) and the PLAN (pre-ACT) if they are offered at your school. The results will not be used for college admission, but provide a great opportunity for students to “test-drive” each of the tests and hopefully determine that one suits them better.
  • Sign up, if you have not done so already, for extra-curricular activities that interest you. Colleges are most concerned with a student’s level of involvement and accomplishment, not the number of activities. One of the biggest changes in the college admissions process is that colleges would rather see depth than breadth and are more impressed with a student’s commitment to one or two activities than a laundry list of clubs that haven’t had much impact on their lives.
  • Think about how you want to get involved in extracurricular activities at your school. Admissions officers prefer to see students commit to one or two activities where they can have an impact, rather than jumping around and dabbling in a dozen activities that aren’t as meaningful.
  • Keep a record of your extra-curricular involvement, volunteer work, and employment (all year).


  • Make sure you are “on top” of your academic work. If necessary, meet with your teacher for additional help.
  • Save your best work in academic courses and the arts for your academic portfolio (all year).


  • Receive results of PLAN and/or PSAT. Read materials sent with your score report. Consult your guidance counselor to improve on future standardized tests and courses to discuss which may be required or beneficial for your post-high school plans.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com



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