College Prep: Tips for 9th and 10th Graders

If you are either a current 9th or 10th grader or the parent of one, it is likely that college prep has or will soon come up in conversations. Realizing this, Westtown School’s Director of College Counseling visited our ninth and tenth-grade students in early February and shared these thoughts about college.

At this point, our recommendations about college are always about how to make the most of high school. We want students to work hard and learn a lot, not just because strong grades look impressive to colleges, but because the learning you gain along the way will make you a better student and a more interesting person. Looking good is nice, but if you go through high school trying to merely look good (for college or anyone else) instead of being your full self, you won’t have a very satisfying experience.

With that in mind, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  1. Anytime I speak to a large group of students, I know some people in the room are working really hard and need to be told it’s going to be okay, and they need to remember to take care of themselves, not just their work. Others in the room are enjoying all the time with their friends and activities and need to be reminded to step up and challenge themselves with their studies. Many students are in the middle of these possibilities. Think about what you need to hear and take that message with you. As always, your health and well-being are the first priority. As you think about how to do good work in your classes and contribute to the community, be sure to allow time for family, friends, fun, good eating, deep sleeping, nature, exercise, and downtime. Look out for yourself and your classmates and contact an adult if you’re concerned.
  2. Yes, your grades count for college. No, you don’t need to panic. This is a good time to check in with your teachers and advisors about what you can do to continue strong work or improve your efforts.
  3. Stronger grades give you more college options later, especially if you’re worried about affording college. The higher your grades, the more likely you are to be admitted and to gain merit aid —free money for being a great student. That said, keep this in balance! Many students are already working very hard, while others could use more motivation.
  4. Course selection will start in the next few weeks. If you’re earning As and Bs, it might be a good time to think about adding an advanced course for next year. (If you’re currently in tenth grade, you’ll have more choices for next year —rising tenth graders (current ninth graders) will have fewer options for advanced courses, which might be math, science, or US History.) Talk with your teachers and advisor to get suggestions about good classes for you. There are many ways to plan your courses, but most often colleges want to see you take the five major subjects (English, math, science, history, language) for all four years.
  5. We’re a little past halfway through the year. This is a good time to think about what you are doing besides class and sports. Are there activities you want to try? If you’re already part of a club, committee, or group, do you want to do more? Do you want to run for a class officer or other leadership position (especially for rising juniors)? We need people who give to the community in all kinds of ways: formal and informal leadership, center stage and backstage, starting varsity and JV. Think about what you’re doing and what you might want to do.

 And always reach out to your college counseling office if you have any questions. They are there to help you!

Author Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is Director of College Counseling at Westtown School. Previously, she served as Associate Director of College Guidance, faculty co-clerk, English teacher, and English department chair at Wilmington Friends School. She attended Mount Holyoke College and earned her M.S. Ed. at the University of Pennsylvania.