I’m a sophomore – how do I prepare for college?

Seniors, we love you. Yes, we know you’re still applying to some regular decision college deadlines and yes, we saw you reviewing UC personal insight questions over Thanksgiving break to meet the November 30th deadline. Listen, we really do love you, but we feel it’s time the sophomores get a little spotlight.

Sophomores! It’s your second year in high school and college might be the last thing on your mind. Your parents, however, may have it very much on the forefront of thought, but nonetheless it feels a bit strange to prepare when it’s so far away, and not to mention, you’re just trying to get through finals.

College is kind of this big looming thing. You hear about common colleges, you also hear it’s getting harder, the SAT or ACT may (or may not be?) a part of the process, that’s definitely confusing, and you really have no idea if colleges want to see you volunteer or play soccer, or take a service trip to a country to rebuild homes?? Who knows. Never fear!

I am a big fan of dividing the college process into larger goals for each semester and breaking it down into smaller tasks along the way, so you feel ready, confident and not like those seniors in the college center panicking a day before the deadline.


Colleges are interested in building communities of students that bring different things to campus. The question of whether or not to volunteer or participate in a club is entirely up to YOU. Think about your involvement in activities and see which ones you’d like to continue participating in and the ones you want to drop off. Seek ways to add growth in your interests outside of the classroom by taking on more leadership roles, or seeing if your work can have a larger impact in the community around you. Research further into a field of interest beyond the classroom and find creative ways to build your student resume. Don’t know what you’re interested in?

Personality assessments can help you understand what spaces and areas you thrive in more. You can take a free Myer’s Briggs assessment and the results will help you better understand the careers your personality type tends to thrive in better. You can also explore

You can explore careers and on California Career Zone.

ACTION ITEM: Make a list of your current activities and responsibilities outside of the classroom. Highlight the ones you want to keep doing and cross off the ones less meaningful. Think about ways you can dive further into the highlighted activities to show more depth and growth.

Remember, colleges will not have a preference on WHAT you do, but they do care to see what meaningful ways you genuinely spend your time! Here’s an example from the UC application of all the different categories an activity can be!


Some high schools will offer the PSAT 10 exam to its students. This is purely a preliminary exam and your scores do not go to colleges and universities. You’ll typically take a PSAT/NMSQT in junior year and then decide your testing journey from there.

The landscape of testing is continually changing. But the good news is that students have never had more power in choice than now regarding testing. You can take an official SAT or ACT in the junior year, retake it if necessary, and then decide if your score can be added to your college applications in your senior year as an added value.

The California State Universities and UCs no longer use the SAT or ACT as a part of their admission review process.

Private and out-of-state colleges will vary on whether they use the SAT or ACT as a part of their review process. Colleges will either: Require Testing, be Test Optional, or Test Free (Blind). Test Optional gives you the option to submit a test score or not, while a Test Free policy means that test scores are not considered at all even if submitted.  

International universities tend to be more straightforward in their admission review process and have clear testing requirements that may include SAT/ACT test scores and AP scores. 

Okay, so how do you keep track?? Well, first, it’s important to remember that testing policies might CHANGE by the time your class applies in the senior year. Don’t have a crystal ball? Me either. Just know you can take an official SAT or ACT (either test, does not matter) in your junior year/early fall senior year, and see where you’re applying to colleges and if it makes sense to send a score or not. I won’t go too much more into the weeds here, but an AWESOME resource is the Compass Guide to College Admission Testing.


This IS the area that matters! You have your high school year to show growth in grades, consistency in strong grades, leveling up to advanced, honors or AP coursework where you feel you’ll be successful in, and going above and beyond minimum requirements in the subject areas you’re successful in. Utilize your counselor to choose your schedule that will challenge you, but also support you!


This is HUGE. There are literally thousands of colleges and universities and they range in size, location, campus environment, and academic offerings. Tour a college (here’s a link to California colleges and universities college visit pages), check out the Fiske Guide, and sites like CollegeXpress and BigFuture College Search.

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