Now that you've left the freshman ranks, here are five things sophomores should do this year.
1. Take the PSAT or the PLAN.
The PSAT and PLAN are the practice tests of the SAT and ACT respectively. Your school decides which one to offer, usually in October. And since the results of whichever one you take this year will never be used for admissions purposes, it’s a great chance to get some experience with standardized tests without feeling too much pressure.
2. Don’t you dare worry about the results of the PSAT or PLAN.
Remember how I just said the PSAT and PLAN are both practice tests? That means you shouldn’t worry about the results. They don’t count for anything. That might seem obvious, but a lot of sophomores (and even more parents of sophomores) see the results, immediately go to the testing equivalent of DEFCON 1, and rush to intensive test prep. It’s not uncommon for smart sophomores to underperform on these tests (and your scores are compared with those of the juniors, so it’s normal to be technically below average). You can address test prep later. But for now, you should be focusing on other things like…
3. Practice being a good student.
Obviously, you want to work as hard as you can to get good grades. But being a good student means more than just having a high GPA. Practice participating in class discussions. Raise your hand and ask questions. If you need extra help, visit your teacher (don’t let your parents approach the teacher for you). And those students who get A’s without seeming to try very hard? Learn how to do what they do. Here's one past post, and another, that can help.
4. Find activities you really enjoy.
Colleges don’t care which activities you do (or how many of them you do). What they care about is that you find activities you love, then work hard enough to make an impact while doing them. So don’t get involved in anything just because you’ve heard that it will “look good to colleges.” Instead, find activities you really enjoy. Whether it’s sports, clubs, journalism, a part-time job, community service, karate, taking art classes after school or anything else that’s productive and not covered by the criminal code, if you love it and work hard at it, chances are that colleges will appreciate your efforts.
5. Remember to relax and have fun, too.
The most successful people in the universe still make time to relax and have fun. That’s how they recharge their batteries and refill their creative juices (two clichés in one sentence has to be a record, but I’m going for effect here). It’s fine to occasionally sacrifice fun and even some sleep in the name of working hard and committing to your goals. But you won’t find a college that expects you to totally abandon relaxation and fun throughout high school. In fact, some very selective colleges even have essay questions that ask you what you do for fun. So work hard, but be a kid, relax, and occasionally goof off, too.