Two-thirds of your child’s college application is based on what happens in 9th and 10th grade.

Let that sink in for a moment.

So, if your student is planning to do early applications—which you should definitely encourage—preparing for college during the freshman and sophomore years of high school is extremely important.

Aside from the obvious tasks of maintaining excellent grades and participating in extracurriculars, there are three important things that 9th and 10th graders should be doing to make the college application process go that much more smoothly.

College apps don’t have to be a stressful process because thinking ahead can make everything easier.

Parents, your 9th or 10th grader should go on college visits, get involved in the community, and make time for having fun.

    College Visits

The best way to get excited about college is to go see one.

A college visit could be something you incorporate into a family vacation, or it could be as simple as driving across town one afternoon to tour your local campus.

The experience of seeing a campus can help motivate 9th or 10th graders to make the connection between the midterm they don’t want to study for and getting the acceptance letter to the college of their dreams.

Physically going to a college campus helps high schoolers realize that college is real—and not that far away.

    Tips for Scheduling a Visit

  1. Do online research. Depending on the university, registering for a campus tour could be as easy as choosing a date and filling out a reservation form online. Look for the “Admissions” page and search for campus tours or an open house (usually scheduled in the fall).
  2. Give the admissions department a call. Students who call the admissions department to ask about how to prepare for a campus tour will be welcomed by a friendly admissions counselor, receive info about where to park or which campus guides are funniest, and hear about unadvertised activities that might be available on campus for high schoolers.
  3. Ask about visiting a class. Sometimes visiting an actual college class is reserved for high school seniors, but many universities allow younger students to sit in too. If you can’t listen to a class yet, you should ask about special events hosted by different departments to showcase certain majors or courses of study.
  4. Sign up to receive promotional material. Admissions departments will send your student both email and snail mail with information about their university, upcoming events, and how and when to apply.

    Don’t Forget Virtual Tours!

Virtual tours are available online for free. Our favorite site is youvisit.com. The majority of university websites also have promotional videos that can give 9th and 10th graders a good preview of what to expect on the real tour.

Virtual tours might also be good for 9th graders to get their feet wet thinking about college. Plus, if your 9th or 10th grader has a dream college that’s too far away to visit just yet, the virtual tour can help fill in until the real deal is possible.

    Getting Involved

The next most exciting way to get ready for college is to contribute to your community. Many 9th or 10th graders are at the perfect age to volunteer, and there is no age too young to promote community service!

Helping your freshman or sophomore choose a volunteer activity that is tailored to his or her ongoing interests will increase the likelihood that the community service will be something he or she loves to do. If they can’t find something structured that they enjoy, help them come up with their own idea or project.

Here are some ideas for places teen volunteers can look for opportunities to serve:

  • Soup kitchens
  • Animal shelters
  • Senior centers
  • Food banks
  • Libraries
  • Hospitals
  • Religious centers
  • Charitable organizations

Visit voly.org or volunteermatch.org to search for volunteer opportunities near you.

Remember, volunteering is like having an unpaid job. Aim for a long-term commitment. Stick to one or two activities or organizations rather than jumping around. In addition to service, teens also get the chance to practice professionalism and boost that resume.

    Having Fun

With all the demands that high school presents, college prep shouldn’t take away family time or free time. 9th and 10th graders also need to socialize, pursue hobbies, and relax at home.

It’s like eating a balanced diet: you can’t have all dairy all the time. You need to mix things up and include variety each day.

Having plenty of fun will ensure that your student is rested, refreshed, and ready to get back to academics, extracurriculars, volunteering, and the very exciting prospect of visiting colleges.

They’ll be leaving for college in the blink of an eye. Spending time together is more valuable than ever before. Take advantage of these years.

So, even though it may seem early, your 9th or 10th grader can start preparing for college right now.

Encourage them to plan beyond academics to grow into a future-thinking, community-serving, fulfilled young person who is ready for college.