If you’re an incoming 9th grader, college most likely seems miles away. However, in reality, college is a mere 40 months away, and college preparations begin long before then. In order to make your freshman year as painless and successful as possible, here are some tips on getting a “strong start” to your high school career!
Does 9th Grade Really Matter?
While your freshman grades may not have a huge impact on your chances of getting into college, your freshman year certainly sets the foundation for the rest of your high school career. Colleges are looking for not only the top grades, but strong extracurriculars, test scores, awards, and letters of recommendation— not to mention personal essays.
Now, this may seem like a lot, but if you take it step by step, it’s most definitely doable. The first step is to determine your key priorities for 9th grade, which is the optimal year for:
forming strong study habits
developing strong relationships with counselors and teachers
The Summer Before
The key to making your freshman year as stress-less as possible is preparing early and thoroughly, and that preparation begins in the summer. Summer is the perfect opportunity to ensure that you can enter high school on the right foot.
Here’s a checklist for a productive summer:
Prepare for advanced high school subjects - High school is a vast ocean of new and challenging courses, and these courses, undoubtedly, require extra work and dedication. Previewing the material from these rigorous classes will give you the leg-up needed to make sure the beginning of your freshman year runs smoothly. You can find resources online, use applicable textbooks, or take classes on the subject you need help with.
Create strong study methods - Summer is the ideal time to begin experimenting with study strategies. Determining the best study method for you will make your studying process much easier, and will save you a lot of time, not to mention, frustration. Spend some time testing out various methods to see which one works best for you. Remember, different subjects can be more compatible with different strategies. Study methods can include flashcards, writing terms down by hand, and teaching the concept to another person.
Develop an outline of your school-year schedule - Once your course list and extracurriculars are roughly finalized, plan out your schedule to get an idea of when you’ll have time to study and complete your homework. This plan can and most likely will change as the year continues, but having a schedule will give you a general idea of how your routine will work.
It’s essential to start the first semester of freshman year right. Having solid grades in 9th grade will help you down the line, and will definitely save you from an overwhelming junior or senior year.
Here’s a checklist for a productive first semester:
Maintain a solid GPA - Your top priority in 9th grade should be obtaining the highest GPA you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers or classmates if you are struggling with any concepts. Make sure to complete all of your assignments on time and to the best of your ability— teachers want to see you try your best.
Catch up on all of your classes - The worst thing you can do is ignore any confusion or questions you may have about the concepts you are learning; you’re practically setting yourself up for failure this way. Many subjects are cumulative, meaning their curriculums are structured so that every topic builds upon the previous one. Thus, it’s imperative that you ask for help when you need it, and ensure that you fully understand everything you are being taught.
Explore extracurriculars - High school is the time to figure out your passions. Most high schools have various clubs that allow you to explore your interests, whether that be art, music, coding, or whatnot. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and join the clubs that spark interest for you.
You’re halfway done with your freshman year— it’s the homestretch. The second half of the year is all about continuing on the steady foundation you created in the first half. This semester may seem long, but stay focused!
Here’s a checklist for a productive second semester:
Continue maintaining a solid GPA - Now that you have settled into freshman year, it’s time to make sure that your grades don’t slip, or even improve. Take advantage of all the resources at your fingertips, such as the internet and your teachers, who are there to help you. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for any extra credit opportunities if your grade is in need of a boost; it can’t hurt to ask.
Continue staying up-to-date with your classes - It’s incredibly tempting to simply close your notebook with a half-completed page of homework, but creating a pattern out of doing a lackluster job on homework can be detrimental. If you don’t understand a topic, attend extra-help sessions or ask a friend. It’s far better to ask for help immediately than wait for a small problem to snowball into a large one.
Continue exploring extracurriculars and become more involved - By second semester, you’ve probably joined a club or clubs that interest you: great! If these clubs offer leadership positions or opportunities to show your dedication, take advantage of them. These positions will provide you with incredible chances to further pursue your passions.
Choose a challenging, yet realistic course-load for 10th grade - Toward the last few months of school, you will be given the chance to select your courses for the next year. Using your experiences from 9th grade, choose a course-load that will push you, while also staying within your capabilities. While it’s important to not stretch yourself too thin, this can also be an opportunity to expand your knowledge on subjects you are interested in. For example, if you are particularly good at English, try opting for an honors or even AP class.
Written below are some frequently asked questions by incoming high schoolers. Read below for some advice on preparing for the SAT/ACT, AP classes, and college applications!
1. When should I start preparing for the SAT/ACT?
Most students typically begin taking the SAT or ACT in their junior year, as early decision applications are usually due in November of their senior year. Depending on the classes you have taken in middle school and freshman year, you may be ready to begin studying for the standardized tests. Below are the skills that will appear on the SAT or ACT:
Skills Needed for the SAT
Math - Number and operations; algebra and functions; geometry and measurements; data analysis, statistics, and probability
Reading - Reading comprehension; main idea; making inferences; relationships; interpreting data and graphs
Writing - Grammar rules; effective use of language
Skills Needed for the ACT
Math - Number and quantity; statistics and probability; functions; geometry; pre-algebra; algebra 1 and 2; rates and percentages; ratios and proportions; volume, surface area, area; average and median; modeling
Reading - Key Ideas and details; craft and structure; integration of knowledge
Science - Biology; chemistry; physics; Earth/space sciences
If you are determined to get a head start on your test prep, it's a great idea to get an overview of the contents covered in each section of the exam before planning your study timeline. You can familiarize yourself with all the concepts and related question types with our SAT self-paced course.
2. How many AP classes should I be taking?
As frustrating as it may be, there is no set or magic number of AP classes that will guarantee your admission into college. AP classes are a good way to impress college admission boards, but they are not the “end all, be all”. The number of AP classes you choose to take should reflect on these factors:
- The selectiveness of your desired schools
- The AP classes available at your high school
- Your interest in the subjects
- Your ability to handle rigorous workloads
Taking an AP class can have multiple impacts:
- AP courses can boost your GPA, depending on your school’s policy
- You can earn college credit by having high AP exam scores
- 4s or 5s on AP exams will impress college admission boards
- Taking an AP course can show your interest for certain subjects
Since AP exam requires relatively high level of academic understanding, you can opt to take AP lessons or tutorings for a more effective approach. Since passing AP classes with a good grade will also boost your GPA, benefitting from expert help on select subjects can definitely improve your overall academic performance in high school.
3. When should I start preparing for my college applications?
Freshman year is a great time to begin thinking seriously about what you want to study and where you might be able to get the best education for you— don’t worry, nothing’s in stone yet; this is just to get an idea of your future.
As you go through high school, it is extremely helpful to make a list of your extracurriculars, achievements, and volunteer/work experience. This way, when Common App opens, you won’t be racking your brain to remember the award you won in April of 9th grade.
Again, as you progress through high school, make an ongoing list of personal essay ideas. Inspiration strikes at the most unusual times, so make sure to jot all of your ideas down, as not to forget them senior year. This will make your essay-writing experience much easier, as you won’t be spending as much time coming with ideas, and can focus on writing.
Want More Guidance on Preparing for College in 9th Grade?
Prestige Institute is a leading SAT/ACT preparation agency providing top-notch test prep and academic courses for high school students. Our individualized care system sets us apart from other programs as we leverage student data to deliver personalized experience based on each student's strengths and weaknesses.
9th grade students can get specific help on extra curricular activities, competitions, school homework and more to best support their own goals. Get a free consultation to learn what path you should take in order to prepare for the college of your choice.