There are many things you can do in your first two years of high school to set yourself up for success in your juniors and senior years:
Be on top of your grades. A few minor slip-ups on your transcript freshman year won’t put you out of the race for a selective college, but you’ll be in a much more secure position if you keep your grades strong throughout all four years.
Challenge yourself. Be sure to take a challenging course load your first two years to avoid getting left behind. However, while in a rush to take the most AP classes or claim the #1 spot in a class, don’t forget about your mental and physical health!
Get involved in extracurriculars early. Dedication and passion are valued highly by admissions officers when it comes to extracurriculars; an absurdly long list of vague extracurricular pursuits, not so much. As a freshman or sophomore, you may not have much of an idea of what career you’d like to pursue, and accordingly, you may struggle to choose extracurriculars. In these first couple years, it’s acceptable and even practical to sign up for various clubs, teams, and other organizations while you figure out your interests. Over time, you’ll begin to realize which pursuits truly interest you and which are not a valuable use of your time. Once you’ve narrowed your list of extracurriculars down, seek out leadership opportunities. If a club you’re involved with allows students to apply for leadership roles, be sure to do so. If you’re on an athletic or academic team, demonstrate the passion and dedication that will make coaches take note and might land you a team captain position. Try to look for ways to get involved outside of school too – being a regular volunteer at a local nonprofit, medical center, church, or other organization can even get you an excellent and unique letter of recommendation come your senior year.
Utilize your summers. The importance of using summers effectively cannot be overemphasized. A great way to utilize your summers as a rising sophomore or junior is to volunteer, perhaps at a local nonprofit or your town’s city hall. Getting experience and forming relationships in the first couple years of high school can land you internships or job offers later on. Additionally, if your school requires a certain number of volunteer hours to graduate or offers special awards or commendations to students who have completed a certain number of hours, you can use your summers to rack up volunteer hours and knock these out of the way early on.
It’s never too early to apply for scholarships. It may seem extreme, but there are a whole host of scholarships offered specifically to students in their first two years of high school. Sites like Raiseme.com and Fastweb.com are a good place to start.
Start thinking about colleges. Even if college feels a lifetime away as a freshman or sophomore, you’ll be filling out those applications before you know it. If you begin considering which colleges you might apply to come your senior year early on, you’ll have ample time to research your schools, consider potential majors, and visit campuses. Also, demonstrating an interest in colleges early on by attending summer programs or information sessions can make more of a difference than you might expect.