College Action Plan for Sophomores
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
January 31, 2019
Sophomore year is a time when high school students have settled in. They know the drill and how high school works. At this point, they will start to think about life after college in a very generic way. Their path is starting to take shape. What are some things parents can be thinking about now? Time for a College Action Plan.
Now that freshman requirements are out of the way, sophomores can start to have a little more flexibility in their course selections. They can start to choose electives that help them explore future career goals and courses like AP which will be more challenging. With college getting closer every year, sophomores need to continue to dedicate themselves to doing their best on their school work. If they set goals, they will maintain their focus and determination.
In the second half of the year when sophomores are choosing courses for their junior year, they may consider College Credit Plus, AP, IB, or additional classes that suit their abilities and goals. Some class choices can save money on college. (Watch for College Credit Plus parent meetings put on by your school district in Dec.-Feb.) Be sure the student is taking the courses that will fulfill their graduation requirements. Encourage your student to stay in touch with their guidance counselor.
In all the talk about finding a college and taking the right courses, thinking about a potential career can get lost in the shuffle. Students often kick that down the road. However, students with specific career goals in mind will find the college search so much easier and will avoid extra semesters of college costs which can really add up.
Students find success in identifying a college major when they know things about themselves–their interests, skills, challenges, values, etc. Students may need help with this thinking. Sometimes interest surveys can help but don’t be discouraged if they don’t. (At The Core is a valuable resource to help with this thinking starting the second half of sophomore year.)
Something else to consider…Did you know that nearly 80 percent of the jobs in the military are non-combat occupations? If the student is interested in the military, do your research and meet with recruiters. Read more about paying for college with military service by clicking here.
Preparing for College
Students have many decisions available to them for life after high school–career, trade school, community college, military, 2-year or 4-year degree. All are excellent choices depending on the student and their future goals.
Now that the student is a bit older, they can focus and commit to their extracurricular activities. Colleges like to see growth within an extracurricular rather than joining dozens of clubs. Participate in volunteer activities as well. If the National Honor Society club is an option, check with your school to see how many hours will be required in your junior year to become a member.
Keep track (or work on assembling) all the details about honors/awards, activities, community service, extracurricular activities, and leadership positions in the student’s high school years. You’ll need that information when they apply to college.
At this point, sophomores can wander a campus with their families to get a feel for it and explore a college fair which happen in the fall and spring. Having one “official” college visit during the sophomore year is a good idea. Look for schools that offer your major and match your interests and preferences. Students can work on narrowing down the types of colleges they are interested in based on their preferred criteria–big vs small; urban vs rural vs suburban; etc. Our blog about college visits can help.
Paying for College
When students start thinking about colleges, parents start thinking (maybe worrying?) in earnest about how to pay for it. Make it a priority to have the college money conversation with the student. Our blog is a great tool for this discussion. It is so important (and will avoid much heartache) if parents and students are on the same page about how much college they can afford! We have seen too many parents who struggle with telling their children “no” when a college is too expensive.
Get the facts about what colleges cost and gain the knowledge you need about financial aid, scholarships, loans, work-study, etc. Parents need to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. What aid is available and how do you qualify for it?
Sharing this information is part of our mission every day. If you haven’t already done so, register for one of our Smart Money Moves for the College-Bound™ webinars. We have dates throughout the year. This detailed free webinar will give families a great foundation of knowledge to build on. Other good free resources include our blog page (take advantage of the search bar) and our social media feeds (Twitter and Facebook).
While most merit aid or scholarships are awarded by the colleges themselves, searching for private scholarships can be something ongoing the family and the student can start thinking about. Remember to use your guidance counselor as a resource. More tips on the search can be found here. Be sure to pay attention to important deadlines as college application approaches. (FYI, students will apply to college in the fall of their senior year.)
Testing – PSAT, ACT, & SAT
Testing, testing, testing. Sometimes it seems like a never ending testing cycle for students. The PSAT/NMSQT is an exam offered to all juniors in October. Sophomores may be offered the option to take the test for practice. (Some schools may offer the PSAT 10.) In the junior year, the primary purpose of this test is to identify candidates for the National Merit Scholarship awards. Taking the test in the sophomore year, can be practice for the SAT. (However in our opinion, a better way to “practice” for the SAT is to take the actual SAT exam itself.)
Ideally, students should take the ACT or SAT as close to the completion of Algebra II or Geometry as possible. Students can quickly forget what they learned in Geometry so try to schedule an exam when the material is still fresh in the student’s mind.
Taking the actual exams early is great practice to understand the topics covered and the timing involved. Try to take each one once. Identify the preferred test for that student, and then take it again 2 or 3 times in the junior or senior years.
Summer Before Junior Year
Use the summer before junior year to visit a college campus–stir up a little excitement about college! Summer is also a great time to do that money talk we mentioned above. No school responsibilities are hanging over their heads–a good time for family talk.
Rising juniors may be driving now. Encourage them to get a job over the summer. Working is the only real way to see what the working world is like and will help them understand what kinds of work environments they prefer. Summer is also a great time to explore interests and learn new skills at meaningful summer camps.
This summer, the student’s high school career is half over. Where did the time go?! Enjoy your time together as a family as the journey to life after college begins to race towards the finish line in their junior year.