The truth is that it’s never too early to start preparing for college. I would even say that the earlier you start, the better your chances will be, so listen up sophomores! You’ve got time, but if you use all of the steps in this checklist to guide you, your early preparation will land you in in an excellent place come junior and senior year!

1. Get Involved


Sophomore year is definitely the best time to get involved within your community. This is a great way to build your resume, do something that matters, and start to show colleges that your passions go way back. And there are many ways that you can do this – there’s something for everyone!

On that note, how do you go about finding activities to participate? The first think you should do is think about the areas that you can excel at. Maybe you’re already taking part in some activity but you could do it better and become even more involved.

For example, if you’re third chair clarinet in your schools wind symphony, practice a little harder and get to the front! Doing things that reflect your individual talents is a great way to be active and stay busy as a sophomore. Remember that every activity should reflect some sort of purpose.

Find opportunities to start something or be entrepreneurial:

While this may not be for everyone, this is a great way to separate yourself from the conventional high school student and show that you can go out and create something that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

This includes more organized and conventional approaches such as starting a high school club or community organization, but also encompasses larger, more independent ventures. For example, a previous student of mine built and sold drones in high school and had what was basically a small business to make pocket money while he was taking classes. Things like this, big or small, can go a long way in showing colleges that you have that initiative and drive.

Look for opportunities that align with your future career goals:

Tentative career goals, I should say. Whether you already have a major in mind or just know that you’re interested in sciences or humanities, its never too early to start looking.

No matter what your interests are, go out and find (or create!) opportunities that will allow you to further investigate your potential passions and also gain invaluable experience. These can come in the form of internships, research opportunities, or side/summer jobs! The internet and friends/family are a great place to start when looking for such an opportunity.

2. Get A’s and study a lot!

Grades really do matter as they say a great deal about your habits and work ethic. Try your absolute best and be sure to balance your schedule so that you still have time to perform well in school. While the activities mentioned above are crucial to your high school experience, they shouldn’t come at the cost of academics.

3. Amp up your academic game

What do I mean by this? Basically, now is the time to start seeking out new opportunities to push yourself academically, but inside and outside the classroom.

In school, this can mean taking more advanced classes (high placement, advanced placement, etc) and showing your interest in subjects you care about. Not to mention that AP credits can make life at college much easier!

The summer is also a great place to do this. I myself took full advantage of summer school whenever possible. I found myself taking the summer to rid my plate of the classes I didn’t want to take during the year, but you can also take the summer to take courses in subjects that interest you – ones that aren’t necessarily offered at your school.

At this point you just want to start thinking about when and where it makes the most sense for you to step your academic game up.

4. Talk to your parents

Now is also the time to ask your parents about college, for many reasons. Firstly, you should discuss what your expectations are and what they’re expectations are. If there are any discrepancies, you will want to sort that out sooner rather than later. Maybe you like the east coast, but your parents want you to stay in California, or you’re thinking public school but your parents want you to get a private education. These are all things you should be discussing with your parents.

One big topic you want to discuss is your financial situation. In-state schools are much more affordable than out-of-state and private institutions. However, also remember to talk about financial aid. Never assume that your finances will prevent you from going to your dream school! Many of the top school (and more) offer amazing need or merit based financial aid, so you should start to discuss this as well.

For more information on financial aid, check out our video series on financial aid at!

Also feel free to talk to other adults in your life, such as family friends, college counselors, and high school graduates who may have already gone through the process!

5. Take the PSAT (if available)

Taking the PSAT as a sophomore is the one time you can take the test when it counts for absolutely nothing. Basically, you have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.

The PSAT provides invaluable information about your testing performance, what you need to improve on, and general test-taking practice!

For more information about the PSAT, the scoring scale, and how to understand your score, check out our blog post on What’s A Good PSAT Score!

You can also take a practice ACT/SAT if your school offers it.

6. Create a test prep calendar

Some students may stop and think, “wait, isn’t sophomore year a little early to start taking tests. Aren’t I supposed to wait until junior year?” Well, not quite…

The first SAT and ACT tests for juniors are offered in August and September respectively. If you really think about it, that’s not too far from now! So, starting prep now can only help you get your tests scores high and out of the way before junior year insanity kicks in.

The two main things you want to think about are 1) which test am I taking and 2) how am I going to prep for it. Set goals, find a style of prep that works for you, take practice tests, and start registering for real tests for your junior year (I don’t recommend taking actual tests as a sophomore).

One last thing that should in the back of your mind is SAT subject tests. Especially if you are taking upper level math and science courses as a sophomore, this year may actually be better for you to start knocking those subject tests out of the way. Check out our video on SAT Subject Tests for more information!

7. Amp up your skills

What I mean by this is that it’s time to start building up your reading skills, writing skills, and vocabulary skills. Now is the perfect, low-pressure time to work on these skills that will help you throughout high school and the college application process. For awesome books for you to start working on these skills on your own, check out our Amazon influencer page where you can browse the top recommended resources for high school students like you.

I specifically recommend Verbal Advantage and Word Power Made Easy for building your vocabulary quickly and easily. Another great way to grow these skills is by starting to read real world publications, like newspapers, magazines, literature, and web articles.

For building writing skills, Writing Tools and They Say I Say are both excellent resources.

8.  Explore!

Start to think about big world questions? You want to have vision, worldview, and most importantly, perspective. By exploring the world, you educate yourself in a way that is perhaps more important than any high school class, and you also get the explore your interests at the same time.

Look up colleges, programs they offer, research being done in your fields of interest. Exploring this way is another way for you to explore yourself.

Growing up I was always told to “do what you love” and that everything else would follow. Looking back, I think I have new advice for you students. It would be to listen to the world around you. What am I, what are my passions, and where is my place in this world? I firmly believe that these questions lead to success far more frequently than when you just look to your preferences and passions.

One Final Note:

If there is one thing I wish all high schoolers could know, its that the world that will exist when you graduate from college will be completely different from the world you live in now. New jobs will be created, others will become obsolete and phased out. You can’t predict the future.

And for this reason, its completely fine if you don’t know what you want to do you. The job you end up getting may not even exist in today’s society, so don’t worry! The most important thing now is to explore who it is that you want to be what you want your place in this world to look like.

And with that, I wish you sophomores a productive and successful year! Good luck!