Dates and deadlines: you don’t have any college dates or deadlines to think about right now. Your main task is being good at high school, not worrying about college. If your school gives 10th graders a PSAT go ahead and take it. If you took one last year, compare scores and see where you are. If there’s a large discrepancy between last year and this year, figure out what might have caused the difference. If the scores are pretty much the same, then this is likely to be your score range throughout high school. If the scores are high, don’t get overconfident. If they’re low, don’t get discouraged. Just know that you have a consistent set of test scores, and that test scores do not and will not define who you are. If you’re taking any AP classes right now, stay on top of things and do your best, but don’t worry about AP Exam prep any time soon.
Work at being good at high school. Take time to reflect and talk to your family about the high and low points of last year. Work on making a plan to be even better at high school than you were last year. Keep taking the most rigorous courses you can, and keep doing as well at them as you can.
Think about college. You don’t need to know which college you want to go to, and you don’t need to have a “long list” prepared yet. But it is time to start thinking about it—I assume you have, since you’re here. Remember that you’re at the exploring stage right now, not the deciding stage. Ask older friends where they are thinking about going. Ask yourself what you think you might want in a college and what you hope to get out of it. Think about geography and areas that you might like to spend four to six years. Think about what sorts of things bring you pleasure and how you hope to pursue those when you’re older. Resist the pressure to decide what you’ll major in. Resist the temptation to look at college rankings. Resist the pressure to think you’ve got to have this figured out.
When you get recruiting information from colleges, hold on to it. Make a special email folder to archive all the "college stuff.” Have a box to keep all the materials you get in the mail. You don’t have to examine it all closely and make decisions about schools—but keep those resources near you. When it comes time to find a school that’s a good fit, starting with the ones who reach out to you early is a great strategy.
Expand your interests. Assuming that you’re not completely bombing any of your classes or dealing with trauma, the place you should be pushing yourself isn’t with putting together college applications or getting that math grade two points higher. The place you should be pushing yourself is in your personal interests. Begin looking for a leadership position in your club or team. Read more books about your interests beyond what’s required. Look for mentors who can give you guidance. Explore careers that use the same skills. For example, if you’re passionate about soccer and a member of the soccer team, that’s fantastic. But don’t just show up to practice. Tell your coach you aim to be a team captain as soon as you can. Follow your favorite team, and also learn about the history of that team. Look for summer camps or programs where you can be an instructor. Be a soccer player, but also be a soccer leader.
Maybe sports aren’t your thing, but by now you’ve probably got some ideas about what your thing—or things—is. Push yourself to expand your skills and your presence in that thing—even if not’s academic or something school sponsored. If what you do is spend hours a day playing video games—no problem. But push yourself to do more. Design a video game yourself; take a break to learn an esoteric or alternative game; research the history of game design; join a competitive league. If that doesn’t sound interesting, if what you really want to do is keep spending hours passively doing what you’ve been doing for years, then it’s time to shut down the games. The problem isn’t video games, it’s that you’re using them to avoid exploring something you’re more interested in and better suited for.
It’s perfectly ok to be interested in whatever you’re interested in—assuming it’s not violent or self-destructive. But now is the time to expand your presence in that interest.
And keep repeating to yourself and whoever will listen: the best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student.
Dates and deadlines: you don’t have any college dates or deadlines to think about right now. Your main task is being good at high school, not worrying about college. If your school gives 9th graders a PSAT go ahead and take it, but don’t spend much time preparing, and certainly don’t stress about it. The scores will tell where you are right now, but they can’t and won’t tell you where you’re going to be a few years from now. If you get scores that really do concern you, talk about those concerns with your family and your school, but don’t feel pressured to change the way you feel about yourself. If you’re taking any AP classes right now, stay on top of things and do your best, but don’t worry about AP Exam prep any time soon.
Work at being good at high school. This has an academic side—take the most rigorous classes you can, get the best grades you can, be involved in your education. But just as important at this point are the social and emotional sides. You’re easing your way into a new and exciting (and challenging) place. You’re going to have missteps, and you’re going to change your mind about things. That’s normal, and that’s fine. If you’re feeling pressure to make yourself into a perfect resume—from your family, your school, your friends, or your self—just repeat this mantra to yourself and anyone else: the best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student. If you find yourself feeling disconnected from high school because you’re already too immersed in test prep or overexerting yourself in too many activities to boost your college prospects, then it’s time to back off and reevaluate.
If by Halloween there’s a class that still isn’t working out—because it’s too easy, or too challenging, or not the right fit—bring this up now and see if there are schedule changes that can be made for the spring semester. Keep doing your best in the class, but understand that adjusting plans is something that all successful people do.
Explore your interests. Remember that the whole point of education is to help you be a productive, happy, and interesting person. You can’t and shouldn’t wait until some future date to start working on those things. Explore activities and interests that you haven’t before. Try out a new club, sit somewhere different for lunch, find an interesting question to ask a teacher you haven’t connected with yet. The great thing about high school is that you get to do a lot of growing and changing and developing—you’re not stuck being the same person you were at the end of last year or the beginning of this year. But the hard part is that you are in charge of that growth and development; it can’t happen passively. So try new things, read new things, listen to new things, talk about new things, think new things.