What should 9th graders be doing right now?

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.

Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for the first in a series following an individual senior through her college application journey. Please share this with someone who would like to read it. You can follow Apply with Sanity on Facebook and Twitter.