Hey, all you rising sophomores, welcome to limbo! Sophomore year is a weird time. You don’t feel like you’re allowed to be doe-eyed and lost anymore because Junior year is within arms reach, but you still kind of are that confused freshman who wants to be able to check out of class sometimes because everyone’s been telling you that your grades don’t really matter...yet. (For the record, we completely reject that idea and grades don’t always matter, but so goes cultural programming.)
Along with picking electives and maybe getting into an AP or two, planning for sophomore year should include a serious sit-down with yourself (and your parents or whoever helps you get from A to B) about what you’ll be up to outside of academics. And no, you can’t just say sports. We love sports, we love how sports can help students stay focused and on-track, but three seasons of swimming doesn’t void the need for exploring other interests.
Speaking of which, have you thought about what you like? By the end of your freshman year, you need to have isolated 2-4 areas of interest that you’d like to focus on as a sophomore. Why 2-4? Because schools don’t like 1-trick ponies, but they also don’t like applicants who seem to do everything, but nothing well. A strong application (and applicant) needs to be focused.
Not sure what your 2-4 areas of interest are? Well, then figuring it out is your homework. “Nothing,” isn’t an option and neither is “social media” or “testing Snapchat filters.”
Once you have those 2-4 areas of interest, join any corresponding clubs in school (if you haven’t already). If one doesn’t exist (say, robotics), start it. Find a teacher who is game, find other students that are interested, and make it happen. Outside of the school building, continue to build your expertise in the subject by taking casual courses through Coursera or Kahn Academy, or, and especially if you’re creatively inclined, Masterclass.
After joining clubs and pursuing greater expertise, the third piece to the extracurricular puzzle is to try to find an outside experience that links to your area of interest. If you’re drawn to engineering or science, try to find a research internship at a local lab or hospital (and yes, there are opportunities for high school kids if you take the time to search for them). If you’re interested in politics, volunteer on a local campaign. From phone banking to going door-to-door, you’ll be able to experience the political process in action.
All of this is to say: dive in. Reach out to experts, look for opportunities, and ask for help in finding new ones. You may get a lot of no’s, but it’s always worth asking. If someone does say no, find someone else to ask. Be polite, represent yourself well, and proactively pursue your passions.
After selecting what you want to do outside of school, commit to seeing it through. In addition to looking for focused interests and depth of experiences, colleges look for continuity. 9th grade is for testing the waters, 10th grade is for choosing and pursuing, 11th grade is for going deep, and, when senior year comes around, you’ll have the tools necessary to keep exploring.
Tip: Reading might not count as one of the 2-4 interests, but it’s a crucial part of developing your interests. During sophomore year, you should be reading a minimum of 300 pages per month (about one standard-sized book) that aren’t assigned by a teacher. You can read a bunch of short books or take a few months to read a longer one. We don’t care. Just pick up a book and read.