Planning Your High School Years
When I was younger, I don’t think I thought much about what I had to do in high school. I remember joining the football team in the fall because I liked competiting and it seemed fun. I’ve done martial arts for years so then I did wrestling in the winter. And when spring season came around, I joined the baseball team because at this point I was used to playing sports after school. When junior year came around, a friend had to tell me that I should take the SAT in the spring. So I did. I didn’t do that well the first time, so I studied a bunch and took it again a couple months later. Senior year, I wrote a lot of essays in the fall and then sent in all my applications and that was it.
However, times have changed. If I do the same thing now, the result might not be as good. Thus, it’s important to plan your high school years. For international students, it’s even more of a necessity. You will have less opportunities to take a standardized test than I did because you’re going to school here in Thailand. And because there’s only a certain amount of space available for international students, it’s even more important that you stand out from your countrymen (and women) and/or other international students.
The start of high school isn’t too intense. You should spend the year trying to find your passion. Join clubs you think are interesting. Create your own clubs if you want. Start looking at the SAT subject tests (whether or not you’re doing the SAT or ACT). Get the highest GPA you can. Find something meaningful to do in the summer. If you take a class that covers a certain SAT Subject Test, consider taking the summer to study the material and then taking the corresponding Subject Test in the fall.
This year, you should weed out the extracurricular activities (EC) you don’t like so much. There’s only so much time you have so there’s no need to be in a ton of clubs or sports team. If you honestly like them all, then sure, you can stay in them, but make sure you manage your time well. For the ECs you stick with, delve into it a little bit more. If you’re in orchetra, try to be first string. If you’re in clubs, look for leadership positions. If you’re doing sports, work on your accomplishments and set yourself up to be captain. No matter what, your ECs should be meaningful and important to you.
On the academic front, you should be prepared to take at least one SAT Subject Test in the spring. If you had taken another SAT subject test at the beginning of the year, you’ll have two under your belt. If not, then the minimum you should have by the end of the year is one. That’s important because after this year, you’ll be focusing on the SAT.
You can begin studying for the SAT or ACT in the summer between your sophomore and junior year. If not, then at minimum, you should start by Winter Break. The new SAT schedule only allows for the regular SAT to be taken in October, December, March, and May. With only 4 test dates, it’s much harder to plan than before if you’re taking the SAT. The best case scenario is that you get the tests out of the way and you’re done after your junior year. However, this is usually only possible if you take the SAT or ACT at least twice. My recommendation for the SAT would be to study for it during the summer and take the test for the first time in October (or December). Then study for it some more and take it for the second time in March. That way, the second time you take it won’t be around finals. And in May and June, you should take your second SAT Subject Tests.
You should start on your college essays in the summer. Register for the Common App or for the UC App then too. The first semester of your senior year will be very stressful. You only have the fall season to finish all your tests and prepare your applications. If you have followed the schedule well, you should be prepared to apply to a couple schools early. I highly recommend that if you can find a school you’re interested in. For students with high scores, applying early to a school gives you a better shot at admissions (the reasons for this can be explained in a separate article). For the majority of you, your deadlines will be in December. That means that December is generally the last month you can take your test and your first semester grades will be the last set that impacts your chance of gaining admission. This makes the first semester very difficult, but remember that this is the last stretch. You might be running on fumes, but finish strong.