7 Ways to Take Advantage of Sophomore Year (Even Remotely)

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The transition from freshman to sophomore year of high school is rooted in the refinement of your goals and intentions. You’ll want to continue shaping exactly what it is that defines your passions and vision so that you can set yourself up to successfully pursue those interests with direction and challenge yourself with a strong academic plan.

The pandemic has totally thrown all of us a curve ball. School in 2020 is so different. You are now required to dig a little deeper for answers on how to stay engaged and what to do with your time outside of school. It is difficult but well worth trying out different strategies to succeed during remote learning.

Your persistence may lead to fruitful discoveries. Just last week, two of my students shared some of their new virtual activities with me. One borrowed his brother’s guitar and began taking online courses to teach himself how to play, while the other enrolled in an online poetry class. That second student just read her first poem to me, an expression of her commitment to social justice and her feelings during this challenging time.

In pursing her interest in poetry, she has found an interesting and practical way of helping her define her values. And although there is not an honor society for either of these activities, they are indeed very important. Independent learning is a skill that you’ll need to grow and refine when you get to college, so remote learning is a great way to start developing that skill now!

The challenge for you during this strange sophomore year will be finding a way to manage newer short-term goals (say, learning guitar, writing poetry, or conquering a difficult math class) during the time of COVID, while also remaining committed to the long-term plan you are developing for your future.

Without doubt, this is always a balancing act, and you certainly can employ strategies for success similar to those that worked for you pre-COVID. But some of the finer details may well change. For example, take communication: you now are limited to reaching out to your teachers only via email or Zoom chat windows rather than simply stopping them in the hall or catching them in their classrooms. Email might feel like a little bit of a drag compared to just flagging down your calculus teacher on the way to lunch, but clear and consistent communication is all the more critical now that we can’t see each other in person! And your teacher will certainly appreciate your taking the time to let them know what it is that you need or have questions about.

As you push forward, keep your focus on the key components that will help you turn sophomore year into the foundation for your continuing academic and personal success.

1. Plan Your Curriculum Strategically

Educational planning is critical now. Every student needs a four-year plan to stay on track for graduation, and as a sophomore, the choices of which paths to pursue in that direction suddenly become plentiful. You will want to fine-tune your curriculum and continue developing expertise in your abilities and talents, so reflect on your experiences from freshman year and identify academic and personal goals for the rest of high school. What were your triumphs? What were your struggles?

As you take these first steps toward your ultimate academic goals, determine the right degree of rigor in your curriculum, commit to developing personal interests, and devise a plan for your remaining high school years that will ensure growth and reward. It is important to think about strengths and challenges as you consider honors classes, AP courses, dual enrollment, or IB curriculum. Incorporate challenge but do so wisely.

Engaging just the right amount of challenge will allow you to master difficult material with a sense of reward and accomplishment. You may have to make a few compromises in your schedule as a result of the current remote situation, but consult with teachers and counselors to make sure you’re making the best decision for you. Of course, all of this planning is not to construct a lifelong trajectory set in stone, but it is a way to deepen the school experience you began your freshman year. 

Carefully review your course selection. Seek out a trusted advisor, such as an educational planner or a mentor, to help you discern how your strengths and weaknesses apply to your four-year plan. Lacking a foundation in a key subject area might cast doubt on your eventual college application as a whole. Not interested in a third year of foreign language? Many colleges put a premium on four years of foreign language study as an indication of academic rigor. Eager to drop math? This is also an omission on your transcript that will be noticed by admission officials.

If you decide to pass on the standard college prep path, which includes courses like foreign languages and math, be sure to replace it with a path that is equally challenging. This is the kind of fine-tuning that will come to define your sophomore year and set a great example for you to follow as you continue through high school and college.  

2. Select Key Activities

Sophomore year is a chance to review how you are spending your time both in and outside of class. What changes are you envisioning for this school year? Take inventory of your personal interests and consider your strengths and passions. Ask yourself what clubs, organizations, and sports teams you enjoyed during freshman year. Keep a digital record of your pursuits and accomplishments, including an activity list of clubs, hobbies, sports, work, volunteer, or camp experiences. Think about an area of expertise that you want to develop further. Again, this may need to take the form of an independent endeavor for now, but you’ll need to take the time now to reflect on how you want your extracurricular life to look when activities start back up.

3. Finding Your Voice

This is the year to read voraciously, acquire great skill in writing, and speak up in class. By exercising your strengths and developing insight about the challenges you face, you will find your voice. Articulating and discussing your thoughts and ideas will bring clarity to the direction you want to take. 

4. Take Practice Tests 

Practice makes (near) perfect, and sophomore year is the year of the practice test. Consider your test strategy and begin to get some experience with the PSAT and perhaps with the ACT. With that said, you will want to stay alert to the changes in the availability of the tests. Prepare and plan but remain flexible because of the limitations for student gatherings in test centers. In addition, stay current with college admission requirements related to standardized testing as many schools have made changes to their testing requirements and deadlines since the onset of the pandemic.  

5. Consider Colleges

Begin your college research – online. Colleges and universities have lots of virtual resources to offer you. Take a tour or have a chat with an admissions representative about any questions or concerns you have. Take the time to describe your academic interests to the adults in your life when they ask because they may have valuable insights or advice for you on available academic options that you might not know about. If you are a student-athlete, talk to your coach and research your potential opportunities as a recruit. 

Finding the right match in a college requires a thorough investigation. There are many unique colleges and universities that serve the needs of all types of students. For example, schools may offer unique programs in a particular major or significant learning support for students who need accommodations. But no matter what interests and/or needs you have, there are going to be programs out there built around communities of students exactly like you!

6. Live with Intention

As you increasingly focus on your specific interests and personal academic plan, you may find that your friendships also take on a new shape. The second year of high school is about seeking friends with whom you can openly and honestly share your thoughts and feelings, rather than getting to know and spending time with everyone who appears on your class roster. A tighter friends group may indeed begin to emerge in your daily life. Try to make more conscious choices about where and with whom to spend your time; that’s what we mean when we tell you to approach your life with intention. Organize Zoom get-togethers or safely distanced gatherings with your friends and family, manage your studies, invest in good sleep habits, and commit to a physically healthy routine. 

7. Cultivate Your Narrative

As you begin to emerge from all the decisions you have made during your sophomore year, you will begin to see patterns in your choices. Your story is beginning to emerge. During the freshman and sophomore years, growth in knowledge and personal stories has given purpose and meaning to your high school experience. Your decisions, accomplishments, and activities have begun to shape your story. 

Maureen Delaney

Educational Counselor

As a Counselor in Educational Planning, Maureen Delaney considers the strengths and interests of students and helps them to achieve their academic and personal goals. Maureen takes time to establish authentic connections both to students planning for college and those advancing from undergraduate to graduate school. As an engaged partner, she identifies each individual’s strengths, cultivates...

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