7 Ways to Take Advantage of Sophomore Year (2021-22 ed.)

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 ongoing pandemic has thrown all of us a curve ball. Back-to-school 2021 may seem a bit awkward — as if you are trying out this in-person venture for the first time. In fact, many of you are experiencing high school in-person for the first time. You haven’t had the daily commute to the building or practiced the typical school routine. In addition, this year, heading back this fall requires greater awareness related to wearing masks and social distancing so that everyone stays safe and well.

Yet, at the same time, school is still school. It is a great place for you to connect with other people, both inside and outside the classroom. It is great to be back in-person. So, this year, look around for ways to become involved so that you can have bit of fun with your friends and your school community. You may have to dig a little deeper for answers on how to be engaged, but it is well worth trying out different strategies so that you can find friends and interesting activities that will make this year a successful experience for you.

The challenge for you during sophomore year will be finding a way to open back up to in-person classes, clubs, volunteer service, and much more. Take it slow, acclimate yourself to the change, and consider how you want to move forward. Of course, you have already arranged your schedule and understand your academic life. So, now is the time to take it one step further by getting to know your teachers and speaking up in class. It should be exciting to see teachers in 3D again, so share your personality and express yourself! I think you will find that engaging in class discussions will broaden your understanding of the class content and help you to get to know other kids in your class.

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. 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.

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 areas of expertise that you want to develop further.

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. Prepare, plan, and stay current with the evolving college admission requirements related to standardized testing.

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 list. 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.

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.