Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated September 1, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Your Sophomore Year Timeline

Key Takeaway

Sophomore year is all about setting yourself up for success in your junior and senior years. You'll be embarking on smart academic pathways, digging into your extracurriculars, and dipping your toe into the college search.

This is part of our timeline series to help high school students and their families get the most out of high school while preparing for the college search and application process. This article addresses sophomore year of high school. You can find the corresponding articles for first-year, junior, and senior students at these links.

If you are reading this article as a sophomore in high school, or the parent of a high school sophomore, nice work! You are officially ahead of the game.

Most families don’t start college planning until junior or even senior year of high school. Now, depending on where you live and your school, you might feel right on track, a bit confused, or even behind in the process.

We created this series to share what we see college-savvy sophomores doing. We’ve derived this from our years of experience as both admission consultants and former admission officers.

Sophomore Year Timeline

Here’s what our team of former admission officers sees in the most competitive high school sophomores and how you might emulate that. We’ll follow that up with a timeline of what you might want to do and think about during the summer before sophomore year as well as sophomore fall and spring.

  • Select challenging courses that put you on the right trajectory. The courses you take sophomore year will, in part, dictate what courses are available to you in the future. Taking more rigorous math or science courses might open up possibilities for you to take the most advanced courses by the end of high school. Challenge yourself where appropriate and, if you can, consider taking one or two AP (or equivalent) courses this year.
  • Get (or stay!) involved in extracurriculars. Sophomore year is where we often see our students have the first sparks of interest in deepening extracurricular engagement. Maybe you regularly volunteer with an organization and that could evolve into a more formal internship. Maybe you position yourself to be captain of the debate team. Engage, and look beyond the four walls of your high school.
  • Look into summer pre-college or other programs. See our junior year post for more details on this. There are a lot of engaging pre-college programs out there. You can find them at local colleges, or you can apply to selective programs, travel, and stay on campus at a prestigious school. Many applications are due in February or March.
  • Start researching college basics. Sophomore year is a great time to start some low-key college research. Since you are starting so early, there should be zero pressure to know anything or be certain about your future. If you need a place to start, think about different majors and what it means to “major” in something, look up the public schools in your state, and have a family conversation about expectations for college.
  • Work on those study skills and organization. This one is huge. Coursework is going to ramp up throughout high school and into college. If you find yourself procrastinating, turning in assignments late, or missing them altogether because of poor organization or study habits, it’s time to step it up. There’s tons of information online to get you started. Google “pomodoro technique,” “study skills by personality type,” or “active studying” for some inspiration.
  • Meet with your school/ college counselor. If you go to a public school, you’re probably assigned to a school counselor based on your grade or last name. Many private (and some public) schools have college counselors who specialize in college readiness. Regardless of your school, it’s a good idea to get to know this person early on. They can share insight and advice about your school’s curriculum, planning for college, and, importantly, they will eventually write one of your recommendation letters.
  • Prep for standardized tests. I know, I saved the best for last here. Standardized tests are, for better or worse, part of life in high school. Get started early by understanding the difference between the SAT and ACT and look into some free online resources. You and your family may eventually decide to invest in some paid online or in-person prep. Getting started early will be helpful.

Okay, that should give you a sense of what we see savvy college-bound high school sophomores doing. Hopefully you’ve gotten some good ideas and direction.

Here’s a sample timeline of some of these points and when you might think about them. Remember, there’s no one right way to do this. I can’t give every student a one-size-fits-all solution, but this should guide you in the right direction.

Summer Before Sophomore Year

  • Think about extracurricular activities you might want to engage with. Getting involved at school is a great place to start! Also consider activities outside of your high school. Check out our article on extracurricular pathways for inspiration.
  • Make a plan for success in school. This means challenging yourself appropriately in your classes, knowing what your organization strategy will look like, and knowing your plan for asking for help if you fall behind or struggle in a class. Asking older students about their experience in your upcoming classes can help too.

Fall of Sophomore Year

  • Get involved in your school! Join clubs, try new things, meet people. This is a great time to explore opportunities and push yourself into new areas of growth.
  • Start researching colleges online. This should be incredibly low-pressure. YouTube, college websites, and virtual tours can give you a sense of schools, majors, and activities available in college.

Spring of Sophomore Year

  • This might be a great time to meet with your school counselor. They tend to be most busy in the fall, so waiting until spring is best. See if they are willing to chat with a sophomore for a few minutes and come with a couple questions in mind.
  • Sophomore spring is also when a lot of students begin preparing for standardized tests. Note that it’s definitely still early and you might be a year out from your first exam. But there’s no harm in at least understanding what will be on the test, how they differ, and how they are scored. Standardized testing should not become another extracurricular activity. Instead, start early and ramp up your prep slowly.
  • Choose a challenging junior year curriculum. How did those classes go this year? Junior year is the most important year when it comes to applying to colleges, so you should prepare to step it up another notch academically next year.
  • Prep for a meaningful and fun summer. If you’re applying for pre-college summer programs, remember those are probably due in early spring—February or March. I always want students to find a balance in the summer. You absolutely should enjoy some downtime, chill, hang with friends and family, and not think about school. You also should have something—academic, extracurricular, or an independent creative project—to keep you engaged and, yes, beef up your college resume.

I hope this guide helps you have a meaningful and engaging sophomore year! Check out our partner guide for juniors, and reach out to us if we can support you in this process.

Liked that? Try this next.