As the first quarter of the academic year wraps up and sophomores settle into their new position of being old enough to know college is coming sooner rather than later, but young enough to still be able to make some educated decisions, here are some common questions to consider.

Common Question #1: My daughter is a sophomore and we’re trying to figure out if she should drop some of her extracurricular activities next year when the academics will get much tougher. Any advice?

This is a very common scenario for students, especially those taking a rigorous curriculum filled with some of the most demanding classes offered at their high school. Though there is never one exact answer that we would say ever works for every student, there is reason to set aside time to discuss junior year and all of its moving parts before it’s upon your sophomore and your family.

The difference for many students today is that they are often very busy before junior year arrives. Though they may have been challenged by their courses in 9th and 10th grades, 11th grade brings a different juggling act with the on-set of more options for just about everything from academic rigor (APs, IB, Honors, etc.) to leadership positions, to test prep for standardized tests, to a more exciting and active social life.  So, when considering extracurricular activities for junior year, it might be a good idea for some students to “trim the fat” and pare down their busy schedules, allowing more room for homework, extra help sessions, leadership, studying for standardized tests, and, oh yeah, sleep?

Common Question #2: How do you know when to “drop” an activity and when to “add” an activity?

I often describe looking at extracurricular activities for high school students as a > (greater than mathematic symbol). When you start high school, it’s a good idea to try out a few different activities that you may not have had access to earlier on. Debate teams, business clubs, Model UN, new sports, volunteer activities, drama, etc. But by the end of sophomore year, you want to narrow your focus a bit to find balance in your life. Ultimately, you are looking for an extracurricular profile that demonstrates “quality over quantity.”

Common Question #3:  How do we know if our student should take SAT Subject Tests if we don’t yet know where they are applying?

The first step is to be “aware” that SAT Subject Tests exist and which subjects your student would even be eligible to take tests in throughout high school. There are currently 20 subjects offered by the College Board, but there are probably only 3-5 topics that your child may consider taking based on how much the test actually overlaps with what your student learned in high school. Some courses are ideally suited to the SAT Subject Tests at any level of rigor (college prep, honors, AP.) The only way to truly know if your child has been learning the materials that is tested on a Subject Test is to get some sample tests (available in review guides on the College Board) and practice. US History tends to be popular for many students because the curriculum seems to overlap nicely with the AP; World History can vary by how a high school curriculum is executed. Though most students will groan at this suggestion, taking a sample exam is the only real way to know if a particular subject test is right for them.


Written by Kara Courtois
Kara Courtois is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Kara holds degrees from University of Notre Dame and University of Portland; she completed her graduate coursework at Teachers College, Columbia University and Steinhardt School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Kara was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College. Visit our website to learn more about Kara Courtois.