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young student working at a computer7 Things Your 9th Grader Should Be Doing NOW for Top College Admissions

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Should my child spend time playing varsity basketball or volunteering to make a difference in their community to impress a top college? 

Is it better to do an internship for hands-on experience, take a summer class for a deeper dive into an academic subject area, or write a research paper? 

Does it matter to elite colleges if my kid plays piano?

These are some of the frequent questions my team and I hear every day. With so many options for building a successful admissions profile for your child as they proceed through high school, but very few clear guidelines, selecting the right activities for your child can feel overwhelming. 

How to choose? 

Here are four essential tips to guide you in selecting activities that not only align with college admissions criteria but also cater to your child’s interests and growth.

1. Follow Your Child’s Interests

The best way to find the right activities is to start with what your child is interested in here and now. Why? Because what is most important to top colleges is that your child activates their interests and continues to do so over time. The authenticity of their engagement in activities they love will shine through in college applications, showing a genuine depth of involvement. Perhaps your ninth grader loves PE and art, yet you’d like them to into STEM research or computer science. 

If you first join your child in their interests, allow them to explore what they enjoy, and then connect PE to something like sports analytics or art to marketing a little later on, in their sophomore year, for example, your child’s interests will develop into a pre-professional plan by the time they apply for college. Developing interests and then activating them organically with your child will lead to a more confident child and better relationship, too! 

2. Embrace a Balanced Mix

Top schools look for strength in these three areas: 1) academic interests, 2) community engagement, and 3) collaboration. Extremely important for admissions success is showing activities that are considered “fit-to-major.” If your child is interested in biology, for example, then doing academic classes, research, and/or internships in this area is a must. If your child wants to demonstrate to universities their potential as a future changemaker, community involvement is crucial. And if you want to make sure your child shows universities they are good community members themselves, collaborative activities are key.

This mix not only helps in building a competitive profile for college applications but also aids in the overall development of your child. For instance, participating in science research (academic), volunteering for an environmental organization, or initiating a book drive (community), and being part of a team (collaboration) can provide a diverse set of experiences and skills. 

3. Focus on Personal Growth

Choose activities that challenge and help your child grow. Helping your child become competitive for top college admissions involves so much more than filling up a resume with fancy programs. Rather than padding a resume, preparing for a top college works best when your child develops skills that serve them throughout their life. Top colleges love confident students who manage their time, accomplish their goals, get along with others, and communicate effectively. Look for opportunities that push them out of their comfort zone, teach resilience, and foster critical thinking. This approach not only prepares them for college but also for the challenges of the real world.

4. Consider College Preferences

Let’s say you and your child have picked a number of activities according to interests and the three categories above but there is just not enough time to do it all. 

Making sure your child displays what top colleges and universities seek in successful candidates is the most logical way to decide among activities. To optimize this process for you, Blue Stars has defined the following core traits as the most important, which we call the 7C’s:

  1. Character
  2. Collaboration
  3. Creativity
  4. Challenge
  5. Curiosity
  6. Commitment
  7. Cultural Intelligence

You can read more about the 7C’s here. 

As we advise the teens we work with when they agonize over which activities to pick and which to let go, it’s best to focus on the ones that showcase as many of these traits as possible. 

Perhaps your child is deciding between preparing for a certain level of piano proficiency and organizing a debate clinic for underprivileged kids. While preparing for a certain level of musical proficiency displays “challenge” and “commitment,” organizing a debate clinic for underprivileged kids shows these two traits plus “collaboration” and “cultural intelligence.’ If your child is aiming for a top school, activities displaying multiple core traits at once will be most attractive to a top school. 

Remember, the goal is not to overburden your child with activities but to select ones that resonate with their personality, aspirations, and top college expectations. 

By focusing on these four tips, you can guide your child in building a profile that is not only impressive to admissions committees but also fulfilling and enjoyable for them. Encourage them to explore, engage, and excel in what truly matters to them. Elite schools will notice!

Looking for more guidance on preparing your child for college admissions? Get our comprehensive workbook to help your child choose activities that align with their interests and college goals.

About the Author: Amy Morgenstern

Dr. Amy Morgenstern, affectionately known as Dr. M, is the founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an MFA in contemporary art. A former professor of philosophy, honors program associate director, and assistant to the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Dr. M brings a wealth of academic and multicultural experience to her practice.

Free Workbook for Students

Blue Stars College Planning Foundations Workbook

Start today! Go through these strategic exercises to help you sketch out your plans for all four years of high school.

  • Learn key traits important to top colleges.
  • Write your first personal narrative
  • Branch out, exploring interests and defining activities.
  • Set goals and create your 4-year college planning timeline.

Fill out the form to get the workbook.

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