It’s March! Have a Conversation with your Ninth Grader!

man in black sweater writing on white paper
Anne MacLeod Weeks
Anne MacLeod Weeks

Anne has worked in college admissions for four decades and has published extensively on all aspects of the process. She taught AP English, consulted for the College Board, and was a leader in various educational initiatives in independent schools.

Ninth grade is quickly coming to a close. Your student’s school is making academic plans for the following year. You’ll need to make decisions about academics and co-curricular activities together! So, why not set aside some time to have a conversation with your ninth grader?

Especially for younger students, proposing a college conversation with ninth grader students (or younger!) may feel far away. It may seem there is plenty of time to be thinking about college admission. But every decision you make from here on in will have an impact on your student’s choices come twelfth grade and the fall admission cycle!

Here is what you should be thinking, questioning, and evaluating right now.

Academic Conversations

  1. In what academic areas did your student excel this year?
    1. Focusing on your student’s areas of strength in choosing academic classes for sophomore year will build a strong portfolio for college. Are there academic areas where your student struggled? This is the time to engage a tutor to strengthen those areas, so your student isn’t derailed from the most competitive academic track.
  2. Sophomore year will usually allow at least one elective course.
    1. How do you know which one to encourage your student to take? Where do your student’s interests lie? Which courses highlight those interests? For instance, if your student is interested in history, take a course in Medieval History, or if they are showing an interest in the arts, Art History, or possibly a course in Statistics, if they love math. This is also a time to double up with Geometry and Algebra 2, if the student wants to take Calculus as a senior. Electives are a great way to round out an academic schedule, but be sure the elective is a “meaty” one (leave the less intense electives for spring of senior year).
  3. How are your student’s writing skills?
    1. Could they use some practice? Enroll them in an online analytical writing course to boost their skills: 5 Free Online Courses.
  4. Is your student beginning to master their world language or could they use some review and prep over the summer?
    1. There is a myriad of online language programs for review. An online program well regarded by language schools is Duolingo. Or, consider a summer language immersion program, such as Summer at Carleton College.

Next, have a conversation about growth and goals outside of the classroom.

Extracurricular Conversations

On campus

  • Did your student play sports at school or in a club?
    • How talented an athlete is your student? Have you asked an expert for an evaluation of your student’s skills? If your student is simply enjoying playing sports but is not interested in playing at a Division 1 level in college, encourage them to stay the course with their team through senior year. If your student is highly skilled and is interested in Division 1, speak with the coach to make sure you know what tournaments, exhibitions, camps, etc. are necessary for your student to be seen by the right recruiters. Planning for a Division 1 school can be almost a full time job: NCAA.
  • What clubs/activities did your student enjoy during ninth grade?
    • Was your student able to balance academic commitments with extracurriculars without too much stress? Will your student’s academic load be more stressful sophomore year? Have your student take a self-evaluation on time management to help determine how much your student can handle: Self-Evaluation for Time Management. If you are worried your student will have too much to do, narrow the student’s co-curricular choices to those where the student excels and is most likely to take on a leadership role.

How about summer?

  • Most ninth graders are old enough to use their summers in a more productive way. So, when you have a conversation with your ninth grader, go ahead and encourage them! This can mean a summer job, an internship, or an academic program. It is important to realize that not all summer programs will have the same impact in the college admissions process. One easy way to determine the value of an experience is to think, “Is this a pay-for-the-experience program?” For example, is the student paying to trek through Indonesia while doing community service? This type of program simply indicates the student has the resources to pay for the experience, whereas, doing community service at a food bank in the student’s home city will demonstrate a mature commitment to social justice issues.

Summer jobs

It may seem a summer job scooping ice cream at a parlor in town is not impressive, but if the student keeps the job through high school, rising to the position of assistant manager, it sends a clear message to colleges about maturity, commitment, hard work, etc. Don’t underestimate its value. Read more here.

Academic programs

There are many good academic programs that can enrich a student’s intellectual life. A popular program is Harvard’s. However, don’t be fooled into thinking a 4.0 GPA at Harvard’s summer program for high school students will enhance the student’s college application to Harvard. These programs are rarely taught by actual Harvard professors. They are what they say they are – summer academic programs for high school students. Read more here.


An internship can be a great way for a student to explore an area of interest. Whether it is working with an architect or working in a college science lab, your student can gain not only valuable experience but will also potentially gain a valuable mentor. Be sure, though, that the internship is a valid one and not just an avenue for the office to have a free filer for the summer. Have your student get a recommendation from the mentor at the end of the internship, as the mentor may not be able to be as specific if you ask for the letter two years later.  Read more here.

It’s also critical to check your expectations for a conversation with ninth grader students about what internships they are qualified for. Be realistic about their current skill set and what they can actually bring to an active workplace without being a hinderance.

Higher Education Conversations

Finally, whenever you travel as a family, whether it is just a weekend away, a longer excursion, or even a day trip into the city, start walking around college campuses. This conversation with your ninth grader can be a lot of fun! You’ll be spending a little more quality time together, and thinking about the future together.

The schools you tour don’t have to be colleges in which you or your student is already expressing interest – it can be any campus. Visit ones in the city, in the suburbs, in the country, large, small, traditional and modern, so you see a wide variety of options. These visits will help you and your student begin to narrow what feels right in terms of size, place, and general campus feel. There won’t be the pressure that comes when the actual search process begins, so you can observe in a less stressful environment.

What should you look for on these informal visits? Get the feel for the campus culture.

Checklist for visits:

  • Check out the library – is it quiet, busy, a campus hub – what are its hours?
  • Check out the dining facilities – are there options? healthy or fast foods? comfortable seating? welcoming ambience or institutional?
  • Get access to a dorm – walk through the hallways and look at what’s on student doors – you can tell a lot about student/school culture by what students post on their doors.
  • Get a copy of the school paper – what are the hot issues on campus?
  • Walk through an academic building while classes are in session – what does the classroom atmosphere look like?

There is so much to do, right now, to make your journey to the college admission process a smooth and successful one. It is never too late to get started! Book a consult for guidance year-by-year as you move through high school to make sure you don’t miss a beat.


Questions? Let us know!