PrepWell Blog


The Golden Years | Freshman and Sophomore Year

A Broken Model

After years of engaging with hundreds of high school students, parents, and guidance counselors from around the country, I've witnessed an unfortunate pattern.

These individuals continue to operate under the assumption that "college preparation" should begin in junior year.

I strongly disagree.

In fact, before stepping one foot into junior year, students should have a firm understanding of the expectations, milestones, and context for what lies ahead. [More on exactly what these factors are in a subesquent post].

Otherwise, students (and parents) risk feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ill-prepared to manage the onslaught of information dumped in their laps. Once a student enters junior year, there are no do-overs.

In my private counseling practice, I find that a student's freshman and sophomore years (The Golden Years) have a disproportionate impact on their readiness for the college admissions process, college selection, and life itself.

They are - as an economist would say - reliable leading indicators.

Unfortunately, these early years are largely ignored in today's system.

This model is broken. And I aim to fix it.

But, No One Told Us...

Unfortunately, when I speak to parents of juniors for the first time, this is what I hear:

  • We didn't realize how important class selection was in 9th and 10th grade
  • We thought colleges were looking for well-rounded students
  • We didn't realize how important the summers after 8th, 9th, and 10th grade were
  • We didn't realize how competitive it was to get into a state school
  • We assumed the guidance counselor was covering everything
  • We didn't understand how important grades would be - even in freshman year
  • We didn't realize that preparing for an athletic scholarship started in 9th grade
  • We assumed that Suzie would eventually get interested in something
  • We thought Chris had what it took to get into an Ivy League school - we had no idea
  • What is an ROTC scholarship

And, to make matters worse, when parents realize that their child has some "catching up" to do - it's often too late.

When they try to start a conversation about "college admissions" - they hear the universal go-to refrain - "I can't deal with that now. It's junior year. I'm too busy. Leave me alone."

Why Are the Golden Years So Powerful?

As you can see, a high percentage of a high school student's grades, habits, experiences, and education have been established prior to junior year:

  • Nearly 70% of grades sent to colleges were earned prior to 11th grade
  • Nearly 70% of extracurricular activities happened prior to 11th grade
  • Nearly 70% of leadership experiences occurred prior to 11th grade
  • Nearly 70% of study habits were learned prior to 11th grade
  • Nearly 70% of self-care habits were established prior to 11th grade
  • Over 75% of summer experiences occurred prior to 11th grade
  • Over 70% of work experience took place prior to 11th grade
  • 95% of SAT or ACT preparation should be completed prior to 11th grade

Yes, with the right plan in place, 70% of a student's college preparation readiness should be accomplished by the time they begin junior year.

What Does My Child Do Junior Year?

That's a great question. Instead of stressing-out trying to manage EVERYTHING in junior year, students should focus on what matters most.

  1. Academics (60%): Junior year is typically the most challenging academic year with the most difficult courses. Great! 60% of your child's time should be spent digging into classwork, labs, homework, papers, projects, AP exam prep, etc. If they did not perform as well as expected on their early SAT or ACT, they have time to recover and take it again.
  2. Extracurricular Activity (25%): Deep engagement in their most significant extracurricular activity. They can make an impact through their performance, spirit, or leadership. This could be a varsity sport(s), drama club, debate team, entrepreneurship, volunteer work, etc.
  3. Refine Thoughts on College (15%): Toward the end of junior year, students will finally have a significant body of work to match to a certain "tier" of college. Now is the time to build a viable list of colleges to further explore.


In all of my interactions with high school students and parents, I have found that freshman and sophomore years are the most underappreciated and underutilized years in a student's high school career. 

To me, they represent a "Golden Age" when students can learn the habits, routines, and milestones that will set them up for ultimate success in junior year and beyond.

Unfortunately, these years are often overlooked. There is so much hype surrounding the "crazy and stressful" junior year, that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It does not have to be that way.

Closing Thoughts

My goal is to mentor my freshman and sophomore PrepWellers (including my own freshman twins) by providing a carefully designed roadmap that helps them build the skills, perspectives, and habits of a high-performer. 

I want them to enter junior year with a mental map of what to expect along with an ability to place new information into context.

The transition from sophomore to junior year is a significant one for parents. Once a teen can drive themselves to and fro, the physical and emotional separation becomes even more apparent.

This is the perfect time to let your high-schooler go.  With proper planning, they should be more than ready.


Start early. Don't wait to explore the ins-and-outs of college admissions until junior year. It will be too late to maximize your child's options.

Of course, this type of early teen development and mentoring is the premise behind PrepWell Academy.

Please share this blog with others who may have middle school and high schoolers coming up the ranks.

Keep Prepping,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

More From PrepWell

Get Started

Get Started With PrepWell Academy

This website uses cookies to create the best user experience. Learn more here. 
Copyright© 2020 PrepWell Academy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.