How to Get Into College Starting in 9th Grade

At elite universities, admissions officers look for two years of AP English

Ninth grade is the first year that students’ grades impact their college admissions chances. Because of this, the stakes are high, much higher than they were in middle school.

College admissions officers recognize that a ninth grader might skitter around a bit upon entering high school. But they still expect to see a qualifying GPA on the transcript submitted to college. What does that mean in terms of a student’s performance?

Let’s put it this way. If a student receives a 2.5 GPA in ninth grade, even if that student receives all A’s from that point forward, the best GPA that student can achieve by the spring of junior year when that student starts applying to college is 3.5. And for competitive colleges and universities, that’s just not good enough for admission.

In addition, starting in ninth grade, students need to start strategizing course selections so that when they do apply to college, their transcripts reveal not just a qualifying GPA but a willingness to challenge themselves.

In order to optimize college admissions chances, college-bound ninth graders need to:

  • Improve or maintain good study habits
  • Identify opportunities for growth
  • Prepare to take and take challenging courses throughout high school
  • Prepare for the SAT or ACT.
  • Focus and develop interests in a few extracurricular activities; try to specialize, don’t generalize
  • Develop an independent extracurricular capstone project (passion project)

That’s a lot!

But there is one more thing that high-achieving, college-bound students need to be aware of. College-bound students, even those interested in STEM, need to be especially concerned with their language arts/English grades.


At many elite universities, college admissions officers are quietly telling alumnae/i parents that students who take two AP English courses have a better chance of admission than those who do not take any honors or AP English courses. Why?

A student’s success in English class is based on a student’s ability to think critically, not memorize. In other words, students’ work in English / language arts courses teaches students to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious, to infer meaning, and to make compelling written arguments. In other words, a student’s work in English / language arts tests the skills that machines have not yet mastered.

And why is that so important to college admissions officers?

Two reasons.

1. College faculty present students with new challenges, challenges for which we don’t yet have answers. Problems such as unexpected pandemics. And they are expecting that their admissions officers are going to admit students who are capable of tackling such challenges, not students who can only succeed when presented with a rulebook or how-to manual.

2. According to Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the Program for International Student Assessment a fifth of American 15-year-olds do not have the reading skills expected of a 10-year-old according to Erica Green and Dana Goldstein at The NewYork Times. Students admitted without competent language arts skills put a heavy financial burden on colleges and universities who then have to remediate those students. This is especially concerning for colleges now, given the financial fallout from COVID that continues to affect college budgets, and is especially manifest in cuts to writing programs and college tutoring centers.

Bottom line: If you want to go to college, start strong. And even if you are an aspiring engineer or neuroscientist, don’t neglect to challenge yourself with the most difficult English courses your school offers. .

Want help strategizing your path to your dream school? Call us! We’ll help you plot out the courses you should take, optimize your extracurricular profile, help you develop an independent extracurricular capstone project (aka passion project), prep for tests, and write your Common App essay and the supplemental essays.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, phone, and Google docs to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized curriculum for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and college aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and win admission to the Ivy League and other competitive colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.