Academic and College Advising Advice by Grade Level

  • College Advising
  • The Teenage Years
Academic and College Advising Advice by Grade Level
Katie Gomulkiewicz '13, Dean of College and Academic Advising

As a college advisor, I know how challenging it be can for students to prioritize college admissions when busy with high school tests and essays, sports games and concerts, and other responsibilities.

Bear Creek’s Dean of Academic Advising Ayoleida Páramo and I would like to share some important advice for parents that we also encourage all students to remember. 

"To succeed, we must first believe that we can."  Michael Korda

Advice by Grade Level

Grade 9 Advice

freshmen smiling with surfaces

New Student Orientation and Microsoft Surface Pro distribution

High school should be fun and an opportunity to make friends and memories, but it is also a time to work hard and strive, to stay focused, and to take advantage of all the opportunities your high school has to offer. 

  • Pick classes that interest you. Electives, for example, are a great way to explore your passions or develop new skills.
  • Be prepared and organized. Familiarize yourself with the assignments and be sure to track important due dates on an online or paper calendar or get a planner. 
  • Manage your time well; use it wisely and avoid procrastination. 
  • Build relationships with teachers and staff and make meaningful connections with peers. Developing those relationships can ease the transition and be helpful in the long run—especially as you start to apply to colleges.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone has different high school and career goals, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Grade 10 Advice

students making blankets

Students make blankets during a service and movie night.

Sophomore year is a great time to take some initial steps toward success in the college preparation process, make plans to better understand your goals, and pursue opportunities for academic and extracurricular growth.

  • Challenge yourself when choosing courses, but not to the point that is overwhelming. Consider the whole picture, including your home responsibilities and extracurricular activities.
  • Create good habits and develop strong study skills which are critical to success in school, such as note-taking, test preparation, organization, and planning.
  • Think about what you are good at, what you enjoy, and where the two intersect. This might help you determine your future career goals. 
  • Pursue character-building opportunities, not just resume-building opportunities. For instance, consider meaningful volunteering opportunities outside of school.
  • Ask for help and advice from upperclassmen, teachers, counselors, and other staff members; do not struggle in silence. Successful students know how to use the resources available.

Grade 11 Advice

student painting on glass

Upper School student painting in Advanced Studio Art

Junior year is often characterized as the toughest year of high school. Why is that? Usually, this is the year academic rigor increases, activities become more intense, and you may find yourself pursuing leadership or other opportunities that take additional time. Junior year is manageable but being proactive is key.

  • Challenge yourself academically within the scope of your other courses and commitments. This may mean taking a couple AP classes, continuing a language, trying a new elective, etc.
  • Continue to invest in activities that you love. It could be a sport, an art, a volunteer organization, a church group, whatever the activity or activities that you enjoy, keep doing them and look for opportunities to invest deeper.
  • Begin some light college application preparation. As a junior, you should plan to take the SAT or ACT in the spring. You can also stop by local colleges or, if you are visiting out of state, wander through a campus nearby taking note of what you like and what you do not. If your school offers college visits, then attend those as well. 
  • Don’t be idle in the summer. There are lots of options for what to do, but it is important to do something. This could mean traveling with family, coaching a youth summer camp, playing a summer sports season, attending an arts camp, or working at YoungLife camp. Many colleges also offer summer programs for juniors which expose students to college classes and help prepare them for the college search process. This is important for rising grade 11 students as well as rising grade 12 students.
  • Stay the course. There will be busy times junior year, but you can do it. Remember to be an advocate for yourself and use study and organizational skills to help balance your responsibilities. 

Grade 12 Advice

hight school seniors smiling at camera

Upper School students pose in their future college sweatshirts

  • Use the summer prior to senior year wisely. Begin crafting a preliminary college list with my guidance. Attend the summer essay workshops and drop-in appointments to jump-start the college application process. Fill your summer with something productive and fun as mentioned above.
  • Keep taking a robust course load. It is understandable to want to take fewer or less rigorous courses as a senior, however, colleges want to see that students have continued to work hard in school and take classes for the love of learning. This is also true for your edification, not just college applications.
  • Remember college deadlines come in bunches. Early deadlines are typically in November and regular deadlines are typically in January. This means you will have an influx of college application work around those times. Plan ahead and be proactive with supplemental essays and other materials. 
  • Use the resources available to you. In the fall, continue to craft and modify your college list. Ask someone to help you brainstorm essays and provide edits.  
  • Don’t forget to have fun. Senior year should be filled with so many memories. Look ahead to college, but also savor every moment with your classmates. Many memorable things occur senior year including dances, sporting events, concerts, plays, art shows, and so much more. Enjoy these moments in the midst of the daily ebb and flow of senior year. 

We hope that this advice is helpful to parents as well as students as you partner to help support each student in becoming the individual God intends through an exciting high school experience filled with interesting classes, fun activities, and a lifetime of memories. 

About the Author

Katie Gomulkiewicz

Katie Gomulkiewicz is the Dean of College and Academic Advising at The Bear Creek School. Katie graduated from Bear Creek in 2013 and returned as the Assistant Director of Admissions for Middle School and Upper School in 2017. In 2022, Katie completed her master’s thesis, “An Exploration of Standardized Psychosocial Measures Within the College Admissions Process,” and began her new role as the Dean of College and Academic Advising.

When not working, Katie enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, and boxing at a local gym. She also spends time with her dogs, Jean Louise (Scout) and Oscar Wilde, walking, playing fetch, and training for scent detection competitions. Katie holds a B.S. in Psychology and English from Davidson College and M.P.S. in Higher Education Administration from Georgetown University.