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Countdown to SUNY: 9th Grade Plan

Did you know . . .

That college graduates earn substantially more money than high school graduates? Here is a breakdown of the median 2008 earnings by college degree:

$100,000 Professional Degree
$  91,900 Doctoral Degree
$  67,300 Master’s Degree
$  55,700 Bachelor’s (4-year) Degree
$  42,000 Associate (2-year) Degree
$  33,800 High School Diploma or GED
$  24,300 No High School Diploma
Source:  Education Pays 2010, The College Board

The courses you take in high school are important.

Whether you plan to attend a 4-year college, technology or community college, take at least five academic classes every semester in high school to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and reasoning. Colleges are looking for a solid foundation of learning that you can build upon. Keep in mind that even though they may not be required for high school graduation, most colleges prefer the following:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of social studies
  • 3 years of math (including Integrated Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry)
  • 3 years of laboratory science
  • 2-3 years of the same foreign language
  • Courses in fine arts and computer science are strongly recommended

Many states have diploma options available to students, and these options frequently require additional high school coursework. For example, to be eligible for the New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, the following courses are required in high school:

  • 4 units of English
  • 4 units of social studies
  • 3 units of mathematics
  • 3 units of science
  • 0.5 unit of health
  • 1 unit of arts (dance, music, theatre or visual arts)
  • 3 units of languages other than English*
  • 2 units (typically four school years) of physical education
  • 1.5 units of sequence courses, electives*

*Units required are adjusted for students taking a sequence in career and technical education or the arts.

Except where noted, each unit typically represents one school year of successfully completed coursework.

Your counselor can help you make the right class choices.

Take academics seriously and keep your grades up.

Your high school grades are important and the difficulty of your courses may be a factor in a college’s decision to offer you admission. College admission officers will pay close attention to your grade point average (GPA), class rank, Advanced Placement (AP), and other honors-level courses, as well as your scores on standardized tests and state exams such as the Regents in New York State. Regents’ scores are reflected on your transcript and will be viewed by colleges. So, challenge yourself by taking tougher courses and maintaining good grades. Not only will this help prepare you for standardized tests (such as the PSAT, SAT and ACT) but it will also determine your eligibility for some colleges. Many high school seniors realize their grade point average is too low for the colleges they wish to attend simply because of the grades they earned in the 9th and 10th grades. Don’t let this happen to you! All grades count from 9th to 12th.

Get a head start on your SUNY application.

Begin building your SUNY Online Academic Record (SOAR) at the end of 9th grade. You will be able to return at the end of each academic year to update SOAR with additional courses and test scores. And, by the time you are ready to apply in your senior year, your academic record will be nearly complete! Request an unofficial transcript from your school counselor to begin your SOAR. Then login to create an account. Be sure to remember your login and password and keep them in a secure location.

Get to know your teachers, counselor and principal.

Show them that you are both serious about learning and are a hard worker. When you begin applying to college in a couple of years, you will have people who know you well. Those who know you well will write the strongest recommendation letters.

Review your transcript yearly, especially if a grade has been changed on your report card by a teacher or a transcript update has been submitted by your counselor. Be sure to have these changes verified by your parent/guardian. This is crucial as teachers and counselors retire and without written proof, your transcript and GPA may be negatively affected.

Be sure to check out the College Board's 20 Questions to Ask Your School Counselor.

Get involved.

In school activities . . . community service . . . part-time work
Find something you like and stick to it! Colleges pay attention to your life outside of the classroom and value these types of experiences. Begin getting involved now. Be sure to keep (and update regularly) a list of your activities, awards, honors, jobs, and offices you have held in organizations. Colleges want to see passion and commitment, and the key is not to be involved in every club but to select a few that really appeal to you.

It is not the quantity but the quality and longevity of involvement in activities or organizations that matters. For example, if, as a 9th grader, you join the school newspaper and are a club reporter and then in 10th grade become a sports reporter, in 11th, a sports editor and in 12th, the editor-in-chief, it demonstrates growth in leadership. In community service, the same applies. It is not a sign of commitment if you simply participate in a charity walk once a year for four years. Rather, you should find something in which you have an avid interest. Whether it is an animal shelter, a nursing home, or a soup kitchen, the idea is that you stay and put in significant time. As your commitment becomes obvious to the program coordinator, you should be given more responsibility and by your fourth year, a special project which you lead. For example, if you were to work in a nursing home and gained the respect and trust of those in charge, by the fourth year, they might acknowledge your sense of responsibility and leadership skills allowing you to plan, implement, and supervise a special program like a "Seniors Prom."

Get a head start by creating your activities resume now. An activities resume is a great way to highlight your strengths to inform colleges about your out-of-class accomplishments and special talents. Once you begin your activities resume, you can update it as you accomplish and achieve by adding your new activity, skill or job.

Start saving for college.

It’s not too early to begin saving for college. Learn about 529 plans. The College Savings Plans Network is a national non-profit association dedicated to making college accessible and affordable for families.

Another way to begin saving for college is by earning points when you shop.

Make the most of your summer.

Keep busy by doing something meaningful such as finding a summer job, identifying a volunteer experience in a career field that interests you, learning or perfecting a skill or hobby, going to summer school to get ahead or catch up, attending a summer program or camp, or catching up on your reading.

Additional ideas include the following:
  • Find a community service project and commit significant hours.
  • Attend a summer camp and hone your testing skills, athletic skills, or a hobby such as music.
  • Find a summer college program where you can master subject areas of interest or leadership training.
  • Go to summer school to advance or to repeat a subject that was failed.
  • Utilize the 10th grade reading lists for English, social studies, etc., to complete assignments and free-up time during the beginning of the school year.
While there are many helpful resources, here are a few to get you started:

What does it all mean?

ACT - A college entrance examination generally taken during the junior and/or senior year that assesses a student’s general educational development and his/her ability to complete college-level work. The ACT is comprised of four subject tests - English, mathematics, reading, and science and an optional writing test (essay).

AP (Advanced Placement) - Courses and exams that enable high school students to earn college credit or advanced standing at most American colleges and universities. To learn more about AP courses and subject area exams go to

Associate Degree - The associate degree is awarded to students who complete a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.0 GPA.

Athletics - Colleges and universities belong to leagues that have their own rules, regulations, and eligibility requirements. SUNY participates in NCAA Divisions I and III and NJCAA Divisions I, II, and III, and NAIA, and USCAA.

NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) - Division I and II schools offer athletic scholarships and students are required to meet NCAA’s academic requirements. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships and students are not required to meet NCAA academic requirements.

A future student athlete should meet with his/her counselor as early as possible to review the NCAA requirements to ensure he/she is taking the right high school courses.

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) - NJCAA Division I and II schools offer scholarships, while Division III schools do not. There are no academic eligibility requirements for student athletes entering junior or community colleges.

NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) - NAIA schools have an option of awarding full or partial scholarships. In order to play a sport or receive an athletic scholarship, a student must meet eligibility requirements.

USCAA (United States Collegiate Athletic Association) - USCAA schools have an option of awarding full or partial scholarships. In order to play a sport or receive an athletic scholarship, a student must meet USCAA eligibility requirements.

Bachelor’s Degree (also called Baccalaureate Degree) - The bachelor’s degree is awarded to students who complete a minimum of 120 college credits. Bachelor’s degrees are found at four-year colleges and universities.

Certificate Programs - Certificate programs provide specific job skills, require a minimum of 30 college credits and are generally offered at community colleges.

Class Rank - Many high schools use class rank to show where a student stands academically in relation to other members in his/her graduating class. The student who has the highest GPA is number one in the class. The student with the second highest GPA is number two, etc.

Community/Junior College - A community/junior college is also known as a two-year school. Courses offered include a transfer curriculum with credits transferable toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college and an occupational or technical curricula with courses of study designed to prepare students for employment in two years.

Credit - College courses are measured in credit hours and typical college classes are 3 credit hours. A full-time student will generally take 15 college credits, or 4 to 5 classes, per semester.

Early Action - An admission program under which students apply early to one or more colleges and receive a decision, prior to regular notification dates, without an obligation to attend. Admission is non-binding. Students typically have until May 1 to declare their intent to enroll and may apply under Early Action to as many schools as they wish.

Early Decision - An admission program under which students apply early and receive a decision prior to regular notification dates. Admission is binding. If they are offered admission, they must commit to attending the college. As a result, students may not apply under Early Decision to more than one college.

FAFSA - The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required for students wishing to apply for financial aid - including federal, state, and campus-based aid. The FAFSA should be completed as soon after January 1 of the senior year in high school as possible, even if the family taxes have not been filed.

GPA (Grade Point Average) - Grade point average reflects the average of a student's semester (or end of term) grades, starting with the freshman year. Although GPA scales differ among schools, they are usually reported as letters or numbers on a variety of scales.

Some schools have "weighted grades" for honors and/or AP courses. If a high school has weighted grades, then a grade in a weighted course is worth more than it is in a non-weighted course. For example, an A in an honors course might be worth 5 points instead of the usual 4, a B worth 4 points instead of 3, etc.

A variety of methods are used to determine GPA. Regardless of the method used, the higher the grades, the higher the GPA, and the higher the GPA, the greater the college and scholarship opportunities.

IB (International Baccalaureate) - IB programs promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional, and social growth. Diploma students take six subjects, write a 4,000 word extended essay, complete a course in theory of knowledge, as well as complete a number of creativity, action, and service projects. IB diplomas are recognized by the world’s leading universities and may result in awarding of college credit and/or scholarships.

Major - The primary field of study in which an individual wishes to receive a degree.

Minor - A second field of study requiring fewer credit hours than a major.

PLAN - A "pre ACT" test that also assists students with their career and college planning. Typically PLAN is administered in the fall of the sophomore year.

PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) - A practice test for the SAT that is also used to determine National Merit finalists. The PSAT/NMSQT is given in October, primarily to juniors, and measures critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills.

Recommendation - Most colleges request two or three letters of recommendation when submitting an application for admission. These are generally written by people who know you inside and outside of the classroom (usually an academic teacher and a college advisor/school counselor).

SAT Reasoning Test - A college entrance examination generally taken during the junior and/or senior year that measures the critical thinking skills needed for academic success in college. The SAT includes critical reading, mathematics, and writing sections.

SAT II: Subject Tests - One-hour tests that measure a student’s knowledge in specific subject areas that should be taken as the high school subjects are completed. These tests are required by some of the more competitive colleges.

Transcript - A document that details a student’s academic achievement in high school. Although the appearance of the transcript varies from school to school, all high school transcripts generally contain the following information: courses, grades, and credits for each grade completed, beginning with grade nine; current cumulative GPA and class rank; and anticipated graduation date. An unofficial transcript is exactly the same as an official transcript except that there is no signature, stamp, or seal.

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