What did you do in freshman year high school to get you into UCLA or any top school

Hi everyone,

Please help if you know the answer :slight_smile:

I would like some advices to help my son, freshman highschool to get into a good school. So far he is unable to take any AP at 9th grade (not allow at his school). Schoo load is :
Math 2 (Geometry)
English 1
Biology 1
Viet 1

After school he does:
piano (has been since elementary but only for fun.)
cross-country (too lose weight)
scouting (weekend)
community service is thru scouting setting.

He is getting A and always have 2-3 hours daily when he is free. Mostly hw is done at school, afternoon is for activies. And night is free. He expressed concern that school might be too easy and he is ok to pickup another class/activity to fill his time.

Is there anything that I can give him. I discussed with his counselor but still don’t have a solid advice. Dream school is UCLA, premed.


Are you California residents?

For premed, attending the most academically challenging university that you can possibly get accepted to is not always the best approach. Medical school is expensive. Saving money for medical school is nearly always a good idea. Medical school admissions depends a lot on your undergraduate GPA and on your experience in a medical environment. Undergraduate premed classes are going to be tough at any “top 200” university. Premed classes are going to be full of many very strong and very determined students at any “top 200” university. It is not easy to be near the top of the class in premed classes even if you are at a slightly more “average” university.

Also, most students who start university thinking that they are premed end up doing something else. For a freshman in high school, it is still very early and there are many other very good careers to consider.

Of course UCLA is not in the Ivy League. I attended for undergrad a highly ranked university that also is not in the Ivy League (specifically MIT). In freshman year of high school I did not do anything at all for the purpose of getting into a highly ranked university. I took the classes that were right for me. I did not jump ahead in math, but instead excelled at the math classes that I did take. I participated in the ECs that I wanted to participate in. In the long term this resulted in my doing them quite well, but in freshman year of high school I was really only finding out which activities I was going to like and do well in down the road.

I am not surprised at all that his counselor does not have solid advice. I am not sure that I do either other than (i) He should take the classes that make sense for him; (ii) He should participate in the ECs that make sense for him; (iii) Take it one day at a time.

I am pleased that your high school does not allow freshman to take AP classes. If I ran a high school, I would make the same rule.


He is only a freshman. I hope he can enjoy high school for a couple of years without worrying about getting into college. He can work hard at school, make friends, enjoy down time, while also exploring interests outside of school and developing whatever interests he wants to focus on, over time.


Still the best advice out there, from the admissions office at MIT:

Is his dream school UCLA- or yours?! Either way, what makes it a ‘dream school’? I am not an expert on either UCLA or pre-med, but I have been hanging around on CC long enough to know that UCLA is not necessarily the best place to be pre-med.

I am wondering about his course load though. Typically a rigorous HS schedule would have one each of the core classes: English, Math, a Lab Science, a Social Science (usually History), plus a Foreign Language. I don’t see any social science in there- did you accidentally leave it out? Also, assuming Viet refers to Vietnamese as a language class, is it a foreign language for your son, or is he a heritage speaker?


I think the biggest mistake that freshman make is that the doesn’t get involved in something. I think it is good if they have something where an actual accomplishment happens and they can grow in responsibility. Many HS clubs just have a meeting once a month, eat pizza, and the officers are a title only. My DS’s example is he got involved in yearbook his freshman year. In his HS, yearbook is an EC only. At some HS’s, it is a class. He started as a writer, then became a section editor and in his Senior year was Editor-in-Chief. Since you actually have to produce a yearbook each year, you have to do work. If you don’t do it, you don’t get the promotion next year. Now, none of this should be done for college admissions only. It is too much work if you don’t enjoy it.


There are tons of good schools in the US. You don’t need to be in any Ivy to have a great trajectory.

Your child should focus on taking all five core subjects each year - math, English, science, history, and foreign language (that isn’t spoken in the home).

They should try to have bio, chem, physics, and then one of those courses at the AP level.

Get to Calculus by senior year if possible but if not, pre-calc.

Many schools do not offer AP courses to freshman and sophomores so don’t worry about that. A school report with those policies accompanies a students transcript for college applications.

Your child should focus on developing good study habits and finding activities that they enjoy.


Title doesn’t match original post. Dream school is UCLA, not an Ivy.

“Dream school is UCLA premed”

Are you a CA resident? If not, can you pay the full cost of attendance at UCLA which now is about $65,000 a year? And why UCLA for premed? There are plenty of reasons this isn’t a good choice.

Is your student a U.S. citizen or permanent resident?

At this point, lots of things can change. As a 14 year old, you kid might be interested in becoming a doctor, but by the time he is 21 or 22 he might not be.

Your kid needs to take a strong courseload, and get good grades. But your ninth grader also needs to be allowed to be a ninth grader and have some ECs that are of interest and are fun.

And…I don’t see any social studies in his current courses (American history, world history, etc). When does he plan to take those courses. Our state requires three years of these to graduate. Also…where is physical education/health?

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Title has been changed to reflect the body of the post.

@beyeu107: Please let your Freshman be a Freshman and have them enjoy HS without the added pressure of trying to get into their “dream” school. BTW, I hate the idea of the a “dream” school since any school in which a student gets accepted can be their “dream” school. You have been given great advice and all I can add is students will end up where they are meant to end up, be it UCLA or any other university.

UCLA will be a Reach school for all applicants. Below is some great information about California and Medical school applicants.

CA is one of the worst states for a pre-med to be a resident of. Large population; not enough med school seats.

CA produced over 6200 med school applicants in the last cycle. Only 16% of the those 6200+ matriculated at a CA med school (public or private). Another 25% matriculated at an OOS med school, but most CA applicants (59% or 3652) were not accepted into ANY med school.

Nationally, less than 40% of med school applicants are accepted into any medical school in any given year. The odds for MD/PhDs are even poorer–238 applied; 88 matriculated.>



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First of all, if your kid is happy doing what he’s doing, and is doing well in school, you might want to just let him be, and be careful not to pressure him. The California public system offers many inexpensive options for in-state residents. If it’s not UCLA, it will probably be one of the other UCs. If you’re hoping for a highly selective UC, because they’re not looking at SAT/ACT, and because they don’t consider race, recommendations for what to do might be different than, say, for Ivies and other highly selective schools.

Here’s what my child did. First of all, he virtually always took the most rigorous courses available to him, meaning honors and AP, and always took English, Math, Science with lab, History/Social Studies, and Foreign Language until he was done with AP foreign language. He studied hard and did his best in school, academically. He usually took a very full schedule, often 8 classes/day with no lunch (he’d eat during band or another class that allowed these kids to bring their lunch and eat during class), so that he’d get the most out of the offered electives. I think it’s great that your son is doing cross country to lose weight - it will help him with that, also he’ll make friends running together with the the other kids.

He took the PSAT and a free practice ACT and so found out by the middle of junior year that he was better-suited to the ACT than the SAT, self-studied for the ACT, got a very high score.

But here is where my kid was different, and stood out from most applicants. He played a brass band instrument that was versatile, could be played in jazz band, marching/concert band, and symphony orchestra, took lessons and practiced at least an hour a day from about age 8, and got very good at it. He won international (but held in US or Canada) competitions. He played with highly respected youth ensembles, both jazz and classical, in major cities. He did all this because he loved doing it, but it made his college applications really stand out. He had extraordinary achievement in one specific area, and clearly, the tippy-top school that took him liked this.

In your student’s case, because of the California issue of being test-blind, the only way that you can tell the California public schools that the applicant scores very highly on standardized tests (which often differentiates between high GPA students who come from highly competitive high schools vs high schools with extremely low academic standards) is to score high enough on the PSAT to become a National Merit Finalist. That way, the student can list National Merit (or Commendation) as an honor on their application, and hence bypass the “test-blind” policy. So I would encourage him to prep starting now for the PSAT (same prep books as SAT), which is given in the fall of 11th grade. It’s ironic, because by going test-blind, CA public schools now have put all the standardized test score stress onto the PSAT! It’s effectively an all or nothing phenomenon - you either make National Merit (or Commendation) so that you can put it in the Honors/Awards section, or its nothing, and you only get one shot at the test. But if he can get a very high score, he can let the CA schools know that by putting down the National Merit honor he could receive.

If your kid is musical, and is interested in starting and playing an uncommon instrument, such as the tuba, this could be a way in, anywhere that has an orchestra/band, but doesn’t have a conservatory to draw upon. When my kid was at the most prestigious, biggest-name precollege conservatory program, they could only find 3 tubas for the program, even though they were drawing upon an enormous metropolitan region. My kid said that only two were good - the third was not good, but they took him, because there just were no players available, and they needed him for brass quintets. Same goes for a number of other instruments - euphonium, bassoon, oboe, french horn. So this can be a big boost for a student in applications to schools that don’t have a conservatory, but want/need these players for band and orchestra. Again, this is only an option if your kid is musical (which he is) and if he is interested in trying this. If you’re in the LA area, I am sure that there is at least one, and possibly several precollege conservatory programs. We saw that my kid’s friends from his precollege conservatory/orchestra programs all got into top schools (and many chose top conservatories).

Another thing that impresses some highly selective schools are innovative extracurriculars “for a cause”. They seem to be looking for students who show tremendous drive and motivation to do things that are going to make their mark on the world, that are going to change the world for the better. Hence, the student who became a passionate campaigner for gun control after surviving a school shooting eventually got into Harvard.

So aside from doing well in the most rigorous classes that his school offers, and continuing with cross country and track for weight loss, health, and socializing, is there anything that your son really loves doing? It’s not too late to start an instrument that my kid’s first band teacher referred to as “scholarship row” (or in the case of Ivies, acceptance row), if he is willing and interested. But is there something else that he loves doing, some strong inclination, be it academic or extracurricular, that he could develop into something very outstanding, both for his own satisfaction, and for his application? It has to be something that he really likes to do, or he might be miserable, and it could backfire.

I saw my role as the facilitator, meaning that I made many opportunities for the kids to try things, and then we focused on those that the kids were good at, and enjoyed. By 9th grade, they had found what they really were good at, really enjoyed, and so were fairly focused in their extracurriculars by that age.


You can major in anything and go to med school by the way. You have to do prerequisites, either during college or afterward at a post-bacc program (which costs money).

The goal of becoming a doctor is very common among high schoolers, and often they change their mind. For a freshman, that goal is even more unreliable. Your child might benefit from a few years where career is not decided. Many many high schoolers want to be doctors or lawyers because they know about the professions, but change their minds as they mature.


My advice is that the best thing to do freshman year is to try out as many clubs and organizations, both in and out of school, as is possible. Don’t focus on what he wants to major in but try anything that sounds like it might be fun. Some might not be right for him and it is okay to drop those but try everything. When he finds the ones that he enjoys, stick with those so his leadership develops naturally.

For example, if he is a STEM kid, he can try the traditional robotics, TSA type clubs but also look at things like stage crew, speech and debate, school newspaper. Outside of school, does your library have a volunteer program? How about the local hospital, city orgs or museums? Could he work as a camp counselor or tutor kids?

If he is one of the few that actually ends up applying for med school, they are not only looking for scholars but for students that have interpersonal skills and can work with patients from all walks of life. Freshman year is a great time to start developing those interpersonal skills.

ETA: The UC application has space for 20 activities/awards/extra curriculars and asks students to write a short paragraph about the organization and their role in it. This blog has some helpful suggestions.


See if he can add a social science or history class (common examples for freshmen would be: World History 1, AP Human Geography).
Is Vièt a heritage language or a foreign language to him? What languages does his school offer?

Since he feels he has plenty of time, he should try and join lots of clubs at school, just to see what “clicks”. He could also find a place in your community that needs volunteers -it could be through a church, temple, youth association…etc.

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First, do not encourage a “dream school” mindset. Also, he should put thoughts of a college list aside until junior year.

Like any high school freshman, he should be focused on doing high school well by taking a course load that meets the challenge of his intellect while engaging in activities that he enjoys. If he is challenged and succeeding in the classroom and actively engaged in his high school and/or local community, things should work out. He should take joy in his experiences, not view them as transactional steps to some deferred gratification in the form of a UCLA acceptance letter.

Your student should know there are a lot of very good schools out there, and when the time comes, he should know there are some schools where he will have a high probability of being accepted and where he could be happy. Can reach like UCLA be on his list? Sure. Should it be something he absolutely sets his heart on to the exclusion of a balanced life and outlook this young? I would advise against that.


I second this advice. My daughter is at UCLA but did not have a dream school going into the process. The acceptance came as a surprise (she’s in engineering and they told them that their acceptance rate was 7%, whaaaaaat?) and she had a number of options all of which she would have been happy at. Her room mate is an biochemistry/premed major and they are both loving their time so far at the school. Being an active part of your school’s community on top of being a good student is probably helpful both in admissions and in being successful at the school. It is an enormous school with seemingly infinite opportunities which can be empowering and overwhelming at the same time. It takes a student with a certain self-awareness, maturity and gusto for learning to do well in that environment. I would encourage you and your kid to look into different schools and find one that best fits their educational and social needs. Don’t just go on the name. I have an in-law that is a California educated doctor. He did his undergrad at Humboldt State university in marine biology while becoming a certified scuba diver and participating in various research trips along the coasts of California and Mexico. He absolutely LOVED his time at Humboldt and all the family wear our Humboldt swag sweaters that he got us proudly.


Thank you for the link. UCLA is his choice, after a school research project in 8th grade.

It were his and my fault that I didn’t know a Social Science class is needed. I didn’t attend high school in this country!

I speak Vietnamese but my son can only understand very little so he took the class as non-native speaker and he actually has a lots of fun learning bad words like die, fail, suck :smiley:

Thank you, I’ll expand his list more. He also consider UC Davis, UCSD as favorite schools and other lower tier UC/CSU schools for safety. I am hoping he will try to apply 1-2 Ivy as well but I am not sure.

Thank you, I didn’t know this. It is too late to add. Probably will ask him to take a class at local community college to make up for it.

thank you @lkg4answers, he is doing clubs and working on scouting (not sure if he’ll make Eagle but he likes to try that)

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congrats to your daughter 7% is very competitive !