Posted by: Jacqui Murray | July 21, 2014

Headed for USNA? Prepare Yourself Sophomore Year HS

Here’s a summary of what your sophomore year in high school might resemble if your goal for college is USNA. This is based on the real experiences of a successful Naval Academy applicant, what she did

building a midshipman

How to crack the USNA application

for the four years of high school to make sure she was offered a slot at the college of her choice:

You review lessons from freshman year. High school, as expected, proved a daunting experience. So many students, everyone with their own agenda. Too many activities, each important in its own way. And teachers have their own divergent instructional methods with sometimes oxymoronic rules. So much coal to dig through to find the diamonds. Your problems started with questioning what you couldn’t change:

“Why do I have to do it that way?”

You may have been right, but the teacher ignored a poorly presented incursion into his/her teaching techniques by a fourteen-year old high school freshman with too much attitude. The ill-fated conclusion became either:

  • a) The teacher got annoyed with you and ended up not liking you
  • b) Oops—you turned out to be wrong, and this truth dawned too late to save your grade, or
  • c) You got frustrated with the whole process and gave up.

Well, to your credit, you learned the ropes. It’s over, and this summer something clicks. You realize that life’s default path isn’t your vision of the future.

Without your full and complete attention, you will end up in a location that fate selects—not you. To persuade that invisible force to open doors of your preference demands that you make active decisions and then follow through.

For you, the desire to attend the University of Notre Dame pushes you forward one objective at a time. UND has been part of family lore your entire life. Mostly because of their legendary football team, but also their exemplary scholastics. When you research their academics, you find that distinguished professors teach even freshman classes, and their varied majors cover all of your scientific areas of interest. Plus, they have an orchestra.

For many college entrance requirements, sophomore year starts the academic record-/GPA-/placement in the class-countdown. But not the Naval Academy. They count Freshman-Sophomore-Junior year. Senior year only counts for applicants on the scholastic bubble. This summer, like last summer, will be spent on scholarly pursuits, repairing damage and preparing for sophomore year:

  •  Develop a plan of action for the next twenty-four months designed to correct freshman year flaws and insure the accomplishment of your dreams. You post it on the wall above your desk. Every time you sit down to do homework, you’ll see those goals, remember those reasons, and study harder.
  • Retake Geometry over the summer. Your confidence in your math and science abilities fractured after Honors Geometry and this will reinforce what you did learn while backfilling what you didn’t understand,
  • Drop to non-honors Algebra II and non-honors chemistry for sophomore year. These fit your aptitude better and you hope will allow you a better chance to absorb the material
  • Play summer soccer with the District’s soccer league. You’re aiming for Varsity next year, so spend this time ironing out shots on goal, dribbling, and perfecting soccer strategy. You practice four days a week, play ten games, and get to know teammates and coaches. A good investment of time.
  • Recommit yourself to violin. Dedicate several hours of each summer day to practice, and re-evaluate next year. You had a few setbacks with your violin. You didn’t qualify for All-State, and because of the shortened weekly practice (studying for classes took a lot more time than you had planned), you didn’t progress sufficiently in the classical repertoire required for college auditions. Still, this summer can make a difference. Violin gives a voice to your ‘other’ self buried beneath math formulas and memorized facts.
  • Research the fundamental premise of your science project. DNA has intrigued you since seventh grade. Read about singalization, hybridization, plate tectonics and paleogeology, and try to puzzle out your hypothesis.

Summer’s over. Sophomore year starts with an epiphany: You want to excel in academics. Not just good grades, but to your potential.

This is a decisive discovery: You dislike trading grades for free time, short-changing homework for face time with friends, accepting that you aren’t doing your best. You opted out of Honors Chemistry to select a level more suited to your skills. Same for Honors Math. By second quarter, you are enjoying the positive results of those decisions. Your confidence in and enthusiasm for all things cerebral has returned with a gusto.

By Christmas, you tire of hanging out at lunch with a crowd that chatters and gossips for forty minutes about incipient incidentals—movies, dates, boys/girls, girls/boys, more movies. The group revolves around the popular/well-dressed/lots of make-up/rich girl-boy. You want to discuss the upcoming Algebra II test. More and more, you’re disinterested in the conversation and the people. You make a seminal decision, one that becomes the nexus of your evolved academic pursuit: You change your group of friends.

One sunny, sparkling California lunch period, you wander over to the perspicacious leaderless group you noticed as a freshman, their raucous voices loud as they spar over a political topic.

“Fifteenth century Italian art reflected their politics.”

“Maybe, but it was more about their religion.”

“What’s the cost-benefit analysis of that SAT class?  I already know what they’re going to teach.”

That day, their lunch-time conversation meandered from politics to classes to ideas, to geometry proofs.

They sharpened mental skills by pertinaciously challenging each other to defend statements, reveling in the cogent and pithy presentation of complicated ideas. You’re laughing, participating, and enjoying yourself. These aren’t the jocks, the Prom King/Queen, or teacher’s pets. They demand you defend your opinions with facts. And no one here hates school. Some may find it boring or easy, but mostly, they study too hard, stay up until homework is (scrupulously) finished, and demand of each other that class work be done with accuracy. No one wastes sympathy on laggards or slackers.

As it turns out, these kids will end up going to Harvard (two of them), Stanford (two of them), Harvey Mudd (one), Johns Hopkins (one), the University of Notre Dame (one), Amherst (one) and the United States Naval Academy (two). But, no one knew that sophomore year, during lunch.

There’s Sonya—gorgeous, well-muscled, a competent gymnast who spends four hours a day practicing her art—while maintaining straight A’s in an Honors/AP/IB track. She’s obsessed with her looks, her muscles, her legs. When she deigns to help a friend with difficult physics or calculus, she does a thorough and effective job.

Because she’s so gorgeous, everyone giggles when she applies to MIT, and is stunned when she is accepted—early. By Senior Year, Sonya has taken credit for your USNA acceptance—after all, it’s her group of friends you hooked up with.

There’s Alec—slam-dunk winner for the smartest senior award. Sleeps through Honors Chemistry and AP Physics, and still gets A’s. Doesn’t know if he wants to go to Harvard or Stanford—but everyone knows he’ll be accepted to both. Spends the summer taking AP classes at Stanford—every summer—which guarantees his GPA is higher than anyone else’s. To insure he appears well-rounded to colleges, he excels at swimming and fencing. He plays clarinet, although he dropped band Sophomore year. Alec can develop an erudite argument for any position he chooses. To the dismay of his friends, he proved that school dances were contrary to school goals, by quoting current laws and student opinions.

There’s Ricky, a skinny, tattooed, child genius. Very humorous and a nonstop talker. Teachers love him for his disingenuous approach to class.

He doesn’t tolerate people who don’t get it. Your first memory of him pictured how he spit his lunch food as he tried to chew and talk through his braces. He takes a bus thirty miles to get to school, and skips at least a day a week—not because of the commute, but because he doesn’t feel he needs to go.

He loves to run, but it interferes with his TV time. He plays Scrabble and chess online, and reads to fill his evening hours. He applied to only one school—Harvey Mudd. Why waste the time and money on other applications when that’s where he wants to go?? Senior year, he went out for football—and made it. He had the audacious confidence to challenge Sonya to a handstand contest. He wobbled for fifteen seconds; Sonya never fell—even though she agreed to walk on her hands to make it more difficult.

There’s Dhana. You’ve known her since elementary school. Even then, her scholastic genius set her apart. She’s well-aware of her intelligence, knows she’s smarter than most everyone and lacks respect for anyone who doesn’t use their cerebral skills in every aspect of their life. She used to ignore you—until sixth grade when you beat her in a Geography Bee. And ninth grade when you became Concertmaster. And tenth grade when you won the departmental award in Science—and she won it in Art. She’s evolved into a strong, confident, accomplished friend who you can rely on for projects and right answers.

Then there’s Jack. Number four in the senior class, with a 4.8 GPA and an 800 on the Math IIC SATII. He’s a Varsity wrestler, and a national champion at the game of Go. His hobbies include “…Reading, writing, playing … abstract board games, skateboarding, snowboarding, ice blocking, movies, Pink Floyd concerts, computers, classic rock, and more to come.” His mind idles in fourth gear.

Over the next two and a half years, these friends will be the ones that keep you focused on the fun of good grades, the tingle of challenging the brain, the excitement of debating and defending a topic, and the thrill of building an irrefutable argument.

If you don’t work to your capacity, they’re the ones who will interrogate you and embarrass you into trying just a bit harder.

Your new class schedule includes Honors English, Algebra II, chemistry, AP European History, Symphonic Orchestra, Spanish II, Varsity soccer, and Academic Decathlon, as well as Club soccer, tae-boxing, an evening symphony orchestra class at the local community college, and a symphony orchestra class at the County’s High School of the Arts. Just two honors/AP classes, but, this is the load you can handle, so it’s fine.

Home life changed a little your sophomore year, when your mom returned to work. Dad took over taxiing you and Brother Sean around. When you turned sixteen, you learned to drive and got a job. You kept twenty percent of your paycheck, and the rest went to pay your bills—car payment, insurance, gas, repairs. Whatever you wanted—coffee, clothes, etc.—came out of your twenty percent. That put a new filter over ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Yes, you wanted those shoes, but not enough to spend your own money!

Your parents remind you: The hours spent working augment—not replace—your tumescent load of academics and extra-curricular activities. Your mom believes that the more you have to do in twenty-four hours, the better you will get at managing your time. Fewer obligations equate to boredom, trouble, and TV time (no TV during the school week by the way).

Your mom never wavers from the certainty that you will succeed. When you got straight A’s, won the academic achievement award in science, acted as the school’s concertmaster, served as assistant-concertmaster at the local community college orchestra, won thirteen awards over two years in Academic Decathlon, she made a believer of you too (although you did quit soccer). Never again did you use the excuse, ‘I don’t have time’. You managed your time.

By January, it is apparent that you picked the right combination of classes, a perfect fit for your abilities and skills. And, your SAT’s begin creeping up—from 1180 to 1220. Not good enough for any of your school choices, but the improvement is encouraging.

Sophomore year ends with straight A’s. This turns out to be a critical year of healing, discovering true interests, pushing yourself to see how much you can take—and liking the answer. This year you realize that ‘problems’ are only a To Do list—face them, solve them, tick them off.

And the Naval Academy remains on the short list of schools you want to attend.

–from Building a Midshipman (Structured Learning 2008)

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a tech columnist for TeachHUB and Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing Teachers, and freelance journalist on tech ed topicsCurrently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office, WordDreams, with questions.


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