Welcome to senior year – you’re gonna love it! Well, other than the college applications, taking final ACT / SAT’s to boost your chances of getting accepted to your dream school, worrying about how to pay for college and not having any idea where you’re going to be this time next year…………..Yeah, even with all that, senior year should be the time of your life. Enjoy it but be wise about it. Here are some, hopefully, helpful hints to get you through.
College Applications: Most application, including the common app (www.commonapp.org) became available on August 1st. You’re not late yet if you haven’t started but you should probably get on it soon.
Essay(s): Many colleges, including the common app, require some sort of personal essay. This is an opportunity for you to let the admissions people know something about you that they couldn’t already tell by reading your application and transcript. Tell a story. Paint a picture. Be descriptive. Don’t worry if you don’t have a major life-altering event to write about. You do have a significant story to share – we all do. Read some sample essays here: https://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays-that-worked/
Recommendations: Some schools will ask for one or two teacher recommendations. Think seriously about who you would want to write a recommendation on behalf. It might be better to ask a teacher in whose class you got a B but worked really hard to get that B, than a teacher in whose class you breezed to an easy A. Chances are good that you’ll never get to read the recommendation so know before you ask.
Deadlines: It is imperative that you stay on top of admissions and scholarship deadlines. Know the difference between Early Decision (binding agreement) and Early Action (apply early – find out early, but no need to commit until May 1st), as well as scholarship deadlines. Have your transcript and ACT / SAT scores been sent?
Financial Aid: Need based financial aid is determined by your family’s ability to pay. Two forms will help the colleges determine what type of “need” your family has. Those forms are the FAFSA (federal form) and CSS Profile (additional form required by some schools). You can begin filling out and submitting those forms as early as October 1st of your senior year. But get some advice from the college financial aid office or an outside professional, such as The College Project, before submitting.
College Visits: It’s not too late to visit college campuses you haven’t yet seen. Schedule an official tour, meet with admissions and financial aid. And throughout the application process, stay in touch with your admissions counselor to make sure they’re aware of your interest.
If you haven’t heard it a thousand times already, let me be the first to tell you: Junior year is your most important year of high school. Why? Because for most students, your junior year grades will be the most recent grades on your transcript when you apply to college in the fall of your senior year. Colleges want to see that you’re challenging yourself (taking advanced and AP classes), and doing well in the classroom. Classroom performance over 4 years – and especially the latter years – of high school is much better predictor of college performance than any standardized test. So….GPA, GPA, GPA!
Standardized Tests: While it’s true that classroom performance is more important than an ACT or SAT score, those tests still matter – for most schools anyway. More and more colleges are choosing to go “test optional”. Meaning if your grades are strong but you’re just not a good test taker, you don’t have to submit test scores as part of the admissions and, in many cases, scholarship selection process for those particular schools. But those schools are still in the minority. Start taking the ACT and / or SAT this fall (colleges do not have a preference). Take them both and determine which test is your better test and then focus on that one and retake it. Prepare for them. Understand what subject material is on the test. Understand where your weaknesses lie and work on them. Take a course (The College Project offers 3 courses during the school year).
College Visits: In 12 short months, you will begin working on college applications. And while you may think you have all the time in the world, those months will fly by. No one is telling you today that you have to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, but it certainly can’t hurt to explore possible areas of study and which schools offer the programs you’re most interested in. Start asking yourself questions like: How far from home am I willing to consider (and how far from home is mom and dad willing to let me consider)? Do I want a large, public, research university or small, private, liberal arts college? Where will I be most successful? Make a list of colleges that fit most, if not all of your expressed interests and begin researching. There are a ton of useful web sites to help you along the way, such as: colleges.niche.com, cappex.com, studentsreview.com, princetonreview.com and many more.
Narrow your list down and then schedule a vist through the college’s admissions office. Talk with admissions and financial aid, check out the dorms, classroom buildings, cafeteria and talk to students already on campus. Don’t wait. Start planning your visits now because, before you know it, it will be time to start applying to college. You wouldn’t buy a home or a car without first checking them out thoroughly, right? Same theory here.
Resume: Colleges want to see students who have been involved on their high school campus and / or community. It’s not necessary to be in 20 different clubs, sports, community service projects but be very involved in the things you already do. Take a leadership role. Be active. Or better yet, start your own club. Junior year is the time to take a more active role, not necessarily start joining clubs just because you think it will look good on a college application.
$$$$!: NEWS FLASH – college isn’t cheap. While there are certainly many ways to get the “sticker price” of a school down to a more feasible number, the fact is most students will have to pay a significant amount of money to go to college. At some point during this year, students and parents need to have the discussion about college budget. Set realistic expectations and know going in that you’ll need to receive x amount of scholarship or other financial aid in order to attend certain schools. Don’t immediately rule out a college because of “sticker price” because there are ways to make it more affordable, but have your back-ups ready just in case.
Have fun: The entire college admissions and financial aid process can be a very stressful time in a young person’s life. It is, after all, probably the most important decision they’ll make to this point in their lives. Having said that, have fun with the process. Enjoy the journey.