High school seniors, have you scheduled interviews at any of the colleges you’re applying to? If so, great. If not, you should consider doing so. College interviews are a good way to learn more about a school and for the school to learn more about you. It’s a really a chance for you to shine.
If any of the schools on your list offer interviews, don’t pass up the opportunity. Check out their websites to get the details. Then tell them you’d like to sign up. If the college is far from your home, don’t worry. Many schools will connect you with an alumni interviewer living nearby.
Once you’ve scheduled an interview, prepare, but don’t be nervous. Remember, this is not a test—it should be an enjoyable experience. Every interview will be different, of course, depending on the college and the person who’s interviewing you. Some colleges use it mostly as a meet-and-greet opportunity, while others, like Harvard, may take a more academic approach.
Either way, most interviews will include some common elements. They’ll offer you the opportunity to talk about yourself and also to ask questions. Here are some tips on how to prepare ahead of time and how to handle the college interview.
If you’re a high school sophomore, senior year may seem light years away. So may the thought of your college applications. But two years will pass faster than you think. And the way you spend this year may have a big effect on your college career. Now’s the time to plan your sophomore courses and other activities so things fall smoothly into place later.
Choose your courses carefully
Some high schools offer honors or AP classes in sophomore year, while others don’t. If your school offers either of these options, you should take advantage, if you possibly can. Colleges want to see that you have stepped up to meet the challenges offered to you.
Check out the websites from some colleges you might be interested in attending, and see what high school classes they recommend. It will give you an idea of what to aim for. If possible, take a foreign language, and continue it for the rest of high school.
If your school doesn’t offer honors, AP classes or a foreign language, don’t worry. A college will not hold your high school’s lack of options against you. Dive into your schoolwork and get the most from it. Think of this year as a chance to expand your thinking in every direction.
Most high school students and their parents know the fall of senior year is the busiest time in high school. There’s no getting around that. You’ll need to juggle your classes and extra curricular activities with all the tasks necessary for putting together successful college applications.
But the College Strategist is here to reassure you: you can make it so much smoother, if you get organized. An hour or two of careful planning with your parents now will make a big difference in the months ahead. Here’s a basic checklist for high school seniors that will keep you on track through December–and help minimize the stress as well.
Plan your course load wisely
Make sure you’re on track to complete all the required credits before graduation. But don’t just sign up for the minimum. Challenge yourself by taking classes that stretch your mind. That said, don’t take on more than you can handle. You’ll have a busy semester, so be realistic.
Register for the required tests
If you still need to take the SAT or ACT test, register now. Then start preparing. Also, find out whether any of the colleges you’ll be applying to require the SAT 2 subject tests. If so, you’ll need to register and prep for them.
Set up your application calendar
Create a calendar that includes every important date in your college application process. Don’t forget to include tests, interviews and application deadlines. This will be your most important tool for keeping yourself on-track. If you’re using an electronic calendar, be sure to set those pop-up alarms!
This season I asked three of my graduating seniors what they learned during the college admissions process. Do they have any sage advice to pass on to juniors, sophomores or even freshmen?
Yes, it turns out, they do. But each one reached a different conclusion, which I might have predicted, based on how very different and wonderfully unique these kids are.
Here, then, are the words of wisdom from three triumphant seniors, each headed to a highly-selective, top-flight college or university. Take from their experiences what you will.
Philip: Targeted writing can really make an essay stand out
On the subject of those famously challenging college essays, Philip, who’s headed to Columbia in the fall, said, “It’s important to edit and re-edit your essays. I went through multiple drafts but found that perseverance, attention to detail and targeted writing can really make a piece stand out in the admissions process.”
Well said, Philip, and very true. Targeting is one of the keys to a successful college application package, and a well-focused essay is an essential part of it. (Note to the uninitiated: to avoid panic, you should complete your personal college essay before September of senior year.)
It’s as predictable as the budding trees. Each spring the percentage of students accepted to top colleges drops lower. And each year a new crop of students and parents is shocked by the admissions outcomes. This season, Brown University, which has been “highly selective” forever, announced that it had accepted just 5.5% of the applicants who applied during its regular decision round.
Not to be outdone, Harvard and Princeton announced they’d only accepted 5%, while Stanford claimed an even lower 4%. To put that number in perspective, out of the 47,450 hopeful students who applied to Stanford, only 2,040 were offered spots in the class of 2022.
With odds that low, why even bother trying? It’s a valid question and many students are raising it. Yet, despite the odds, I have students each year who do get admitted to these highly selective schools.
Are you a high school freshman or sophomore, or the parent of someone who is? If so, you’re probably wondering about college visits. When’s the best time to start? And where to begin?
On the one hand, you don’t need to hit the road just yet. On the other, it is time to start planning. Time you invest now will save you lots of time and stress later. If you don’t plan ahead, it won’t be a pretty picture. I’ve seen it many times.
Every fall, I hear from panicky seniors, scrambling to complete their college applications. Just as they’re writing their essays, many are still trying to firm up their college lists. Some add and drop colleges on a daily basis. By the time December rolls around, the colleges they end up applying to are often ones they haven’t visited, while colleges they did visit have been scratched from the list.
This leaves the students, as well as the moms and dads, playing a frantic game of catch-up, as they try to figure out how to schedule last-minute college visits and interviews during late-fall weekends and winter breaks. At this point, there is never enough time to get it all done. Sometimes, even favored schools fall by the wayside amidst the chaos.
Seniors, have you written your supplemental essays yet? If not, it’s time to get going. Before you start writing, here are a few things to consider. The supplemental questions colleges ask may sound simple, but answering well is harder than you think.
It’s easy to rattle off a bunch of truisms—much more challenging to say something fresh that will hold your reader’s interest. To do a good job, you need to get out of your own head and into the heads of the folks in the admissions office. Ask yourself: Why are they asking me this? What are they trying to find out?
The short answer is they’re trying to find out if you and the college are a good fit. Schools use various questions to determine this. I’ll describe two common ones below. But first bear in mind that different schools and different questions require different kinds of responses.
High school has changed in the last few years—and not just because of technology. The college admissions process has become more intense, and the time frame has moved forward. Most students who want to attend selective colleges now apply for early admission in November of senior year.
That means juniors—and even sophomores—are visiting more campuses, doing so earlier and getting more serious about their college lists.
I’m urging juniors and their parents to heed this trend and get on board. It would be lovely to experience 11th grade without focusing much attention on college. But, if you’re hoping to attend one America’s top 50 schools, that’s no longer wise. With that in mind, you’ll need to juggle multiple steps of the process at the same time. You’ll be thinking about test prep while researching schools and planning your campus visits. Getting a head-start in junior year was once a luxury: now it’s pretty much a necessity. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to do.
For many high school students, the fall of senior year will be the busiest semester ever. But it doesn’t have to be your most stressful. You can minimize its challenges by planning the coming months carefully and putting all important dates on your calendar right now.
Choose your classes wisely
Make sure you’re on-track to complete all necessary classes this year. Check with the school counselor to be certain you’re not missing any requirements. Sign up for the most challenging classes you can handle. It goes without saying you’ll need to work hard and get solid grades to get into a good college.
Register and prep for any outstanding tests
If there are still tests—SAT, ACT or any others—you need to take at this point, register for them immediately and start prepping. Remember that many of the most selective colleges require the SAT Subject Tests (known as the SAT 2s) in addition to the other test scores!
Complete your personal essay
If you haven’t written your personal essay yet, block out the time and do so now. Start working on this project in early September, making sure you allow yourself enough time for several false starts. It’s not uncommon for students to write eight or ten drafts before they produce a compelling piece of writing. If you need help, don’t wait to seek it. After you have a strong draft, allow plenty of time for editing, copyediting and proofreading. See Essay Tips.
A good personal essay should present an aspect of your personality that is not obvious from the rest of your college application. The admissions officers will see your grades and test scores, a list of your extracurricular activities and your awards and achievements. They will also read the letters of recommendation your teachers have written for you. But they will not see the three-dimensional person you actually are. The purpose of your essay is to provide them with a deeper understanding of what makes you tick.
Selective colleges are looking for students who will bring creative energy and interesting thinking to their campus. Of course, they are also looking for evidence that a student is mature, socially conscious and will become a positive force in their community. The more your essay can convince the reader of these things, the more successful it will be.
Conflict is the engine of all good writing
To be successful, a personal essay must first hold the reader’s attention. To do that, you will need a bit of drama. You may have heard that every good piece of writing contains a conflict. Will Ahab avenge Moby Dick—or will the whale destroy him? Will Romeo and Juliet manage to come together, despite their families’ antipathies? If the writer presents a compelling problem or question, the reader will want to read on for the answer.