How to Manage Your Senior Year

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.

Continue with your extracurricular activities
Despite the fact that you’ll be extra busy as a senior, it’s important that you continue with the extracurricular activities you enjoyed last year. This is your last chance to excel at them, so give them your best shot.

Line up your letters of recommendation
If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to choose the teachers you would like to write your recommendations, and ask if they’ll be willing to.

Finalize your college list
Continue your research and finalize your college list as soon as possible. Read everything you can find about the schools you are interested in and talk with people who know them: students, alumni and professors. Discuss every college you’re considering with your parents, your teachers and your counselor.

Decide whether to apply for Early Admission
Will you apply to college through an Early Decision or Early Action program? Many high school students now make this decision during junior year. If you haven’t decided yet, you need to figure it out quickly. Consult with your counselor for a seasoned perspective on the pros and cons. See Early Admissions.

Schedule your final college visits
Fall of senior year is your last chance to visit colleges you haven’t seen before and to revisit the schools you are most serious about. (In a pinch, you could always visit a school where you have been accepted, during the month of April. But this should be your Plan B, not Plan A.)  See College Visits.

Arrange for your college interviews
Most colleges that offer interviews do so during the fall of senior year. It’s generally wise to schedule them early in the fall, or you may not get a slot. See College Interviews.

Write your supplemental essays
Many colleges—especially the more selective ones—require applicants to answer questions specific to their schools. In reality, this means you will need to write one or more little essays for each of these schools. Be sure to schedule enough time to do a good job on each one of them. See Writing Supplements.

November/December: Complete your college applications
Keep careful track of the deadlines for each college you are applying to. You don’t want to miss any deadlines due to confusion. Early Decision or Early Action deadlines usually fall in November. Other deadlines typically fall in late December or early January. But each school may be different. Don’t make assumptions—confirm each deadline well ahead of time.

Start work on the FAFSA
You and your family can file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) any time after October first. The earlier you do so, the better. To familiarize yourself with the process and get started, visit the US Department of Education’s FAFSA website.

Even for the best student, it’s a lot to manage. If you’re spinning your wheels about getting organized, planning your college admissions strategy or writing your essay, The College Strategist can help.

About the Author: Mona Molarsky

Mona Molarsky is a private college counselor who offers advice and assistance to students and their families at every stage of the college preparation and application process. She also offers tutoring in English, social studies and language arts.