Spring is when high school sophomores need to get serious about college planning. That’s because you’re nearly halfway through your high school years. From now on, the way you spend your time will have a big impact on the college application process.
Be sure to plan an interesting, fun and productive summer. First, because you deserve it. Second, because colleges will want to know that you’ve been putting your time to good use year-round. You may decide to get a summer job to earn money, do an internship to check-out career options or take a class in a subject you’ve always been curious about.
Whatever you do, make it a learning experience, something that will help you find out more about the wide world out there. In the process, you may well learn something new about yourself. For more tips, read How to Plan Your Summer.
If you’re a high school junior, it’s time to think about your college essay. That’s because you want your essay to be great—and great essays aren’t written in a day. Or even a week. They take introspection and planning. The summer before senior year is the best time to do the actual writing. Plan to complete it before September, since you’ll be very busy during senior year. So it’s smart to block out your writing time now, as part of your summer planning.
1. Allow plenty of time. To write a good essay, you’ll need to do multiple drafts. It’s important to allow time to think things through carefully and make sure you’re on the right track. You’ll probably make several false starts. That’s normal. It’s also why you should budget enough time to scratch things out and start over, in case you need to. Remember you’ll need to work your essay through several stages: from developing the idea and sketching it out, to executing it as a polished piece of writing. Figure you’ll need at least several hours of uninterrupted time, a few days in a row, to get started. Of course, you’ll need more time to get through all the necessary revisions and editing.
Happy April! If you’ve had good luck with your college applications, now the choice is up to you. You may have several good options. Which one should you accept? This is a big decision—one that will shape the next four years of your life. So it’s not surprising if you feel a bit daunted, even dizzy.
But rest assured this doesn’t have to be a game of blind man’s bluff. Focus on the basic issues, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Here are some tips to help you organize your thinking and reach the decision that’s right for you.
1. Don’t be swayed by the status of a college. Instead, carefully consider the educational experience it offers. Look closely at the academic departments, especially the one where you are likely to major. Make sure it has the faculty and courses that will be challenging and exciting for you.
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.