Get A Handle On College This October

Students in the fallBy: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.

Happy Fall everyone!  Leaves are turning, pumpkins are making their annual appearances, and high school students are getting back into the swing of school, so it’s also time to keep thinking about college.  Here’s the rundown of what each grade needs to be focusing on for this month. Yay college!

Seniors:
Finish up testing
ACT or SAT, either one works, you only need to send one.  Many kids find the ACT easier. Always take them *with* writing.  Call your colleges to see the last test date they will accept this year; it’s usually November or December.

Send test scores to colleges once you have them
This costs $11 per college and if fees are a problem, ask your guidance counselor for fee waivers.  Send your scores to your colleges as soon as you know which you’d like to send.  You only need to send your best scores, unless the college wants to see all of your scores for the test–this means they want to see all of your SAT scores OR all of your ACT scores, whichever test you choose to send.


Schedule interviews everywhere you can
Interviews really help you, unless you are really shy in which case I think it can work against you, so go college by college and see which of your schools offer interviews.  Schedule these well in advance because they fill up.  Often when your colleges visit your area they are more than happy to meet with you. Some will call this an interview and some won’t, but any chance you have to meet and talk with the person who will be deciding if you get in or not is always a great idea.  Prep for these meetings using the college interview handouts in the CollegeMapper Resources section.

Start all rough drafts asap
Do this soon now, because the rough drafts are the hardest part.  Polishing up a draft is much easier.  Recycle essays wherever you can.  I also recommend that you write the “Why School X” essay ONLY for your favorite school and you polish it to perfection, and THEN you use it as a template for the other colleges which ask the same question.  You do this by swapping out all the proper nouns.  Talk about programs, professors, classes and clubs–by name.  You must go on each college’s website and research these names and then fill your essay with them to show the college that you know for a fact the two of you are a perfect fit.


Start your Common App and any non-Common App applications, too
Try to make all of your usernames and passwords the same–it really helps.  Keep these on a list.  You will work, save and log out many times, so remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.


Order transcripts to be sent to all of your colleges
Your guidance counselor will have a form for this, so follow the instructions to the letter, and early.  Some high schools make you pay for these.


Attend info sessions at your high school and in your city
Your colleges will be coming to your city and possibly even to your high school, so do plan to be there.  Check your school’s list of scheduled visits–this is often posted online or right outside the counseling office, and it changes DAILY so check it frequently until early December.  Your colleges will start coming the first week of September.


Request all rec letters
You need two rec letters from Junior year core subject teachers, and one letter from your guidance counselor.  Provide these people with your college list, resume, college essay perhaps, and copy of your transcript if available.  And give them a thank you note.  2-3 weeks after you drop all of this off, take these people a thank you gift.  Take whatever you can afford; a gift card for coffee or a bookstore is always a nice gesture because they are not paid to write these letters.

Juniors:
Create and begin narrowing your college list now
Be sure that you consider Reach, Match and Safety schools, and do not let adults remove all Safety schools from your list.  Look at the Net Price Calculator on each college’s website to estimate the cost of that school (it’s never the same as the advertised price-tag, which is meaningless).


Do your test prep now if you haven’t done so already
Most kids do some kind of prep for these tests, so you want to also.  You can prep with a book/CD-Rom, in a small class, or one on one with a tutor.  It is no fun, but all Juniors are suffering through it with you, and it is REALLY valuable to you.


Get your best grades ever
Junior year is the toughest of the four and the most important for applying to college, so get your best grades ever this year.

Target two teachers for rec letters
Be an absolute angel in class all year and participate at least 2x a week.  Participation is really key for rec letters.


Get to know your guidance counselor
Even if your high school is huge make an effort to get to know your counselor by stopping by to say hi and being cheerful.


Sophomores:
If you are interested in applying to really competitive colleges, consider an independent research project
See the CollegeMapper blog post on how to get into the most selective colleges.  One important part is to be learning outside of school, on your own.  You can do this in any area whatsoever and you do not need to have a teacher or supervisor, though that is certainly not a bad thing.


Protect your GPA
Do your best in your classes to try to set your GPA as high as you possibly can.  Do your personal best; don’t be lazy but don’t be crazy.  Just do your personal best. Kids mistakenly think that they can goof around early in high school and bring up the GPA later, but mathematically that is impossible.  The reverse is true. If you set it high early, you have a cushion for when things get tough Junior year.  GPA’s move less later on.


Continue volunteering somewhere where you can demonstrate compassion
Compassion is what you want to aim for in community service.  Colleges want to enroll nice kids who care about other people.  Think of an issue that makes you really angry or really sad and spend your time there.  Coaching in your sport is not awesome because it is not at all difficult for you.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone and help people in need.


Freshmen:
Join some clubs at school
Start to get involved at school, ideally in some things that you can do for 4 years.


Start volunteering somewhere compassionate
Try to find a place this year where you can help people in need.  Next year this is not negotiable, and if you start this year that is even better.


Protect your GPA

Do your best in your classes to try to set your GPA as high as you possibly can.  Do your personal best; don’t be lazy but don’t be crazy.  Just do your personal best.  Kids mistakenly think that they can goof around early in high school and bring up the GPA later, but mathematically that is impossible. The reverse is true. If you set it high early, you have a cushion for when things get tough Junior year.  GPA’s move very less later on.

That’s October, everybody!  Great job!

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