By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
Happy December, everybody! You’ve made it this far in the school year and hopefully things have been going just wonderfully for you! Let’s start right out with a message to everyone, in all grades: remember that your GPA is the number one factor that will decide where you get into college, so keep your grades up *now*. And I mean now. Let’s talk about why. I was a teacher for ten years and I can tell you that grades don’t move a lot (if they move at all) in January because teachers are focused on midterms.
So, if you want to improve a grade in any class, you need to do it ASAP. And never, ever, ask a teacher how you can bring up your grade. That is a ridiculous question that teachers despise. You can bring up your grade by doing all of your work, on time, doing your very, very best, and going the extra mile on every assignment. That’s how you can bring up your grade. I can almost guarantee you that if you ask your teacher how to do it, it won’t move. When kids ask a teacher how they can bring up their grade what the student means is, will you raise my grade for no reason? This is why teachers are not fans of this question. At all. So work hard, guys! You can do it! Get your head in the game and study for 15-30 minutes more per night than you do now. You will see results–I promise! Yay!
Now let’s talk about what each of you needs to be doing right now:
Submit apps before December 15
Be sure to get your apps in soon, the sooner the better. You want to look eager and on the ball, not like a Last Minute Louie. Make sure the apps are error-free before you submit them. Beware of the temptation to just click buttons and be done. You want these apps to shine!! Check your college list one last time and see if you will have enough options; make sure your list is not too top heavy. This is your last chance to apply wisely. That said, do not feel panicked and apply to 5 more schools just to play the odds. When you are faced with 10 acceptances, the feeling is overwhelming and scary–not good at all. Apply wisely, to fewer schools, not more. Just be sure your list is not top-heavy. Use the CollegeMapper college list checker to see if your list is balanced wisely and to gauge your chances of admittance.
Verify all apps are final
After submitting your apps you will receive an email from each college thanking you for applying and giving you a login so that you can check the status of each app. DO THIS RELIGIOUSLY. If your app is missing anything, you need to follow up to make sure the college receives it. Give them a couple of weeks to receive and log anything that is sent through the mail. Incomplete apps are either rolled into the regular pool or they are denied, so be on top of this job.
Schedule all possible interviews
Keep trying to talk to any college who will possibly talk to you, to put a face to a name. If the college offers interviews, get one. If they don’t, try to meet the admissions rep when they come to your city. They will often meet you for coffee or for 15 minutes at your school. Check the CollegeMapper handout on how to approach these meetings and what to expect. Remember, college reps LOVE meeting teenagers! if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in this job. There are about 100 other offices on campus that they could work in, so anybody in admissions likes being the front-man and talking to high school kids (like me…they must be crazy people!!).
Keep your grades up!!
Colleges can call your high school on any given day and ask your counselor for your grades THAT DAY at THAT moment, so beware. I have seen it happen. MANY of them will ask for Mid Year Reports, so your semester grades need to be stellar, too.
Keep attending any college rep visits at your high school
If your target college comes to your high school, you WANT to be there. Go to the meeting and ask some intelligent questions and tell them honestly how excited you are about their school. Admissions officers can’t read your mind, so be sure to politely let them know how you feel. Again, read the CollegeMapper handout on this and be sure to go.
Celebrate when all the apps are in!!
When all of your apps are in, be sure to do something to celebrate! Have a hot fudge sundae or go see a new movie, but applying to college takes a lot of work so be sure to mark your progress with a treat. Treat yourself!
Start to hear back
You will start to hear back from your early app colleges in December. You will either be accepted (yay!), rolled into the regular pool (bummer), or denied (yuck). If you are accepted to your ED school (hooray!!), you need to rescind all of your other applications to colleges, to be fair and allow other students the chance to have that spot and be accepted. This is the ED agreement you signed, so be sure to stick by it and keep your word. If you are not accepted ED, then hang in there and just wait for the good news from the school where you are meant to be. Submit any final apps you may want to. For those of you accepted to EA schools, congrats! You do not need to do anything until April, and you must declare where you intend to enroll by May 1st. Do not let colleges pressure you into sending any money or deposits now; that is unethical. They are all supposed to allow you to have until May 1st to make up your mind. If you know where you want to go and you get accepted there, then it is a good idea to make your housing deposit so that you can get in line for great housing. 🙂
Get your best grades ever
You can do it! Head in the game! If it ever mattered, it matters now. Your GPA largely determines where you can apply, so really give it your full effort. Remember, getting the best grades possible means that you study hard. It does NOT mean that you ask your teachers about raising your grade. That always backfires, every time. Study! You can do it! Get a tutor if you need one; the public libraries offer free homework help!! 🙂
Volunteer somewhere that shows compassion
You will need volunteering on your college apps, and it just makes you a better person, so get out there and help others who are in need.
Finish up that test prep
Yes, you heard me. You need to be prepping for these uber-dull brain sucking tests, and you need to be finishing that prep up soon so you can start testing. (fun)
Schedule your first SAT/ACT tests
Schedule your test dates as soon as you know which dates you’d like to aim for. I recommend starting in Jan/Feb, certainly March/April. Kids who start testing in May/June feeling really pressured. Also, if you need fee waivers, your counselor has them. Organize your tests on the CollegeMapper Tests page; set up a schedule and track your scores. Sign up early for the test dates so you don’t end up driving 4 hours to the nearest available center.
Line up some leadership
In your Junior or Senior year, try to secure some kind of leadership. This can involve captain, president, editor, mentor, coach, counselor, founder, chairperson, coordinator, tutor, mediator, etc etc… It doesn’t have to be huge, but it is great for your apps when you can show that in some way you lead your peers (or even slightly younger kids).
Narrow down your college list
Work on this. Take notes. The sooner you know your target schools the sooner you can start to reach out to them and declare your love. You can do campus visits whenever you feel ready (see CollegeMapper handout). You will need to visit campuses in Feb. or April for sure.
Sophomores and Freshmen:
Keep your GPA as high as possible
The GPA you get freshman and sophomore year is largely the GPA you apply to college with, so set it high now and keep it there! These grades are your most powerful ever, for setting your GPA. Pulling up a GPA is almost impossible. Set it high now–yay!!
Try to be in some club/activity all four years of high school
Colleges like consistency and passion, so find something you like and can do for all four years of high school. You don’t need to do ten or even five things for four years, but do try to at least find one or two. Start building your resume on the CollegeMapper resume page. We even tell you if it’s a good resume or and if it’s not, how to boost it. 🙂
Do some compassionate volunteering
Care about other people and get out there and make our world a better place, kid. Check the CollegeMapper awesome list of Volunteer ideas on the Resources page. You need to do this for college, it’s true, but the reality is that when you do it, for whatever reason, you help those in need and you step out of yourself and your life for a while, which puts your own worries in perspective and let’s you spend some time doing good for someone else. This helps that other person and it boosts your spirits, so get out there and care!
Well, everybody, that’s the college low-down for December! Happy holidays and tune in next month for financial aid, surviving standardized tests, and finding the summer camp of your dreams!
Talk to you in January!