Some families address particular college admissions preparation too late (many also do so too early, but that’s another post). Here are five important areas that will only exacerbate your stress if you wait until the senior year to address them:
1. Decide which schools to apply to.
Your process will be smoother and more successful if you have a complete, balanced list of colleges by the beginning of your senior year. A thoughtful college search takes time to complete, especially if you hope to research, seek feedback from your counselor, and maybe even visit some colleges. Don’t wait until your senior year to get serious about finding those schools.
2. Improve your standardized test scores.
I debated whether to include this because many students can improve their standardized test scores late in the process, often more substantially than they can improve their GPA or their extracurricular profile. But if you begin your senior year still hoping to improve those scores, you’ll need to find time to do so in between your school, activity, and application-related demands. You’ll have a more difficult time finalizing your list accurately as I mentioned in #1. And you may not be able to meet some early application deadlines if you decide to apply in an early application pool. The fall of the senior year is a busy and important time for college applicants. If you can avoid adding test-preparation to the mix, it’s best to do so.
3. Earn good letters of recommendation from teachers.
No matter how recommendation-worthy your senior year academics may be, those teachers will only have had you in class for a few months at most by the time you apply. That’s why colleges prefer that letters come from a teacher in your junior year, ideally one who can speak to your interest in the subject, participation, engagement, and other academic or intellectual qualities that are not necessarily reflected on the transcript alone. Be the kind of student who earns those letters so that the only thing left to do as a senior is to ask your chosen teachers to write them for you.
4. Make an impact in activities.
Frantically joining clubs at the beginning of your senior year is not a sound strategy to improve your chances. And while some students do have the opportunity to bolster their activities in the fall of the senior year (for example, by being named MVP in a fall sport), most find that their activity profiles are largely set by the time applications need to be submitted. So find the activities that matter most to you before your senior year. Work hard to make an impact in them. Then use the application season to decide how to best present those involvements for maximum admissions impact.
5. Talk about college costs.
Money can be a sticky conversation topic, especially when parents have to talk to their kid about college costs. But those conversations can get even more tense once a student has been admitted to college, especially if there is not enough financial aid to help pay for the costs. As your family begins the college process, learn about how to save, how to estimate your cost for each college, and how to avail yourself of financial aid. Spend a few minutes in the “Financial Aid and Scholarships” section of this blog (the subject areas are on the right side of my blog) , which has advice along with several recommended resources and outside experts. Don’t wait until the senior year to learn about how to best pay for college, or to discuss how your family’s finances might impact school selection.