Mid-Year Musts…for College Planning for Sophomores and College Process for Juniors
Now, for many students, you are back in school now or heading back after the holiday on Monday. Now is the time to start getting into the college process in earnest. Time flies during the spring, and before your know it, you will suddenly feel behind the eight ball with college planning and preparation.
So let’s get to it! Now next week, please look for my Do-It-Yourself kit, which will be a brand new offering this year for those ambitious teens and parents who want to package themselves as professionally as they would be if they paid for a consultant. Many parents, especially college educated parents, want to do a lot of the work themselves, but hit snags with the process as it has changed significantly since they were in college. Such parents are great about buying books, reading blogs, networking with other parents, but often get overwhelmed with information and unable to simply get it done in an effective and quick way. So good news, next week, I am offering a kit for such Do-it-Yourselfers!
Quickly, let’s put together the time-frame for Sophomores and Juniors for the next few months. Many will be starting mid-year exams in the next two weeks. So now is the time to get what needs to be done down, so you do not procrastinate too much and suddenly find yourself at the end of March and just starting to think about this. Many school counselors do not meet with students until after midyear exams, and most do not even talk to sophomores at all.
Sophomores, who have taken the PSAT, should really start to look at the potential for increasing those scores. Summer is the best time to start test preparation. Many schools have stopped giving The Plan, which was considered the pre-ACT; instead schools are offering an actual full length practice ACT in Junior year for free. I am against waiting until Junior year for test prep. There are a few exceptions to my general feeling about test prep. I have always found getting the testing done before the end of junior year to be best. I rarely find Seniors go up significantly in the fall, if they were prepped during Junior year. Although for the first time in decades, College Board will be offering an August SAT administration, which will allow Seniors two opportunities prior to Early Decision deadlines, it is really best if a student can be done with the testing completely by end of Junior year.
This means that Sophomores should be making a plan for the spring and summer now. For spring, those able to advance in course work difficulty mid-year should! By all means, if you can switch to a harder level without compromising your GPA, do so. If you are not a committed varsity athlete in the spring, then this is a great time to work hard to raise your GPA, while adding some interesting extra-curricular work and community service. Use the time to add MORE! Load as much as you can in terms of extras during Sophomore year as Junior year becomes very, very difficult to do much more than coursework, test prep and regular activities.
Sophomore summer, if you are able, you can apply to college summer courses designed for high school students. There are many, many programs in most universities and colleges. Some are three weeks in duration, while others are six. Choose the ones that offer actual college credit for attending. I caution parents that rarely are these programs given any kind of financial aid, and it is unwise to go to a program that is sponsored by a corporation under the guise of “leadership” rather than an actual college course. Look for programs offered by the universities themselves. There are so many charlatan groups that love to take money from gullible parents and students for programs that are virtually meaningless to a student’s resume or profile. If you are unable to pay for an actual college program, you can also get college course credit by attending a local community college at far less cost. It is really good to take a college level writing class during the summer of sophomore year, because you will need to have excellent writing skills developed for college. Learning how to write is a skill that will always serve you. Another option is to take a computer coding class at a local community college as well. If you have two community college courses, some volunteer house, and perhaps a part-time job, you will have accomplished a great deal. By the end of the summer, you should be enrolled in some kind of test prep for your standardized testing in Junior Year.
Now if you are already a junior, you should be in the middle of test preparation or about to start it in immediately after your exams. You really should be taking the February or April ACT and/or the March SAT. I urge all juniors to have at least one test done before spring break. You will have another opportunity in May and June. There has been a lot of discussion about which test is best. I have found that either is fine, and I find no major difference in either in terms of college acceptances. There was a scale interpretation between the ACT vs the New SAT….and even the Older SAT….but as it turns out, and as I predicted, colleges, themselves, do not care about that translation at all. Colleges are treating the New SAT pretty much the same as the old….they go by the volume of scores they receive and the average Reading and average Math scores they receive. So what those score mean in terms of the ACT or the former SAT is completely irrelevant to the college. And the breakdown is pretty much what is has always been…..scores above 1450 are considered exceptional; scores that range from 1000-1150 are considered average for the Nation.
Is there any benefit to taking both tests? I urge all students to prep for one and consider sitting for at least one administration of the other. Often people do exceptionally better on one, but in my 22 years of experience, rarely do I see one test score better than the other for most students. Almost all score about the same on either, actually. For many, the additional Science section of the ACT is troubling. For those who the English and grammar is tough, the SAT is easier as it has far less questions in that section. Does it matter? No. Are only some colleges taking the SAT or ACT? No. There are many colleges, which tests are completely optional. Some colleges allow you to choose to report scores, but often then ask you to write an additional essay. So it is usually best to at least have taken one of the tests at least once. I am a huge proponent of taking the tests two or three times and getting them completely done before the summer prior to Senior Year.
Juniors should also be looking online at least right now at twenty-five schools. Start looking at the schools. Look at the prospective students tab, select admissions, first year, and then look for requirements. Note the GPA and Test scores. Start to notice where you need to be to get into a school you think you want to attend. Now is the time to do a search. I suggest five searches per week for the next five weeks. One search per night is easy; it takes less than 10 minutes. Learn now.
Sophomores and Juniors, both, need to look at your course load now. What can you take next year to beef up your difficulty level? Please understand the more rigorous and challenging your course load is, the more attractive you are to a prospective college. You cannot be foolish and take on too much that your GPA drops, but do find a level of challenge that shows off your determination and dedication to excel. Please, contact us at anytime for a consultation to set up your own personalized timeline and plan. Now is the best time to start the consulting process.