Starting the College Process
When do you start the college process? Do you need to wait until your college counselor at school contacts you in Junior Spring? Is it prudent to contact an independent college counselor? Why do so many students appear to know way more about this than me?
As the first PSAT or PRE-ACT scores come out for sophomores, many start to wonder about college. You should be doing your best to enjoy high school, and you should be working to be your best during high school. Challenge yourself as much as possible, academically. Get involved in what interests you, or simply try a lot of things to find out who you are, and what does truly interest you. You do not need to know all the answers today. There are few who enter college knowing exactly what they want to study, and what they see themselves doing for a career. You have a long life, and all of that will change with experience and time. So no worries!
However, typically, from an independent educational counselor’s viewpoint, the optimum time to start planning out a map of how your college process will go begins in the sophomore winter, right after you get those early scores from a PSAT or Pre-ACT. Since the SAT changed a few years ago, the switch back to the SAT has begun in earnest. This past year the volume of people taking the SAT went up almost 50%. Does it make a difference as to which test you take? Not really. Over the course of my decades in working with this information, neither test really has any advantage over the other, with the exception of how the SAT scores are used in the college process. They are dealt with as two separate scores, and compared to the average entrant’s by subject, rather than as a composite. Secondly, the Super Score option of the SAT does make it easier to increase a score with multiple administrations. Many schools have now opted to Super Score or Re-average the composite of the ACT, as well. The SAT does have only three sections, which can be a positive for many who lose all their points on the Science section of the ACT. Do colleges care which test you take, no. Many colleges are opting for test optional these days as well. You can see how many on Fairtest.org.
So now that you have tests, you also have grades. So sophomores, now is the time to look forward to advanced course work for next year. The student who shows a willingness to challenge him or her/self always impresses college admissions. This is always a discussion that usually takes two or three hours of time. It is also best to spread out that time over a week or two. You will be selecting courses later after breaks, but to get invited into many AP courses, smaller private schools and some public schools make a judgment call based on your cumulative GPA and that PSAT score! Yes, so in some ways your sophomore scores do matter greatly. You do want to get into some of those prized AP courses, as many colleges have a tacit minimum of AP courses they truly desire for admittance. Typically the more competitive the college, the more the entering class has a catalogue of AP courses on its transcripts. So it is important to be able to advance academics significantly during junior year.
A word of caution about junior year, if you are active in a large volume of extra-curricular activities, such as a job, varsity athletics, clubs, community service, etc., you must be careful about time. You might need to pare back on a few things during junior year to ensure you get the time to study for those challenging courses, and you also need to do serious test preparation, unless you are a super test-taker inclined to do fantastic right out the gate. (PS: The numbers of these super test takers are few) The majority of students take the tests at least twice, and those with testing issues take it a lot more. The test scores do matter. So it behooves you to really take it earnestly, and you should put a lot of effort into learning how to take the test. Now the two test companies are serious business competitors. They both are offering more test dates in the summer! July now for the ACT, and August for the SAT. So getting this done during the summer is possible. The test preparation is not something that is seriously retained over time, so it is usually not effective to start prepping long in advance for the tests. Typically four months out is a good time frame for weekly studies, or compressed twice weekly studies about eight weeks out. For students who suffer from testing issues, it is best to use a semester of school to build in test prep over the course of at least two test dates.
Junior year is consumed with the testing and tough academics. If you plan to keep these things in perspective, you can master it all! Start with planning your course schedule for next year. If you cannot get an invite into an AP, petition for it! Find out in March what you need to do to secure a spot in a class for next year. Try to take at least two AP classes if you can. If your school offers IB program, get cracking on getting into the IB. IB is a tough haul over two years, and it requires a lot of study time. Understand what you are signing up for and do not underestimate the time you will need to claim those great grades. Plan to drop a few activities for the junior year, if you are consumed with stuff to do every day of the week.
Then turn your attention to test preparation…start it in the summer before junior year if you can, or by early winter. Get those tests done and out of the way if you are able to in junior year. Lastly, start working on resume of activities. More and more colleges are requesting a formal resume of activities be uploaded into the application. I have a FREE TEMPLATE for any needing one. There are specifics that should be on the resume. Starting your resume now allows you to have all the information you need to fill out parts of the applications easily, further the resume can be used to showcase your attributes when college visiting, or applying for summer jobs! Yes, actual employment is a big plus to colleges.
So this is a sampling of how to start the college process for sophomores! You can always book a single session to discuss if you need support or want to work something out and put it down with a professional.
No, do not wait until junior spring to figure this out.
You really should start the plan now to incorporate it with all your other needs, so that it fits seamlessly into your schedule as move forward into junior year.