17 Steps to Keep in Mind from Sophomore Winter to Senior Winter
The exact timing of college consulting is not set in stone. Many people know long before high school that they will need support with their children or child in the college process. Others find themselves in a desperate position in the middle of doing applications in the fall of senior year. Is it too late to get help? No. The process is relatively predictable as to what needs to happen and when because the deadlines are set by outside entities, such as Testing Companies and Colleges. And you can always get help, no matter where in the process you find yourself!
However, that being said, there are optimum times for doing certain tasks to better your chances for securing a spot in a college you so feel is the perfect match. A benefit to hiring support is that along the way, and this is what I sometimes find is most difficult for parents and students to absorb and adjust to, is that expectations and realities are generally realized along the way. The realizations and expectations get adjusted with sensitive support so that when admission decisions come through, even if the number one choice did not pan out, the parents and students are at least very pleased and comfortable with the college choices they do have.
This is an important life transition for both parents and students. Both are accomplishing a major life goal; it should be a journey that results in celebration. I always keep this in mind when I am working: the path can be rough and there might be some stumbles, but my job is to keep everyone on a path that leads to success. That is my true reward!
One strong point I always reinforce with clients is: this is NOT personal. So many take any reactions as very personal; it is not a personal decision, most of the time. So if you got in to a specific school you dreamed of, great! You earned it. If you did not, it is not because you didn’t. There are way too many variables in the decision that you have no control over to make it personal. Such variables as: how many students from you school, town or county applied, how many spots did the college have open, is it a very large Division 1 sports school that has to fill a lot of athletic positions, how many does it typically admit in the Early process, etc. You cannot believe that not getting accepted means anything about you! The world is replete with highly successful people who did NOT get into certain schools! Warren Buffet has been rumored to say that Harvard’s rejection was Columbia’s gain! You, too, might have your own version of this story.
What is optimum for planning?
Before High School
1) Course selections in high school. Before high school, what you have done is not so much part of the application process in college but what you study does set you up for your curriculum and any advanced or honor course decisions in high school. In 8th grade, it is ideal to have a simply discussion with someone about potential course work that will start to build a good profile. (many schools have an unwritten expectation of a certain number of AP (Advanced Placement) Courses on a transcript)
2) Resume building through Extra-Curricular activities. Years ago, there was a big push about a “balanced” student. Today, this is really not such much what colleges focus on, at all. Many exposures are interesting, but leadership is more valuable. So finding a good fit and progressing in it, offers much more to a profile than randomly joining everything. So it is best to start that build in 9th and 10th grades…pursue it through summer activities, as well. Not sure if you are on track? Contact us!
During Sophomore Year
3) 10th grade beginning of Spring Semester is the ideal time to consider purchasing an entire consulting package or seriously planning out the next two full years and how to optimize your time. I like to begin right after Christmas and for those who have taken the PLAN or PSAT, the scores will be available and the transcripts up through first semester. For this point we start to begin the Student Resume of Activities. Choice as to courses, summer activities, and so forth are discussed and selections are made to build the profile that bests showcases your talents, strengths, preferences and skills. This is also the time to apply for AP courses for next school year. Junior year is a rather grueling year for most. I always caution my students: “if you are having fun in junior year, you will have the most miserable senior fall imaginable.” If you have the resources, I always advise a short trip to a college or two just as a start.
4) 10th grade summer, this is ideal time for community service projects, summer time academic programs, travel and a paying job! Work experience is highly valued for a variety of reasons. Does it have to be a business internship? NO. Any job with responsibilities, accountability and opportunities to gain some skills is great. This is also the time to start test preparation! Truly.
During Junior Year
5) 11th grade Fall Semester…Course work needs to be re-evaluated early in semester for opportunities to get into a more advanced class, if possible, or to drop a too rigorous program which will result in C grades on a transcript. If the bar is too challenging and messes up a GPA then that shows immaturity in decision making. Lower the scale and get higher grades! This semester is the time to set yourself up for a captain position in senior year in a sport, or a club leader or anything that progresses you in a certain sphere to the top. This is also the semester that great test preparation should be going on in earnest. If you can’t do it yourself, and your school doesn’t offer any classes, then consider a class, or get a tutor. Online tutoring one-on-one is far greater than a class or online self-study. Get help, get it early enough and practice, practice, practice. Scores do mean something. Many are unaware, but high GPA and his SAT/ACT often get offered scholarship money!!! Feeling a bit lost about your tests, ask!
6) Junior Christmas break…start seriously looking at colleges’ websites. I advise students to start looking at, at least, 35-40 schools. Look at what they have to offer. Think about yourself. What do you like in terms of weather? Do you like the idea of a campus defined or do you want a large urban experience? Do you want big Division 1 sports and large classes? Do you like to have access to your professors directly or are you fairly self-reliant? Start thinking while you are looking. Make a list.
7) Junior Spring, testing is underway…be prepared to take the tests more than one or twice. Grades, whatever isn’t looking so good from fall semester…get help! Go to your teachers, ask for help. You need to keep in mind that this is your future you are working for! Resumes are now being formalized in print. Spring break is the optimum time to visit some college …shoot for at least 3 or 4 trips…try to see a small school, a medium school, a large university in a suburban or rural setting and one in an urban setting.
8) Get your testing done if at all possible. It is very hard to get all the applications, essays, and so forth done for early decision or early action and worry about scores. If you are able to plan to be done with your testing by end of junior year, you are in a great position going forward. Still need help with tests, call us!
9) Start planning summer activities in March. Apply for internships. Look at college summer programs, apply for jobs. Students that spend February doing the work for March deadlines, get the best opportunities to choose from!
10) Meet with your school college or guidance counselor and see what list is derived by him or her. This is not a final list or even, perhaps, the list you envision at all. That is ok. You will apply to schools you want to apply to with input from many. Be open to learning. Need a bit more assistance, not sure, just want someone to confer with, schedule a session.
11) Start thinking about personal statement essay topics and who you want to recommend you, both teachers and personal references.
12) Work, relax, whatever first two weeks out, but then start in earnest the summer process. Sorry, this is not a vacation of your dreams summer! That can be next summer. This summer, there is much to get accomplished. July 4th weekend, this is when, ideally, your personal statement is done! Yes, done! You do not need the applications in order to write your personal statement. Get it done early. You will need at least two rewrites, before you even give it in to your guidance or college counselor.
13) Work; go on your internship or academic experience. But also this is the time to complete your printed Student Resume of Activities. This is formal. It has to be perfect. You add senior year activities to it; include all that you plan to do. Also this is time to work on a good cover letter template and a thank you note template. This is also a time to go college visiting if necessary. You do NOT have to visit all the colleges you want to go to. This is also the time to finish your college list. Ideally, you will have what we call: safeties, targets, and reaches! It’s nice to fall in love with one school but remember sometimes you have to be willing to explore a slightly bigger universe.
14) August, the applications actually are loaded! Exciting times begin. Start filling them out. I suggest if you can, to use the same user name and password. If you can’t each time you create one, be sure to send yourself an email with it or put it on a sticky or note on your computer, or write it in a book, something because you will forget some. Applications must be perfect. No misspellings, lower case that should be upper case, etc. Get HELP!!!! Someone needs to proof these…I like 3 or 4 people to proof. Need someone else to proof and help to make sure it is all going smoothly, we’re here to help.
15) If you are taking tests in the fall, get on with the studying for them again! Don’t be foolish and go in cold after 3 months of nothing.
Tah dah! Performance time!
16) Now the applications must be completed. Now you meet with your counselor for reviews. Remember your application and essays are YOURS. Many people will try to change your essays in content. You do not have to change your content if you are satisfied with it, but certainly change grammar mistakes and diction if offered suggestions. Swamped and worried about getting it all done, schedule some time with us.
17) DEADLINES are important. Many people have been rejected simply because they failed to meet the deadline. I had a former client who was very independent. He kept working on his essay repeatedly, and when he finally decided it was what he liked, he submitted to University of Michigan a couple of days after deadline. He was rejected. He chose to procrastinate for weeks because he felt he could do it all in a couple of hours. He was wrong. Don’t procrastinate! I like my clients to be completely done with all early applications by October 15th and to submit a day or two before deadline as traffic on the sites can clog and delay submission. I like all regular decision supplement essays to be completed over Thanksgiving. Yes, before you hear back from your Early schools. Be ahead of the curve!
This is a general time line for the two year process. I am with my client each step of the way. I offer support and assistance getting what needs done to be done. Most people have individualized challenges and need counsel on how to prepare and what to do. Often just getting the essays completed is challenging. As a consultant, I also offer parts of the process because many are capable and able to a lot without outside support. This is something to think about as you embark on your college process. Good luck with your journey.
Over the years, I have seen students who are juvenile and hesitant, emerge mature and confident over the two years, as they have owned the process and succeeded. It is a grand transition of graduation in life. A rigorous journey well worth the lessons learned along the way.