Start Your College Plan Early

We’re about to turn the corner and head into another New Year. This has been a year like no other. That’s a phrase that we hear frequently. Literally, every year is a year like no other because it’s an entirely different year, every year. That seems obvious and almost nonsensical, but the “unlike no other year” phrase can apply (and usually does apply) to high schoolers, also.

The majority of my posts here on Admit This! concern high school juniors and seniors and sometimes current college students. That demographic focus is due primarily because high school juniors and seniors are the ones most urgently concerned about college admissions, which is the general focus of this blog. Seniors come under stress immediately with the start of their senior year. That pressure is the result of early application deadlines that loom at November 1, which arrives quicker than Santa on Christmas Eve.

This post, however, is for high school sophomores, those 10th graders out there who are sometimes overlooked in the realm of college admissions advice. So, just for the record, I want to address some thoughts to that group, who will be so-called “rising juniors” at the end of this school year. Appropriately, then, let me get you to look ahead to your junior and senior year.

The junior high school year is a year of decision and planning for college-bound students. Senior year is the action year, as I mention above. During both years, you’ll continue to take challenging classes in English, math, science, history, geography, a foreign language, government, civics, economics, and the arts. As a junior, you must then start thinking ahead to your senior year.

At the start of your senior year, you will decide if your standardized test scores are the best they can be. If you’re not satisfied with them, schedule the SAT I for October (preferred) or November. You may also want to take some Subject Tests if you were unable to do so at the end of your junior year (also preferred).

Early on in your senior year, get application requirements and information from any of the candidate schools on your list that don’t participate in the Common Application. Yes, there are still some that don’t.

Early Decision applications will be due early in November, most likely November 1 (that’s early!), so it’s important to get a quick start on these. November sneaks up very quickly on high school seniors. Schedule a meeting with your college advisor so that you can tell him or her of your college admission plan. If you haven’t got a plan, you must certainly develop one as soon as possible. Take advantage of your advisor’s services and, of course, the tremendous amount of college admissions wisdom contained on College Confidential.

The early autumn season is also an excellent time to visit the colleges on your candidate list, even as a junior. All the students will be back at these schools and you’ll be able to get a true feel for what it’s like to be there. Don’t forget to talk to students and get their honest opinions about life on campus. You’ll be spending the better part of four years (maybe longer) of your life at one of these schools. Keep your eyes and ears open for little clues that say good or not-so-good things about the school.

We’ve covered details of the application process in previous Admit This! editions. The keys, though, are timeliness, completeness, neatness, and a strong essay (if one’s required), or multiple statements, thanks to the continuing scourge of supplemental writing on the Common Application. Follow up with those teachers who will be writing letters of recommendation on your behalf. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them and what the deadlines are. Once again, “planning” is key here. That’s why you can start assembling your admissions strategy all during your junior year. Even now, as a sophomore, you can start to form at least a general idea of what you need  — and want — to do. The finer details will fall into place over the next year or so.

Early Decision (EA) candidates will receive their acceptance (or deferral or, unfortunately, even their denial) letters by Christmas, usually a week or so before then. Regular Decision (RD) outcomes will start to arrive from February through April, with the majority appearing in March through April.

Along with acceptances come financial aid awards. Keep your parents intimately involved with these. Have them work closely with the schools’ financial aid offices so that you can choose among the very best aid packages.

The final thing to do is decide which acceptance you treasure most and send in your enrollment deposit and information. This is most usually due by May 1 for EA and many ED admissions.

Keep working your senior year, however. Don’t turn off the switches just because you’re in. Colleges want to see the pattern of excellence you’ve already established continue. Although it’s unlikely, since your past record has gotten you into (hopefully) your first-choice school, dropping the academic ball after being accepted in December or the spring could derail your acceptance. It’s happened before, so remain diligent.

As a sophomore, then, you don’t have to buy a telescope to see into the future and find out what you should be doing as a junior and a senior. Just follow my suggestions above and develop a strong relationship with your school counselor. His or her help will be a key element to your success.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled school year!

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Be sure to check out all my other articles at College Confidential.