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Articles / Applying to College / For Next Year's Seniors

March 16, 2014

For Next Year's Seniors

Will you be a senior this fall, for the 2014-15 school year? Just like a champion sprinter’s style, it’s important to get a fast start senior year. This is a good time to do a personal attitude survey in anticipation of your final high school year, which, if you’re planning to go on to higher education, will also be when you apply to college.

A strong, positive attitude is very important during your college quest. The crucial high school years — ninth through twelfth grades — present many obstacles to young people who are also struggling with another challenging situation — being a teenager. The pressures of teenage life, when mixed in with the stress of day-to-day high school, can be a strong demotivator for young people.

If you are a high school student or the parent of one, it’s time to take inventory of the attitudes that leave home with you or your child every school day. Here are some questions to consider:

– Do you have a college plan? If not, why not?

– Do you know what milestones you need to accomplish this school year as part of your college plan?

– Do you know who can help you accomplish those milestones?

– Do you have specific goals set within your college plan?

– Have you begun to accumulate information about possible colleges and universities?

– Do you plan to visit some soon?

– Are you familiar with the general financial aid options available to students and families?

– Do you know how to begin building a college plan?

If you answered “No” to any of these questions — especially the first or last one — it’s time to get moving. There are two pieces of folk wisdom that apply here. First, it’s not just what you know or whom you know that counts; it’s what you do with what you know. Also, attitude determines altitude. Got that?


You don’t have to know everything about college planning to put together a successful college plan. However, you do have to know whoand where the resources are. Three good places to start are college counselors, the public library, and the Internet.

Counselors usually have some excellent publications that can give you an easy to understand start on college planning. The local library should also maintain a strong, current inventory of books on college that should provide even more detail than those from a counselor. The Internet’s World-Wide Web is, of course, bursting with everything you’d ever want to know about college and careers. It doesn’t take much effort to explore either of these options.

One crucial part of your college planning should be knowing how to market yourself. Getting into a good college is a lot like trying to get a good job. In both cases, you need a way to sell yourself. That’s where your resume comes in.

A high school resume works like a professional resume. If you are planning on applying to colleges that do not accept everyone who applies (most colleges), you’re going to be competing for a spot in the freshman class. You need a tool to market yourself, something to make you stand out from the others. A resume is the answer.

To put together a high school resume, you need to do some serious reflection. Get a piece of paper and a pencil. Ask someone in your family, who knows what you have accomplished over the years, to sit with you for an hour or so. The purpose of this exercise is to chronicle the highlights of your academic and extracurricular career.

Begin by listing the biggest academic honors you’ve garnered, starting with ninth grade. Most colleges are interested in only your four years of high school. Please note, though, that if you have done something exceptional in middle or elementary school, make note of it. Academic honors include honor-roll recognition, essay writing awards, science competitions, and the like. Take time to discuss your history. Make note of everything that comes up.

Now turn to your extracurriculars. This category includes clubs you’ve belonged to, class offices you’ve held, sports, band, yearbook, and all the other nonacademic activities you’ve done. Don’t forget non-school-related items such as volunteering at a nursing home, jobs you’ve worked, etc. Special interests like photography, hiking, writing, etc. detail your uniqueness. You’re trying to paint a portrait of yourself … an action inventory.

When you’re finished listing everything, put the items into chronological order by category. The title of this document should be something like, “Gerald M. Simpson:  Personal Highlights,” or “Gerald M. Simpson: Achievement Summary,” or something similar. Your two main categories should be “Academic” and “Other,” or “Extra-Curricular.” Use three time periods:  Elementary (if applicable), Middle School, and Junior-Senior High School.

When you’re done, you’ll have a one-sheet profile of your best work and activities. You can include a copy with all of your applications to offset the application’s limited space. Don’t be afraid to market yourself. If youdon’t, who will?

And just to make sure that you’re fully aware of the pitfalls of senior year, here are some common mistakes seniors make, courtesy of Campus Explorer. How many will trip you up?

– Thinking Second Semester Grades Don’t Count: Many universities look at your second semester grades, so keep that GPA up and keep taking those AP/IB and honors classes …

– Falling for “Senioritis”: … don’t let yourself lose motivation, procrastinate or slack off completely. Letting yourself get physically or emotionally run down can ruin your senior year …

– Getting Too Overwhelmed: Senior year means juggling everything from the prom and parties to college essays and AP tests … Make lists and timelines to keep track of all of your deadlines and make sure you get it all done.

– Mismanaging Your Time: Be realistic about your current workload … To stay on top of your assignments, calculate how long you think something will take you, and then double it. Triple it, if time allows. That way you’ll have ample time to get your work done ….

– Daydreaming About Your Future Too Much: Your mind now might be wandering, thinking around about degrees, majors, MBA programs, possible careers, study abroad and many other things … but don’t forget the here and now …

– Blowing Off “Less Important” Work: Don’t be fooled by the idea that a second paper or a midterm quiz doesn’t make that much of a difference. Everything counts. Even if something is only worth ten percent of your grade, take it seriously …

So … now that you know what to do (and what to be careful about), what are you waiting for? Plan to get out of those senior-year blocks fast!


Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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