Getting into college starts long before submitting an application. We tell our clients that the full process should happen over the course of two school years. By doing so, not only is there enough time for all of the required steps, but it also significantly reduces anxiety and stress. Better yet, it allows the time for the college admissions process to be one of self-discovery and exploration.
In an ideal world, we encourage parents and the student to start proactively thinking about the college admissions process at the end of sophomore year. This also allows time to consider course selections, goal-setting, and planning for extracurriculars during the most important year of high school — the junior year.
From preparing for standardized testing and researching a list of schools to visiting schools and writing college essays, there are a lot of moving parts to the admissions process. When a student rushes through this process, the crucial step that’s often skipped is developing an application strategy that highlights a student’s strengths and differentiates him or her in the eyes of an admissions committee.
During college admissions counseling, we create a student profile based on a student’s academic record, extracurricular activities, and interests. We start with the big picture, identifying patterns within the student’s interests and accomplishments. We’re intentionally thinking about the student’s story while there’s still time to organically sculpt that story.
Getting started — fall of junior year
During junior year, students should focus on three main objectives related to the admissions process:
1. Maximizing junior year coursework and extracurriculars: Students should make the most out of junior year by taking the opportunity to deepen their interests — whether that’s starting a new club, demonstrating leadership skills or taking challenging courses. As discussed earlier, what is this student’s story and how can they make it even more compelling during junior year?
2. Testing: Ideally, students should take the SAT and/or ACT several times during their junior year. This often requires starting test prep during fall of junior year. By getting testing out of the way during junior year, students can focus their time on college applications during senior year.
3. The college list: By starting early enough in the research process, students can leisurely look at schools and collect data about likes and dislikes. Students need to consider what’s most important to them — whether that’s a university offering a specific major or finding a college with a smaller, more intimate environment. Ideally, students will be conducting research throughout the year so that they can use school breaks for campus visits (if possible, given the pandemic).
The summer following junior year presents an often-neglected opportunity for students to pursue interests or differentiate themselves. We recommend starting to plan for the summer during the first half of junior year. Is it possible to secure an internship that genuinely reflects the student’s interest? Or participate in a pre-college program during the summer? Applications for pre-college summer programs offer valuable practice before tackling college applications.
Senior year: diving into applications
When students utilize junior year to get mandatory testing out of the way and conduct college research, they can focus on college applications during senior year. Keep in mind that if a student is inclined to submit an early decision/early action application, the deadline is typically in November/December.
Assuming that testing is completed during junior year, the other key steps of the application process include:
● Determining the final list of colleges to submit applications
● Creating a project timeline to break down application components
● Requesting letters of recommendation
● Writing and revising personal college statements and supplemental essays
● Applying by the deadline
Each college application will have slightly different requirements and essay topics, and it’s critical to allow ample time for the writing and editing process.
Working with a college admissions counselor
As college admissions counselors, we find that we can make the greatest impact by working with students from start to finish. Our counselors hold regular, often weekly, check-in meetings with students and stay in touch with parents on a routine basis. We focus on breaking down the process so that students don’t feel overwhelmed. Find out more about how college admissions counseling works.
Parental pep talk
By now, you know that your kids model behavior after ours. If you look stressed out, your teen will pick up on that. Stress is not going to get your teen to perform better.
What we can tell you is that the best way to support your teen during the college admissions process is to stay calm. In addition to the college admissions process, there are often a lot of other moving parts at play during your teen’s junior and senior years — and perhaps leadership in a club or other activities is what helps him or her stand out among other applicants.
Also, remember that there are a lot of colleges and universities in the U.S. (almost 4,000, in fact). The important thing is that youngsters make a final decision on a program that will allow them to take full advantage of the experience.