Timely advice from experts for students who want to stay on track during the college admissions process.
In March, The Choice introducedCounselor’s Calendar, an occasional series intended to keep students on track throughout the college admissions process.
Our latest installment focuses on college-bound juniors, who are beginning to think seriously about how to make the most of their soon-to-come senior year. (In case you missed it, we posted an April checklist for seniors on Monday.)
We’ve asked Erin K. Johnston, the co-director of college guidance atNational Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., for some timely advice on what juniors should be doing in April to prepare for college. —Tanya Caldwell
Juniors, here is your college admissions checklist for April:
Continue your college research.
Take note of school presentations in your area — some colleges even travel together, so you could learn about a few colleges in one evening. Even better, try to attend a college fair as a way to gather information about dozens of colleges at once.
Some colleges offer spring open houses for juniors, or special summer opportunities for prospective applicants. Spring is a busy time for many juniors, with year-end school and extracurricular commitments, exams and final papers, and standardized tests. It’s not great timing that this is when colleges are available to visit your hometown or invite you to theirs, so be sure to prioritize. Protect your G.P.A. and transcript — don’t spend more time researching colleges than doing your schoolwork.
Keep financial considerations in mind.
As was noted on the March checklist, any student whose family cannot comfortably foot the cost of a college education should investigate options for need- and merit-based aid. Net-price calculators are user-friendly with completed tax returns in hand.
Have a plan for taking standardized tests.
Most students should sit for the ACT or SAT at least once before the end of the year, and those interested in selective universities should take at least twoSAT Subject Tests, as well. Register for the tests well in advance to make sure you get a testing location near where you live.
If you’ve already taken the SAT or ACT once, seriously consider waiting until the fall for a retake rather than rushing to retake it again this spring. For many students, the older they are, the better they fare on any test.
Think about the coming Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. How prepared are you to do well on those exams? Sometimes, students sit for more exams than they really need to take — it’s better to do well on three exams than to do poorly on five.
Finally, if you feel as if your standardized test results won’t accurately showcase your abilities (in other words, if you’re not a great test-taker) then add some test-optional or test-flexible colleges to your list of schools.
Think about potential recommendation writers.
Many colleges ask applicants to submit three letters of recommendation — one from a guidance counselor and two from teachers. Students generally ask teachers from junior year (and sometimes, from senior year) to provide a written endorsement, so now is an excellent time to consider whom you might ask for a letter of recommendation. Not sure whom to ask? Ask yourself: “Who sees the best version of me, as a student, in the classroom every day?” or “Who has seen me grow and change, in a good way, this year?” or “In which class do I act the way a successful college student acts?”
Check out the April PDF of the Common Application.
The Common Application, a universal method of applying to colleges accepted at more than 450 institutions, has promised to release a preview PDF of the 2012-13 form in mid-April. Students cannot begin to complete the online version until August 1.
Pick the right classes for senior year.
Think carefully about a schedule that will provide you with an appropriate challenge. Having reached senior year, there might be very few classes you actually need to take to graduate. Given this flexibility, balance choosing specialized electives with foundational courses. In other words, that science elective in zoology might be a lot of fun, but if you haven’t taken any physics in secondary school, now is a good time to do so.
Many colleges prefer to see that students have taken the basics in high school, so that they can explore specialized fields in depth at the collegiate level. Maximize your choices to demonstrate your interest in a particular field. When in doubt, consider calling a few admissions offices to get their take.
Watch the seniors.
Your friends in the Class of 2012 have received most of their college news by this point. Consider the ways they experienced this process, and take note of actions, words and approaches you’d like to emulate — as well as mistakes, blunders and missteps you’d like to avoid.
Now is the time of year when admissions statistics are released by schools and many news stories are written about general admission trends. Think about how all of this data might have an impact on your search. Compare, for example, a college’s acceptance rate for early decision candidates with its acceptance rate for regular decision candidates. Pay attention to the types of notifications that aren’t just “admit” or “deny,” such as decisions of wait list, guaranteed transfer, spring admission or fall 2013 (a “forced” gap year) admission.
At school, resist the urge to offer judgment or unsolicited advice (“Can you believe HE got in and SHE did not?” or “Why would you just X College over Y College?”). There are a lot of factors that go into an
admissions decision — both the decisions made by colleges, as well as the ones made by seniors — so watch, listen and observe. This will be you in just one short year.