By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

No matter where you are in your high school career, the college admissions process often looms large. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the process has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and this has caused a great deal of anxiety among high school students (and their parents). It is important to be informed of the nuances and expectations in advance and to start planning early, while remaining loyal to who you are, following your passions, and keeping perspective and a healthy life-balance. Spring is a critical time for many of you: on the one hand, you’re in the homestretch, and it’s tempting to simply ride out the remainder of the year and launch into summer; on the other hand, it is crucial to remain on track and not to lose sight of your goals. I have found that some basic pointers can be enormously empowering for students—a way to ensure that you’re maintaining focus so that you can manage the stress and stay on top of things.

I’ve divided this blog post into four sections, each addressing a different grade. Feel free to read the whole thing, of course, but it might be helpful to click one of the below links and jump to whichever stage is appropriate for you:

 

Spring Tips for 12th Graders

Spring Tips for 11th Graders

Spring Tips for 10th Graders

Spring Tips for 9th Graders

 

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Spring Tips for 12th Graders

By now you have heard from all of your schools. Congratulations on your acceptances! I know what an exciting time this is for you all—but the process is not quite over for many. Unless you’re committed to an Early Decision school, now is the time to weigh your options and choose the school that is right for you.

Please remember to send in your deposit to your school of choice by May 1!

For those of you on waitlists, here are the basic steps should you choose to pursue that path:

  • When offered a spot on a school’s waitlist, be sure to reply that you would like to remain on that waitlist.
  • Regardless of your waitlist status, it is important to make your deposit at a school by May 1 and really embrace that school.
  • Follow any specific instructions provided by the school about how to pursue their waitlist.
  • Write a letter expressing your interest in the school and your commitment to attend if accepted. Also provide an update on your academic pursuits and extracurricular activities in this letter, so admissions officers have some new information to consider if/when they go to the waitlist.
  • Periodically email your regional admissions counselor to check in and show your continued interest.

Typically, schools will begin to make decisions about their waitlists in the first week in May, though sometimes those decisions can continue through the summer.

Congrats again to everyone!

 

Spring Tips for 11th Graders

The infamous junior year. I know how busy it can be and want to touch on a few key topics and timeline items. Pressure is building, but be sure to escape the echo-chamber sometimes. Make time for yourself and the things you enjoy, and try to keep it all in perspective. As you’ll see, there are lots of important things to think about at this juncture in your college process. Now is a great time to get ahead of the inevitable stress, and take some crucial steps in preparing for your future. You’ve got this!

College List. Revisit your college list, do some refining, and make sure it’s still balanced. Start thinking about whether you want to apply Early Decision and/or Early Action. Of course, if you haven’t yet worked on your college list, now is the time to get started!

Demonstrating Interest. Make sure you know how to “show the love” and are doing it! Colleges pay attention not only to who is qualified, but who has shown authentic interest in their schools. This involves numerous things, including college visits, local contact with admissions representatives, and remote communication with admissions offices.

Essays. The essay writing process is going to begin soon! Spring or early summer is the perfect time to learn about what makes a great college essay and to do some brainstorming exercises. Ideally, you want to complete your personal essay by the end of July. On August 1st, most schools publish their supplemental essay questions, so you will want to be ready to dive into those at that time. This advanced planning will make the fall of your senior year much more manageable.

Letters of Recommendation. Be sure you explore which teachers would be the best for you to ask for letters of recommendation. Ideally, you’ll want to ask two teachers by the end of junior year. Your school counselor will also be writing a recommendation. Make sure you know the steps to ensure your school counselor has the input she or he needs to write that recommendation.

Testing. Have you already taken your ACT or SAT? If so, are you deciding whether to take it again? While some colleges are de-emphasizing standardized tests, many still consider this an important factor. These are of course crucial decisions—and don’t neglect possible supplemental tests—SAT Subject Tests and/or AP exams.

Summer. Summer is just around the corner. Be sure you are making summer plans that authentically match and continue to show depth to your interests. Now is the time to finalize your summer plans if you haven’t already done so. (Check out our recent blog post on What Colleges Look for in Your Summer Experiences.)

Academics. This year is important, and we know it’s intense. Continue to do your best, while making time for rest, relaxation, healthy eating, etc. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll soon select your courses for next year. Be sure to choose wisely and in ways that match and develop your interests and goals. Keep in mind a healthy balance of rigor and performance.

Extracurriculars. With an eye to senior year, think about how you can run for a leadership position, deepen your interests a bit further and continue to demonstrate the commitment to the pursuits about which you genuinely care. (Check out our recent blog post on Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions.)

Major. Exploring different majors and programs is a great way to figure out what you love. It’s also important to understand which majors are the most popular at which schools and what particular strengths those programs might be seeking. Maybe there are majors that match your interests that you didn’t even realize existed!

Financial Aid. Have a family discussion about whether you’ll be applying for financial aid and if finances are an important factor in your college search. This is critical information, and better to know in advance so you can tailor your research and application decisions accordingly.

 

Spring Tips for 10th Graders

Congratulations, you’re almost halfway done with high school! I know how busy this time of year is, so be sure you’re taking care of yourself and staying focused on what’s important. As you look towards your future, here are some key steps you can take to prepare for a smooth college process.

Academics. The end of the school year always feels the busiest and most intense. Continue to do your best, while making time for rest, relaxation, healthy eating, etc. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll soon select your courses for next year. Be sure to choose wisely and in ways that match and develop your interests. Keep in mind a healthy balance of rigor and performance. Now that you have almost two years of high school under your belt, you should be in great shape to do some soul-searching, think hard about your interests and passions, and begin to focus your course-selections accordingly. Your college process should extend from that focus (not vice versa).

Extracurriculars. Think about what activities you enjoy most and how you want to focus your interests and experiences for the remainder of high school. Extracurriculars are a great way to show initiative in pursuing the things you love. (Check out our recent blog post on Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions.)

Summer plans. Summer is just around the corner. Be sure you are making summer plans that authentically match and show depth to your interests.  Now is the time to finalize your summer plans if you haven’t done so already. (Check out our recent blog post on What Colleges Look for in Your Summer Experiences.)

Testing. Depending on your courses this year, you might be ready to take a Subject Test or two this spring or summer. Now is also an ideal time to begin thinking about ACTs or SATs. While some colleges are de-emphasizing standardized tests, many still consider this an important factor. It’s a good idea to put test preparation and a test schedule in place by the end of sophomore year, so that you have ample time to decide how you want to prepare and to register for the ACT or SAT testing sites you like best.

Preliminary College List. By the end of sophomore year, you should begin to have a better sense of what you’re looking for in a college. Your college list will evolve over time, and now is a good time to assess your interests, grades, achievements, and goals and develop a preliminary list of schools based on those criteria. Again, nothing’s set in stone – this is just a great exercise and a way to begin thinking about your trajectory.

Visits. This spring or summer is a great time to begin visiting some colleges. Be sure you make reservations well in advance, as college admissions offices have heavy traffic during vacation time.

Demonstrate interest! Colleges track interest from early on and factor this into their admissions decisions. Therefore, it is advantageous to show authentic interest both in person and electronically. Learn how to do this most effectively.

 

Spring Tips for 9th Graders

Wow, you’re almost done with your first year of high school! I know how busy this time of year is, and I am hesitant to inundate you with college process tips this early. You should be focusing on getting the most out of high school, not obsessing about college. At the same time, many students and families find it helpful to have some information about the college process and empowering to be able to begin laying the groundwork for success.

Academics. The end of the school year always feels the busiest and most intense. Continue to do your best, while making time for rest, relaxation, healthy eating, etc. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll soon select your courses for next year. Be sure to choose wisely and in ways that match and develop your interests. Now that you have almost a year of high school under your belt, you should be in a good position to begin thinking about your interests and passions. What subjects inspired you? Which did you struggle through, or just find tedious? Of course, there are certain core classes you must take, but choose electives that enable you to develop your interests and passions. And carefully decide on course-levels, such as honors or AP. You want to aim high, but not overburden yourself to a degree that it becomes debilitating. Also be aware that certain course selections will set you on a particular path that will be difficult to change in subsequent years. Talk to your guidance counselor and teachers, and do what you can to choose wisely.

Extracurriculars. The first couple years of high school are a great time to explore your interests and begin to identify what you enjoy most. It’s important to show commitment, initiative, and leadership over the course of your four years of high school. (Check out our recent blog post on Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions.)

Summer plans. Summer is just around the corner. Be sure you are making summer plans that authentically match and show depth to your interests. Now is the time to finalize your summer plans if you haven’t done so already. (Check out our recent blog post on What Colleges Look for in Your Summer Experiences.)

Testing. Depending on your courses this year, you might be ready to take a Subject Test or two this spring or summer. During sophomore year, you should begin to think about the ACT vs SAT, how best to prepare, and when and how to set up a testing timeline. While some colleges are de-emphasizing standardized tests, many still consider this an important factor.

Visits. Let me be clear here: 9th grade is very early to be visiting colleges, and it is certainly not the norm. But maybe you’re curious to see a college campus and happen to be on vacation or visiting family near some college campuses. Scheduling a visit or two in the area is a great way to begin to see what different college campuses are like. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a school you’ll ultimately put on your list—just a way to get your feet wet. But, if you’re curious and nearby, it can be a way to start thinking about different types of schools. If you do visit, be sure you make reservations well in advance, since college admissions offices have heavy traffic during vacation time.

Preliminary College List. Typically, I suggest not thinking about specific schools until sophomore year. Your interests and aspirations can change dramatically after one year of high school, and it’s almost impossible to envision a range of schools until then. Indeed, it’s healthiest to not become enamored with specific colleges so early—so resist the urge. That said, it’s okay to begin thinking about your interests and passions, the kinds of environments—social and physical—you enjoy being in. This should be a time of emerging self-awareness, maturation, and growth.