A human being’s life is like an impressionist painting made from a series of photographic images. The first impact of an experience has the brilliance and clarity of a photograph taken at high noon. With the passage of time the memory of the experience becomes diffused, but it is still embedded in the subconscious mind. It becomes part of one’s personality.

 -Meena Kumari for Filmare (October 25, 1957)

i’m going into my junior year of high school, the time when many students are getting ready to apply for college. many of my friends and peers have been concerned about what, exactly, they should be doing to prepare this year, and when. so, we held a college information session. this may be geared towards my specific area/region, but hopefully everyone can take something out of this. here are some tips that we learned:

ON COLLEGE VISITS

questions to ask:

  1. what is your freshman retention rate?
  2. what is the percentage of students that graduate in 4 years? (new statistic: ¾ of students don’t; the average student takes 5 ½ years to graduate)

make sure there is written documentation of your visit

when reviewing applications, colleges note “touch points”– these include things like taking an official tour, sending in those cards you get in the mail, or something as easy as emailing one of their admissions counselors with a simple question. they’ll keep your information, and it may give you an advantage over other students because you showed you’re seriously interested in their school. so, even if you’re taking an informal campus tour, make sure to stop in the admissions office and fill out one of those cards with your information. it’ll be added into their system as a touch point– and you’re already one step ahead!

TESTING

some things to remember:

  • the SAT and ACT are, for the most part, equally accepted by colleges.
  • certain schools may require an SAT subject test. make sure to check out programs you’re interested in so that you can prepare all of its requirements.
  • the SAT is a test of aptitude, while the ACT is more knowledge-based and straightforward. 
  • if you’re bright and a good test taker but maybe you don’t get the best grades, the SAT may be more fit for you.
  • if you’re more studious and focused on grades and retaining information you’ve learned in class, the ACT may be a better match. 
  • a guidance counselor recommends: take both tests once, and whichever you feel you performed better on, take it again. 
  • many colleges like to see growth in scores because it shows you’re really working towards something. this may change depending on the selectivity of the school, but consider this before only sending your best score. 
  • if you know what colleges you’re interested in, check and see what they prefer/require before taking the tests. most likely, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run.

SO, WHEN SHOULD I BE DOING ALL OF THIS?

here’s a timeline of what was recommended for your junior year

October: 

  • take the PSAT again (this is the year that you can qualify for NMSQT). i’m not sure if this applies everywhere but i know where i live, this is a requirement.
  • if your school uses Naviance, make sure you have your login information. you should be using the tools it provides to research colleges and find out more about jobs you may be suited for.

November/December

  • take the ACT or SAT. if you’ve already taken the SAT, i suggest taking the ACT before doing the SAT again. 
  • this is around the time you should start visiting colleges if you haven’t already. if you can’t go to schools, look for information sessions and college fairs near you. if you’re on a college’s email list, they’ve likely sent you dates that they offer tours or perhaps are even hosting information sessions closer to you.

April/May/June

  • start asking for letters of recommendation!! many teachers give letters on a first-come-first-serve basis, so get ahead. usually you want to have 2-4 of these. think about programs and schools you may apply for, and think about what subject teachers may be most helpful in your application. also, check schools’ websites and see what they recommend/require. outside letters are also okay, if they’re from someone who knows you and your work ethic well. 
  • consider taking the SAT or ACT again. 
  • schedule your senior year. it’s no longer a time to slack off; colleges now look at your grades as late as third marking period. continue to challenge yourself, but also take electives that interest you to get a better idea of what careers you may want to pursue.
  • get the Common App essays from your guidance counselor. you should at least think about these over the summer to get an idea of what you’ll say in your application essays.

August

  • this is when the Common App is available for that year. many, but not all schools, use this. do your own research to decide if it’s a necessity for you.

MISC. TIPS

  • very few students partake in college interviews anymore. requesting and interview may set you apart from other students (touch point!), but it is definitely not required or even recommended by the vast majority of schools.
  • if you know you will be going to grad school or a higher ed program, think about where you want to concentrate your money. a cheaper but respected undergraduate school may be a great idea to save money for a great graduate school. (you probably don’t care where your doctor went for their undergrad, but where’d they go to med school?)
  • MAKE SURE YOU’RE MEETING YOUR SCHOOL’S GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS.
  • check to see what courses certain colleges recommend you take in high school. this may be a good way to plan the rest of your high school schedule, and also gauge whether or not you can achieve a college’s expectations.