Your admission journey begins here, part 3

Posted on February 12th, 2020 to College Admission

So here we are at part 3! Parts 1 and 2 of this series offered a way to frame thinking about your journey and tips on how to find schools that match your needs and interests. Now it’s time to start addressing how to prepare for completing and submitting your applications. The keyword here is prepare. Though you are still months away from needing to actually work on your applications, there is plenty you can do to make your life easier during fall semester of 12th grade. As you embark on this leg of your journey you will find yourself reflecting on some of your past choices. It will also bring to light some realities about the admission experience. So, where can your preparation begin? An unlikely place: standardized tests.

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That’s right, tests. Why? Well, for two reasons. The first is spring of 11th grade is a good time to take your first official SAT or ACT. The second is that your research has likely led you to see the role test scores play in the application process. So what do you do with this information? Make a standardized testing plan of course. First, you need to know what you’re working with. This is where pre-tests, like the PSAT, and/or the actual tests can be helpful. Knowing these scores will help you see if you fall within a school’s middle-50% of accepted students. Next, start figuring out how to practice for the test. If you struggle with standardized tests or want structured support you should look into test preparation programs. This could be through a private company, a community based organization or through your high school. Check with your school counselor about what resources are available to you. If you are on a budget or feel comfortable with testing, you can look at your score reports for an analysis of your performance. There is a treasure trove of data that could save you from spending big money on private test preparation. Simply look at the charts below your scores to identify the areas that you need to improve on. Then use your test prep books to practice on those areas. Either way you go the final step is the same. Practice, practice, practice!

Once you have figured out your testing plan, it’s then time to begin cataloguing all you have done and achieved during high school. Remember how I mentioned you have done more than you think? Here’ s how you can test my statement. Start writing down all of the activities you’ve participated in, awards you’ve earned, and leadership positions you’ve held. Start with 9th grade, then move forward to present day. Go ahead…write it all down…I’ll wait.

Done? Good! Now, what do you see? Are you happy and/or satisfied? If yes, then keep this document close by so you can add to it and eventually turn this into your extracurricular resume. If your answer is no, then use it to identify one or two areas you want to improve upon. Set some goals and action steps you can take to meet those goals.

Having the beginnings of an extracurricular resume allows for a seamless segue in to the final phase of preparation. Your college essays. Ohhh the dread! The humanity of it all! The best way to embark upon a daunting project is by tackling one small task. To begin, start looking at essay prompts. Some schools have their own questions, while many others use the common app essay prompts. Want a real challenge? Look at the University of Chicago’s prompts. Use the prompts along with your resume draft as a launching point to begin brainstorming. Your essay is an opportunity to share a part of yourself that people absolutely need to know. One way to filter through your ideas or to help guide your brainstorming is to consider what parts of you and your narrative are not addressed by your grades, test scores, or extracurricular activities.

So what do you think? Does this feel manageable? For some I estimate this will feel like a good sense of direction forward. For others I imagine this might feel overwhelming. Either way my advice is the same. Choose one thing and do it. If you are a planner, sit down and plan out your next steps with this as a guide. If you are a doer then go and “do” based on the suggestions here. If you are trapped in the cyclical thoughts that come with feeling overwhelmed, break the cycle by doing one of the tasks listed. You can do this…I promise! Remember, I’m here to support your journey. Help is only an email away!


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