Well it’s here. It’s time for 11th graders and their families to start the college admission experience. I can only best describe this moment like a roller-coaster– the car has been slowly drawn up, and now you cresting over the first drop, frozen in suspense for what is to come!
As you prepare to make the first drop, I want to take a brief moment to set the scene of what is to come by dispelling an age old rumor. Every year I hear that “colleges are really only looking at Junior year.” Colleges look at the totality of a student’s high school career, beginning with 9th grade. That’s why they require your whole high school transcript, not just 11th grade; it’s why they ask students to list all of their activities and leadership positions starting with 9th grade. In other words, it’s not possible to simplify the complexities of the admission experience because there are too many variables to account for.
While I hope this clarification brings things into perspective, please try not to second guess decisions or relive difficult conversations around your educational choices. Instead, students are better served taking stock of what they’ve done, celebrating their achievements, and identifying areas for improvement.
As you cruise past the first drop and into the second, you may start to wonder what’s within your control. Broadly speaking there are three main things students will do throughout the search phase of their college admission journey: look for schools, choose the ones to apply to, and apply to them. Right now the two areas 11th graders should focus on are researching schools and preparing to apply. So, let’s look at each of these a little more closely.
Find The Right College
The College Board’s Big Future site lists over 4,000 colleges and universities, so how does a student find the ones that best match their personality, aspirations, and needs? This is where “fit” enters the experience. Frankly, it’s a ubiquitous and poorly defined term used a lot throughout the college admission experience. So let’s clear it up. In short, it represents a student-informed and defined set of criteria by which they can filter through the 4,000 schools, identifying ones that meet their criteria. The general criteria categories are: academic, extracurricular, location, school profile, size, diversity, cost, and co-curricular/career. From there students can use College Board, Naviance, School Links, or other search tools to find schools.
Preparing to Apply to College
Growing up my father had an expression: planning, preparation, execution. It was his way of encouraging my brothers and I to be thoughtful about the steps we needed to take to achieve our goals. I share his wisdom with you, in an effort to do the same. Planning allows one to think through the process; preparation is about identifying steps to achieve the goal; and execution is the act of completing those steps. So let’s dig in!
- Standardized Tests: With the advent of test-optional, many students and families have expressed how confused they feel. My advice continues to be that students should take at least one official standardized test (SAT or ACT).
- Catalog What You’ve Done: Students should inventory all their activities, awards, and leadership positions from 9th grade until present. This living document can be updated regularly, and eventually used to draft their resume.
- Brainstorm Essay Ideas: The essay is an opportunity for students to share the most important part of themselves. The best way to begin is by looking at the Common Application essay prompts (easily found with a Google search).
- Meet Your School Counselor: Even when families hire me, I strongly suggest they maintain a cordial and collegial relationship with their counselor. They have extremely important insights and oversee the application submission process–a good friend to have!
- Consider Cost Early: It’s no secret that a college degree is expensive. I strongly urge you to review the “total cost of attendance” for 3 different types of schools. Then use that information to determine what you can reasonably afford.
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