The college admissions process is both a summation of four years of high school and a fresh start. No matter what your current year in high school is, you can take steps to ready yourself.
In the spirit of the new year approaching, here are four resolutions – one for each year of high school – to help students plan ahead.
1. Freshmen Resolution: “I will set college admissions goals now, rather than waiting until I’m a junior.”
College and its complex admissions process can seem impossibly far away when you have just begun high school. Your future, however, will be built on the foundation you lay out today. Begin determining your college goals now.
Starting now doesn’t mean that you have to set your entire trajectory immediately – during the next four years, you will discover new interests and new priorities that will partially shape your path. Rather, your college admissions goals can include general timelines for the next several years.
The next three resolutions are great goals to start with. For example, you might decide to complete your admissions testing early in your junior year. Another goal might be to begin building a list of interesting colleges and universities now, so that you will have a short list ready by junior year.
Other goals could include developing a well-stocked admissions portfolio on a platform like the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success or in another centralized location for gathering documents relevant to college applications.
2. Sophomores: “I will develop an ACT and SAT testing plan now – not as a junior.”
It is no secret that the ACT and SAT are critical to admissions success. But many students wait until they receive a disappointing result to dive into test prep. You do not necessarily need an intensive study plan as a sophomore, but you should know where you stand. Discover which test best suits your goals and strengths.
Commit to taking the PreACT or the PSAT, if possible. At the very least, complete a practice exam to get an estimate of your future score and to identify areas of improvement. Don’t stress unduly over the result – you still have a great deal of learning to do.
However, do map out a schedule of practice tests to measure your progress. These are especially valuable since testing can be an effective way to build your knowledge in addition to studying.
3. Juniors: “I will begin my college applications two months earlier than I believe I should.”
You might be tempted to set aside a single month or even two for college applications. Entrance exams have specific dates, you have to wait for your recommenders to send you their letters of recommendation and your high school releases transcripts on a set schedule.
That just leaves you to write your college essay – how long could it possibly take to write a few paragraphs?
The reality is that great applications take time. Your personal statement will require reflection and revision, and it will likely benefit from the input of trusted mentors and guardians or parents. Letters of recommendation can take time to acquire, since the authors are often busy with multiple letters to write – so it’s best not to wait until the last minute.
In short, you’ll need to start earlier than you expect to. This will allow you to gather your materials with time to spare for revisions or unexpected complications.
4. Seniors: “I will remember that admissions decisions do not solely determine my intelligence or future.”
Although the first resolution encouraged you to begin preparing for college as a freshman, it’s important to also understand that this focus should not define you.
Remember that college admissions is an intensely competitive process. Your GPA, test scores and a small slice of your life are weighed for admission – you may feel like there are more things you wanted to accomplish.
Ultimately, this is early in your life and you have many more opportunities ahead of you, wherever you end up attending school.
Remember, too, that no one best school is out there – there are hundreds of excellent colleges and universities, and many of them will provide you with excellent opportunities to learn and grow.
Above all, remember that college is one part of a journey. Yes, you can begin preparing as a high school freshman, but the story continues well past your graduation date. Spread out the work and keep moving forward toward your goals and dreams.