What am I supposed to be doing about college right now? This is a GREAT question and it is one of the questions I get asked all the time. As you are returning to school following the winter holiday, here are the “To Do’s” you should add to your list – organized grade-by-grade. Get these done by the end of the school year and you’ll be right on track!
If you are in 9th grade:
- Focus on developing your study habits so that you have good grades at the end of the year. Your 9th grade grades count!
- Continue your involvement in 2-3 activities or interests outside of class; if you haven’t gotten involved in any activities or interests yet, do it now. Colleges expect you to do more than get good grades and hang out with friends.
- Take an online career interest inventory and explore 2-3 careers that are recommended for you. Having some ideas about what careers interest you can help you make better choices about all things related to college, including which colleges are best for you.
- Make a plan for the summer that allows you to go deeper with either academics or activities or career exploration.
- Pick at least 3 colleges to find out more about: you can talk to people who went to the college, research the college online, and/or visit the college. Your goal is to get a general idea of what college is all about and how colleges differ from each other.
If you are in 10th grade:
- Keep your grades up; if you haven’t had the best of grades up to now, resolve to improve your grades. By the end of this year, two-thirds of the grades that will make up your academic profile when you apply will be determined!
- Register for and take SAT Subject Tests in May for any courses you are taking at the AP level. This will allow you to “study once, test twice” as the preparation you do for your AP tests will also prepare you for your SAT Subject Tests. (Note that there are not SAT Subject Tests for all of the AP subjects.)
- Step up your involvement in your activities and interests. Look for the opportunities to take initiative, lead, and/or excel at something outside of class.
- Make a plan for the summer that allows you to go deeper with either academics or activities or career exploration. This can be a great summer to have an internship that allows you to learn more about your careers of interest.
- Pick at least 5 colleges to find out more about: you can talk to people who went to the college, research the college online, and/or visit the college. Your goal is to get a general idea of what college is all about and how colleges differ from each other.
If you are in 11th grade:
- Put your academics first and get your best grades ever by the end of this year. The record you stand on when you apply next fall will be the grades from 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. The last thing you want is to have to explain away and overcome bad grades in 11th grade.
- Prepare for and take the necessary standardized tests. Your goal is to have taken all the tests required at least once by the end of this year. Ideally, this means you will have taken the SAT or ACT twice and have taken at least 3 SAT Subject Tests by June. (International students should also have taken the TOEFL.) This combination of tests will allow you to apply to any college and will put you in great shape to apply early if you so choose, as well as give you time next fall to “retake” any test where you think you can improve your score.
- Focus your energies outside of class on the activities and interests where you can demonstrate that you excel and/or that your involvement had a positive impact on your school, your community, the world.
- Make a plan for the summer that allows you to take academics or activities to the highest level AND gives you time in August to work on your college applications. Knocking out drafts of your college applications in August is the key to a sane senior year. Promise.
- Develop your relationship with your school-based counselor and take advantage of all the programs and resources offered by your school to assist you in the college admissions process.
- Consider whether you want to work with an independent counselor in addition to your school-based counselor. If so, begin working with him or her as early as possible.
- Develop your preliminary college list with an eye towards finalizing it in the mid-summer. If possible, plan to visit 3-5 colleges on your list while they are in session. (Spring break is usually an ideal time to do this.)
If you are in 12th grade:
- Complete and submit any college applications that are still outstanding.
- Follow-up with the colleges where you have submitted applications to ensure that your applications are COMPLETE. Your application will not be decided upon until it is complete. Make sure everything is there.
- Complete and submit all financial aid forms.
- If you were admitted early decision, withdraw all of your pending applications and/or decline any other outstanding offers of admission.
- Equip yourself to choose where you will enroll by gathering all the information you need; consider whether you will make a college visit to one-three colleges where you have been admitted before choosing. (March and April are the time for these visits.)
- Set yourself up to finish strong. ALL offers of admission are conditional on you completing high school successfully and without disciplinary actions. Furthermore, your grades will matter if you are waitlisted. So carry on!
Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey College Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (most recently at Dartmouth College). She works with students and families throughout the U.S. and abroad. Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)