It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end and that it is almost time to head back to school! If you are the parent of a high school junior or senior, I’m sure that college planning is something that is not far from your mind.
I would like to suggest that students as young as middle school and their parents should take actionable steps that will ease the fast-approaching college admissions process. As a matter of fact, I will more than suggest that that these steps are taken as soon as the school year starts; instead of “should-dos”, they should be considered “must-dos”.
On or before the first day of school, you MUST:
1. Check your course selection – Check your student’s course selection for the current school year to make sure that it matches a comprehensive college planning strategy. For example, if your number one college choice suggests that students take at least 5 Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, make sure that you are on track to fulfill those recommended minimums . Make sure you check with your school counseling office to see if you are able to make needed adjustments once the school year has begun.
2. Develop a testing strategy – If your student is in 10th – 12th grade, s/he should decide exactly what college admissions tests they will take and when. For example, a junior could plan to take the PSAT in October, the SAT I in March and the SAT II (Subject Tests) in May. If your student is in middle school or is a high school freshman, familiarize yourself with the schedule of when college admissions standardized tests are given. SAT and ACT test schedules are usually available about a year in advance and if the exact dates are not available for your child, you can get a general idea of when the tests are usually given (For example, the SAT is typically given the first or second Saturday in October).
3. Line up your letters of recommendation – If your student is entering senior year, s/he should have already identified and asked potential recommenders. If not, it is crucial to put in a request as soon as possible; your child wants to be one of the first students to ask for a recommendation, not the fiftieth. Students in grades 7 – 11 can kick the year off right by developing a detailed list of all meaningful activities that he/she has participated in. This list will eventually serve as a resume that can tremendously assist anyone who is asked to write a letter of recommendation for them.
4. Assess your extracurricular activities – Within the first few weeks of school, assess how your child spends time outside of class. While I am not a fan of joining clubs or participating in activities just because they look good to colleges, families should know that potential universities do pay attention to how students spend their non-academic time. If your student is in the 11th or 12th grade, he/she should NOT attempt the transparent strategy of loading up on after-school clubs. Colleges are typically more impressed with students who pick an activity and stick with it for several years, with an increasing amount of leadership responsibilities.
So, in addition to school supplies and new shoes, make sure that you add the items above to your back-to-school checklist.