Control Your Cruise

By Flora Richards Gustafson on September 18, 2013
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Making the decision to go to college is the first of many steps necessary to get yourself into a higher education program after high school. After making such a decision, the assorted roadblocks and winding roads you’ll face before being accepted into college can be nerve-wracking, to say the least. Follow a guide like the one here, though, from the beginning of your junior year, and your road to college will be more like a cruise-controlled glide.

Your Junior Year

1. Map Your Route

Make a checklist of the goals you need to achieve each month, semester, trimester, or whichever academic schedule you keep most effectively. Knowing the small steps you need to take will make the big picture less overwhelming.

Gisela Ramirez, a senior at Newberg High School in Newberg, Ore., was worried about balancing her life between schoolwork and getting ready for college. She recommended tracking her time and goals more closely, as it really helped her. “Keep a calendar that has all the dates you need to remember,” she said, “like when to take the SATs, when to apply [to colleges] and stuff like that.”

2. Meet Regularly With Your School Counselor

School counselors can give you information about different colleges and universities, help you attain applications, and make sure you are on the right track. Do not hesitate to ask your school counselor or the career center staff for assistance. These people are pros when it comes to getting into college.

3. Take the Standardized Tests—Yes, NOW.

Many students wait until their senior year of high school to take their standardized college-entrance tests, like the SAT and ACT. It’s best to take these in your junior year, however, as it gives you plenty of time to prepare for and retake them if necessary to improve your scores.

4. Visit Your Favorite College Campuses

Colleges often offer tours to prospective students and their parents. Most college admissions counselors recommend you visit campuses during the summer before your senior year of high school so you can remember the details of your visits better and narrow your choices to a few favorites.

5. Start Requesting College Applications

The Internet has made it easy to download college applications instantly. However, some schools prefer to mail their applications to interested high school students. If this is the case, request college applications well before the start of your senior year so you don’t have to worry about waiting four to six weeks for it to arrive. Susan Clayton, the Opportunity Center Coordinator at Newberg High, states, “Most [applications] are online. Students may request a paper application, but this is not the preferred method and it may slow down the decision-making process.” 

Your Senior Year

1. Collect Letters of Recommendation Early

Colleges want to boast about their stellar undergrads, so let them know how much of an asset you have been to others as a high school student. Get letters of recommendation from teachers, employers, club or group leaders, and the heads of organizations where you have volunteered—and do it early, not at the last minute when all seniors will need them. Your letter-writers will thank you. In a letter of recommendation, the writer states they have witnessed your dedication, hard work, and triumphs first-hand. Ramirez got her letters of recommendation from her youth pastor, her favorite teacher and a former employer. She also added that the colleges she applied to did not allow letters of recommendations from friends or family members. (Don’t forget thank-you notes, by the way, to show your appreciation.)

2. Apply to Colleges, and Soon

The earlier, the better. College admissions counselors appreciate early applications so much that some college offer a discounted application fee for those turned in early. Keep in mind, too, that the sooner you apply, the sooner you will get accepted. Clayton suggests students should apply “Between September and March. In most cases, the earlier [you] apply, the better [your] chance for admission. September through November is mostly for Early Admission or Early Decision…A sort of ‘rule of thumb’ is: the more competitive the program, the earlier the application needs to be in. [Colleges] have a million more applicants than they can admit, and need the time to sort through them and make decisions.”

3. Get Your Financial Aid in Order

Encourage your parents to fill out the necessary FAFSA forms as soon as they turn in their tax statements to the IRS. In addition, learn about the scholarships available to you through your college(s) of choice—as well as those available through outside organizations—and apply. Scholarship applications can take a while to complete, especially if they require several short essays. So don’t put this step off any longer than you have to—it might cost you if you do!

The process of getting into and preparing for college can seem intimidating. If you do not wait until last minutes to go through each necessary step, you will feel less stressed out and have a better chance at getting into the school of your choice.

About the Author

Flora Richards Gustafson

Flora Richards Gustafson

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