5 Action Items for High School Sophomores & Juniors

5 Action Items for High School Sophomores & Juniors

We’ve seen too many students wait until the summer after 11th grade to try to develop and implement the strategies needed to tackle the college application process successfully and with ease. Often, there is just not enough time to do the pre-work that results in the most effective essays, outreach, and eventually admissions outcomes.

The best time to start prepping to apply to college is now if you are in grade 11 or 10.

Right now you can:

  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people that make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (ask us why these connections are so important)
  • Create a testing plan that has you ready for apps due on 11/1 or 11/15 and not taking tests last minute
  • Make the best of campus visits (virtual and in-person when the time comes!) and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
  • Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use
  • Open up a Common Application account to get familiar with the system so by the time you apply you know it like the back of your hand 

Don’t let this time go to waste. Email us to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.

 

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September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

September Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

 

Seniors

  • Welcome to senior year! Your grades this fall are important, but you also need to keep making progress on your apps and complete any remaining testing if applicable. It might feel like a lot to juggle, but you’ve got this! My biggest piece of advice is to keep moving forward.
  • Meet with your school counselor to discuss your counselor letter, finalize your college list, confirm your teacher recommendations, and go over your application strategy. ost early deadlines are November 1 or later, but a few schools have mid-October deadlines. Plan on submitting ALL applications well in advance of deadlines. To me, well in advance means at least 1-3 weeks ahead of time.
  • Keep writing! If you started essays this summer, you should have quite a few completed by this time. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute.
  • Talk to your letter of recommendation writers and make sure they are aware of your early deadlines.
  • Continue connecting with students, faculty, and staff. Remember to interview where applicable and take lots of notes. The information you gather is often perfect material for supplemental “Why School” essays and interest letters after you apply!
  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (even virtually!), please attend and meet the reps from the schools on your list. If you have already met them, it is still beneficial to stop by and say hello to demonstrate interest.
  • Continue to visit colleges virtually and show interest!
  • Prep for interviews. Remember, if the schools on your list have on-campus or local interviews that are candidate-initiated, you must schedule them. Check the schools on your list. All of this information is provided on schools’ admissions websites.
  • Remember to send schools your official test scores (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests). Self-reported scores on applications are not official scores.
  • Remember to read the application instructions for the schools on your list.
  • Keep writing essays!

Juniors

  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (virtually this year in many cases!), please attend and meet the reps from the schools that might be on your list. Be sure to send them a follow-up email thanking them for their time.
  • Now is the time to plan the rest of junior year in terms of testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Will you need SAT Subject Tests? How many and which ones? When might you take them? Have you started formal test prep? Now is the time to start!
  • Although I do not suggest formally prepping for the PSAT, if you would like to get a sense of what is on the test, you can read more here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and it’s a much more personal letter if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year; let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, and explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major(s) of interest and how the activities you are involved in support these interests. If possible, we want to determine what major(s) options you will list on your applications sooner rather than later so you can best prepare yourself for talking about these interests in your apps. If you need suggestions for activities based on your interests (for example, Coursera courses, independent projects, etc.), let us know—we help with this!
  • Fall is a great time to visit colleges, so plan at least one virtual tour per week!
  • Do you have a plan in place to get more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school clubs and activities outside of school too. Remember, leadership is far more than leading a school club or sports team.

Sophomores and Freshmen

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. A rigorous course schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. Your number one priority this year should be your grades!
  • If you haven’t done so already, get involved in activities in your area(s) of interest both inside and outside of school. Most colleges prefer to see fewer activities, but in which you are involved in a significant, meaningful way.
  • Many schools allow 10th graders to take a practice PSAT.  The experience of taking the PSAT as a sophomore will give you a sense of what to expect on future exams. However, you don’t need to prep for it.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss your high school game plan with your guidance counselor. Talk to them about how the first few weeks of classes go, and if you need to make any adjustments to your schedule.
  • Independent reading matters. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have a significant positive impact on standardized testing and your writing. Colleges love readers!

 

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August Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

August Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

We will be taking a break from the blog for most of August through Labor Day weekend, posting only when very important news calls for it. We are focusing on making sure our seniors start school with most of their app work complete, so if you are a rising senior and have not started, now is the time!

Seniors

  • The Common App refresh is complete. If you opened a Common App account before August 1, please log in to “roll” over the base data. Please add schools to your CA Dashboard and begin filling out the school-specific sections; this is where you can also see supp essays and should be double-checking all prompts as you…
  • Continue to complete essays! And as you do, now is an excellent time to start thinking about your application strategy. Even if you are not finished with testing, you’ll want to complete applications this summer.
  • It might seem like a silly piece of advice, but many students are not aware that every college has a set of application instructions that are not located on the online application. Locate and read them for every school on your list before tackling the application process.
  • Colleges may not open for tours before you submit early applications (in October or earlier). Spend time taking virtual tours and connecting with and learning about colleges in other ways (reaching out to current students and alumni is just one example!).
  • Many colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources, but you may have an interest in creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, GitHub, YouTube channel, personal website, and/or blog) to supplement your other application materials.
  • Touch base with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation. They will be very busy once school starts; be proactive and drop them a note now reiterating your thanks, as well as letting them know when you plan to submit your first apps (this can be far in advance of actual deadlines, for example, in August or September if testing is complete).

Juniors & Sophomores 

  • Work on a purpose project. A purpose project is one that you design and implement (with our help if you’d like!), which taps into your interests and talents (the things you love, that bring you joy, that you want to study in college, or that you feel could best help your school, community, or the world); it is connected to a deeper purpose and has tangible outcomes that you set. Past projects from students include writing a children’s book, completing a literature review or book challenge, creating a trailer for a documentary (and founding a non-profit, a school club, an app), spearheading an innovative volunteer event, fundraising for an organization in a creative way (selling artwork, an Etsy shop, etc.), and hosting a yearly beach clean-up. The possibilities are endless, and colleges love seeing students take part in meaningful, self-directed work. There is still time to design and begin to implement one. Reach out to us if you have questions or want support!
  • Now is the time to plan for testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Will you need SAT Subject Tests? Please contact us if you would like suggestions for tutors and other prep resources, or with your testing plan if you already have one in place and have not shared it with me yet.
  • This year, make a plan to get more involved with 1-2 main extracurricular activities (bonus if these support your academic interests). Look for leadership opportunities, but also keep in mind demonstrating leadership goes beyond formally leading a club or team.
  • Start to think about your major of interest (and how the activities you are involved in support it!). You 100% should be exploring your academic interests outside of your coursework.
  • Begin to visit the websites of the schools on your list. Explore the admissions and departmental/academic pages. Attend virtual tours and information sessions; there are so many options, start now!

Freshmen

  • Relax. Enjoy the final month of summer before high school begins!

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April Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

April Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Number one on the action plan this month is everyone’s health and wellness (and this amazing video by students at Berklee College of Music)!

We are available at your convenience to talk about testing timeline changes or anything else you might want to discuss. We are monitoring how changes may impact the upcoming application process and will be posting anything significant on the blog. Please let us know if you have any questions about researching and connecting with schools online, taking virtual tours, or thinking about alternate summer options if you were planning on attending an on-campus or travel program. Happy to answer questions via email (contact form)!

Seniors:

  • Waitlisted at your top choice school? Read our waitlist guidance, and reach out if you’d like us to help you craft your WL letter and a personalized waitlist strategy.
  • May 1 is the national decision day. However, many schools have pushed their deposit deadlines much later. You can find a comprehensive list here via ACCEPT Group.
  • If you are having trouble deciding where to deposit because you have not been able to visit campuses, attend admitted student events, or talk to current students, please reach out as we have resources to share (including student contacts) that might help!

Juniors:

  • Now is a good time for a social media audit. Connecting with colleges on social is a way to learn about them and it demonstrates interest. Before you tweet to any of your top schools or like them on FB, follow them on Instagram, etc., please make sure your accounts put you in the best light. If you have any questions, ask us!
  • It is also an excellent time to determine who you will ask for your two core teacher letters of recommendation.
  • If you find that you have some extra time on your hands, consider:
      • Creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, personal website, and/or blog).
      • Opening a Common App account and filling out the base data.
      • Contacting your regional reps and asking them for suggestions on how to learn more about their school/programs from afar.
      • Contacting current students as part of your extended research/outreach (see attached).
      • Working on essays!

Sophomores & Freshmen

  • Now is a good time for a social media audit. Connecting with colleges on social is a way to learn about them and it demonstrates interest. Before you tweet to any of your top schools or like them on FB, follow them on Instagram, etc., please make sure your accounts put you in the best light. If you have any questions, ask us!
  • It is helpful to understand how colleges view and define leadership! It is more than being the President of a club or the Captain of a sports team—these are just titles. Please read the PDF here to learn more.
  • Start a story journal. From big life events to small everyday situations, stories from your life drive your college application essays. If you start jotting them down now, as they happen or as you remember them, you will have a much easier time next spring when you start brainstorming to write your personal statement. No story is too big or too small!

 

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February Action Plan – By Grade

 

Recommendation of the Month:

Take an early college tour via CampusReel. Visiting campus in person is great, but you won’t be able to tour all of the schools on your initial list. Plus, formal campus tours can be a bit limiting! CampusReel is one of my favorite ways to get a real insider look at colleges.

 

Seniors:

• Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status of each app online to ensure all of your application materials were received. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your junk email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from colleges.
•  Interviews! Sign up for interviews for all of your RD schools as soon as possible (where available/and if still open), if you have not done so already.
• For RD schools, consider writing interest letters to go out early this month—no later. If you have defer letters that need to go out, get those out ASAP, too.

 

Juniors:

• Keep prepping for standardized tests (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject tests) and working hard in all of your classes; your grades this year are very important.
• Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps? This is a critical part of your application that should be determined now.
• Continue working on your resume. Some summer programs, internships, and interviewers may ask for this, so it’s useful to have it handy.
• Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful, perhaps even fun, that will help you tell your story for college! Get those plans in place now.
• Meet with your school counselor about your preliminary college list and go over your goals and plans for college visits.
• Speaking of college visits: Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.), or a current student? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen; this all falls under what I call ‘extended research/outreach’ and it can be highly beneficial. **After visits, even if you only attend a general info session and take a tour, please send your regional rep and any admission representatives you met a follow-up/thank you email** This opens a line of communication with someone at the school, and demonstrates interest. I also recommend keeping a document with any notes and observations from your visits. These notes will come in handy when writing supplemental essays and/or when writing a deferral letter, or letters of interest.
• Some colleges open up their on-campus interviews this spring. If you plan to interview on an upcoming visit, please prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
• Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.

 

Sophomores:

• An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Work on creating smart study habits this year.
• Will you be taking SAT Subject Tests this spring or starting your SAT or ACT prep this spring/summer? Begin to decide on a testing schedule and plan for prep now.
• Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined “story” for your college apps as it pertains to your academic interest(s)? This is a critical part of your application that you can and should be determining now.
• Many 2019 summer program applications are now open. Please begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 and work on applications if needed.
• Start to think about next year’s course schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your classes next year should be more challenging than this year.
• Work on your resume!

 

Freshmen:

• An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Think ahead to next year’s course schedule, and work on creating smart study habits this year.
• Many 2019 summer program applications will open soon. Please begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 now so you can get ahead of deadlines and work on applications if needed.
• Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? Think about ideas for new and different activities or how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic); exploration now will help you begin determining what you might want to study in college. A great place to start exploring your academic interests is Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org.
• One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Keep working on yours this month.

 

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Will Your 11th Grader Be Away This Summer?

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

If your 11th grader is away at camp, traveling, or at a summer program this summer, you will want them to have this crucial component of their application completed before they go. Trust me, coming back home in August with no parts of the college application complete can make for an insane end to summer vacation and time-crunched fall. It does not have to be this way.

For the past couple of years, we have had a small group of students write their personal statement over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress on the college application journey because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long 1:1 personal statement bootcamps for motivated, summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead in addition to our standard 1:1 essay expert service and comprehensive college counseling packages, which include essay work.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling! Your student will thank us later when they are confidently ahead of the game.

 

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The best time to start planning for college?

Parents of high schoolers frequently ask me when the best time is to begin planning for college. My answer is usually “now!” which often, and more importantly, leads to talking about “how.”

Successful college planning starts with helping students explore their interests and think about what they do best. Starting with strengths encourages students to establish high expectations and create the time and space to work on areas for improvement. One of the keys to having college options is making smart choices early on as it relates to course scheduling, and even how students spend their time outside of school. Knowing how college admissions officers view these choices takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

If you’re interested in learning more about early college planning and how college admissions officers evaluate applications, contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.

 

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November Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Make sure you sent official test scores if required. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Meet with your school counselor and triple check that all early app materials were sent. Share your RD/ED II list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.
  • Work on your “interest letter” for your top choice school (or schools!) if you have decided to write one.
  • If you’re applying regular decision (RD) to colleges (or have an ED II school in the mix), you should continue to make progress on your essays in case your early applications are denied or deferred in December. It is very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1, and…
  • It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD/ED II deadlines as some schools have early RD deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration. Aim to submit all RD/ED II apps by 12/1 for merit consideration, and by 12/21 otherwise.
  • Prepare for interviews! Read our post here for more insight and prep questions.

Juniors:

  • It is test prep time! Get a plan in place and stick to it.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. They will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year. Let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college. Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how your activities support this interest. If you are unsure about your major, keep exploring options. Don’t forget: you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school.
  • Visit colleges in person! Fall is a great time to visit colleges. Please note, there are not many students on college campuses during December/January, so plan accordingly.
  • Some summer program applications will open over the next few months. If you plan on applying to an application-based summer program, put a note on your calendar to check websites for application deadlines and application releases.

Sophomores & Freshmen:

  • Have you started your resume/activity sheet? If not, now is a great time to begin drafting it.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. How are your classes going? Are there any that have you thinking about possible fields of study (major/minor) in college? Start to take note of what you like and dislike, where you do well and where you are having difficulty.
  • Beyond academics, colleges also look to admit students who take part in meaningful extracurricular activities. You don’t need to join every single club at school (that is a bad idea, actually, please do not do this!), but if you are not involved in any ECs in or out of school, now is the time to get involved. You want to take part in a few things and try to continue with those activities (if you enjoy them) throughout your high school career. One definite “must” is something that allows you to serve others and give back to your community. 
  • One of the biggest factors in strong performance on the verbal portions of the SAT and the ACT is independent reading. Enhancing your skills during high school will not only help you perform better on college entrance exams but also prepare you for success in college and beyond. Regular reading of articles and editorials (e.g., New York TimesWall Street JournalThe Economist) in addition to studying vocabulary lists and signing up for “Word/Article/SAT Question of the Day” can have an impact.

 

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May Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

Congrats on deciding where you will be attending college if that is the path you are taking!

As graduation nears and high school comes to a close…enjoy yourself! Graduation signifies exciting new beginnings, but also change. Many of the people you are used to seeing every day at your high school are people you might not see often (or again in some cases), so make the most of spending time with these people (and your family!) the next few months.

Juniors:

Keeping it light this month during APs!

-As you wrap up testing, you should begin to think more about your list and application strategy. If you still have schools you want to visit, look ahead to the end of August and early fall to get the most out of campus visits. If you have to go during the summer months, read this post.

-Decide on your courses for next year, keep working on your resume/activity sheet, and firm up all summer plans.

-It is a busy time, but try to consider this process like a class from here on out. You’ll need to carve out time for it every week.

-Looking ahead…it is time for essays! Now would be a good time to start your personal statement. You can review the Common App prompts here and the Coalition prompts here. Start brainstorming.

Freshmen/Sophomores:

See a few additional notes below for “enrichment” activities.

-Focus on your grades. Your transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve! If you are struggling in any subject, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. 

-Continue working on your resume/activity sheet.
-Firm up your summer plans; make the most of summer! If you know you’ll have some free time on your hands…
-Looking for community engagement or volunteer opportunities? Something meaningful to get involved in that you might want to continue throughout high school, someplace where you might make a real difference? Ask upperclassmen how they spend their summers or check out https://www.idealist.org for opportunities near you.
-I am also a big fan of podcasts as learning tools and entertainment! Here are a few I recommend:

A great umbrella site, How Stuff Works includes BrainStuff (science), Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff of Genius (inventions), TechStuff and others. The approach here is like Radiolab, but more specialized by individual topic. You should be able to find a broadcast on just about any area of interest.

TED Talks podcasts. These cover a wide array of subjects and perspectives; this is a “something for everyone” site and the angle tends toward a combination of informative and inspirational.

If you’re looking for some more straight-up academic enrichment, you could check out Math Mutation, which takes an entertaining approach to its subject.

 

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