Another school year is winding down. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors, here’s what you need to do this summer and next school year to put your best foot forward for college. In this article, we’ll use the term “rising” to indicate the year of school you’ll be going into in the fall of 2018. For instance, “rising sophomores” are those students who will enter their sophomore year of high school in the fall of 2018.

Rising Sophomores Focus on Solid Academic & Extracurricular Performance

As a rising sophomore, your top three college planning priorities in order should be:

  1. Curriculum planning and academic performance: On the list of Top 5 Things Colleges Look For, #1 is “A rigorous high-school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.” (GPA is a close second, at#2 on the list.) Check out the full list here. Many high school students forget that when you apply to college, the GPA you’ll submit is based on three years of high school curriculum and grades – not four. Freshman, sophomore (and of course, junior) years are critical years for demonstrating your ability to perform well in challenging classes. For your sophomore year, consider AP courses and push yourself academically. Solid study habits are key. If freshman year went well, great! Keep pushing. If you have ground to make up, now is the time to establish better study habits and improve your academic performance. OnCampus College Planning offers a Better Student Program for this very purpose.
  2. Deep (versus Broad) High School Involvement: The age-old myth that “colleges are looking for well-rounded students” is false. Colleges aim to create well-rounded freshman classes, a diverse body of individuals who represent unique talents and interests. Focus on 2-3 activities that truly interest you and dig in deep. It’s much better to demonstrate full engagement, leadership or involvement in a few things, than it is to have your name on 10 different membership lists with nominal involvement in each. I work with students who are genuinely interested in 10 different things and WANT to be deeply involved in all of them. That’s fine. But ease up if you’re signing up at the expense of academic focus (and your own sanity). Pick your thing(s). YOU DO YOU. And do it well.
  3. Campus Visits to get a feel of what “College” is like. Visit college campuses long before you have any idea what you want to major in or where you want to go to college. Getting on campus early on gives you an idea of what College is like and shows you how one college is similar to or differs from another. Take a day to visit a college campus near you, for the official tour or just to walk around. At this point, it doesn’t matter which college you visit, since you’re not picking schools yet. Tack campus visits on to family vacations. Tag along on an older sibling’s, cousin’s or friend’s college tour. Getting the lay of the college land long before you’re ready to choose colleges gives you a familiarity about College in general that will serve you well when you’re actually choosing what’s important to you and selecting colleges you want to explore.

Rising Juniors Get Ready For Your Heavy Lifting Year for College Prep

I call your junior year of high school the “heavy lifting year” of your high school career in terms of college prep. This is typically a challenging academic year. It’s also when you’ll tackle the ACT (or SAT) and begin thinking about which colleges you want to put in your shopping cart.

As a rising junior, your top three college planning priorities should be:

  1. Prep for the ACT: While public high school students in Wisconsin will take the ACT in February of junior year, I encourage students NOT to have this be your first attempt. My recommendation is that by holiday break of your junior year, you’ve taken your first official ACT exam. If you earn the score you want by then, great! If not, you can use the state-mandated February ACT date to improve upon your score. Many of the students I work with choose to spend summer before junior year prepping for their first ACT in July, September, October or December. Summer’s great, since you don’t have school activities and school competing for your time. At a minimum, rising juniors should take a baseline practice ACT this summer. Schedule yours FREE anytime by giving me a call and scheduling your baseline practice exam at my office.
  2. Prepare for your College Search: Another service I typically provide for students who are entering or in their junior year of high school is College Search. This helps students systematically identify what they want, need, don’t want and don’t need in a college. It helps students with self-discovery, in order to then identify which colleges fit their unique definition of their Best Fit Colleges (their “University of You”, as I call it). While some students wait until the start of senior year, I find that starting much earlier makes the process more enjoyable and effective, and helps students sharpen their focus while they can still impact the last two years of their high school career in terms of academics and extracurriculars. It’s also helpful to make progress on your college search in tandem with ACT or SAT prep, so you know what the colleges you’re interested in require. Then you can know what you’re shooting for in terms of test scores for acceptance and merit aid.
  3. Understand “College Applications Math” and recommit yourself to academics. As you enter your junior year, it’s critical to remember the “math” realities of college applications. You are now 2/3 DONE with the GPA you’ll submit for college applications — not 1/2 done. Because you apply the fall of your senior year, colleges you apply to will actually be looking at three years of high school classes and grades – not 4. Junior year is critical for maintaining (or improving) your academic record. And chances are, your classes will be more challenging your junior year than they were your freshman or sophomore year.

Rising Seniors It’s All about College Applications Prep

If you are wrapping up your junior year, consider this: Twelve months from today, you will have decided where you’re going to college and will probably have mailed your high school graduation invites already! Set time aside this summer to put yourself in a good position for stress-free college applications this fall. As a rising senior, your college prep priorities this summer should be:

  1. Figure out which colleges you might want to put in your shopping cart. Mostly I work with juniors on College Search. But frequently, students entering their senior year need assistance with the College Search process. If this is you, great! Give me a call and let’s schedule time to define your University of You criteria, those things you want, need, don’t want and don’t need in the ideal college experience. I can then guide you on compiling a list of colleges to research and/or visit. Summer is the ideal time to devote time and energy to shopping for colleges, while your schedule’s a little less hectic and you aren’t feeling pressed for time.
  2. Prep for college applications this fall. Summer is ideal for developing college essays, lining up your sources for recommendations and outlining your timeline for college applications. Essay development coaching is available from OnCampus College Planning if you want to sharpen your skills and get some guidance developing compelling college essays.
  3. Shore up your ACT (or SAT) score. You may already have earned the ACT score you want and have checked this off your list. If so, congratulations! If you’ve not yet earned the ACT score you’re happy with, there’s still time. This year for the first time ever, the ACT will be offered in July. You can also choose from test dates in June, September and October, in time for fall college applications. Set a date, register for the exam. And let me know if I can help with ACT prep this summer.

Whether you’re a rising sophomore, junior or senior, knowing what your college prep priorities are will hopefully help you focus on what you can do this summer to put your best foot forward. If you’d like to talk more or have specific questions, schedule a free consult with OnCampus College Planning anytime.