“All things come to those who wait, but when they come they’re out of date.” ~ Anonymous
Midyear grades have only just appeared. Super Bowl has only just faded to the rear view; Cupid has barely made his mid-winter mark; and March Madness is still weeks away.
High school juniors: No matter how you frame your winter calendar, now is the time to set your wheels in motion around several key components of the college application process.
Even if it feels like there is a lot of road left to travel during junior year, it’s not at all too early for students to work up a personal plan and:
Get out in front of and be realistic about college affordability.
Devote time and energy to educate themselves about colleges.
Acknowledge their learning and social needs and search out appropriate educational environments.
Take the time to reflect on a potential college major (with the understanding that one's choice may change).
Put thought into an appropriate standardized testing plan.
Think about reaching out to influencers who will further support their applications, including teacher, counselor or employer recommenders.
Bottom line: There are plenty of pieces to organize along the way as students aim to assemble solid college applications that connect their strengths, goals, needs and resources.
If students are looking for a starting line, now is the time to pull out the calendar and jump on these action steps:
- Register for standardized testing.
Chances are that the student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one of their intended colleges. Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these exams, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style. At the very least, the SAT and ACT websites offer sampling of the style and variety of questions students may encounter on either test.
Prepping in some way for the SAT or ACT is a smart decision that will depend on student motivation, time and other resources. Test prep assistance ranges broadly from free, web-based supports such as Khan Academy or Number2 to fee-based private services that offer individualized tutoring.
Most students will aim to begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not sooner.
- Order the official test scores you want your colleges to receive.
Although students have the option of including their standardized test scores on their applications, many colleges still require official score reports to be sent from the appropriate testing agency. Scores are not automatically sent to colleges unless the student requests their submission — and pays the required fee.
Note, however, that students have the option to request free score reports for up to four colleges at the time of test registration. (Visit SAT or ACT websites for details.) A potential downside is that students who choose to submit scores in advance forego the option to review their results prior to submission.
If students intend to submit official score reports to colleges, they need to order these well before application deadlines since forwarding of scores from the testing companies is not instantaneous.
- Schedule campus visits.
It takes more than a little planning to organize family calendars in order to make campus visits a priority. With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner. Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has already arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up student schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance.
Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.
- Ask teachers for college recommendations...
...and thank them! Writing a thoughtful college rec requires precious time and focus to reflect on and express who you are as a student as well as a member of your school community. Asking early, before the end of junior year rather than up against a last-minute deadline, demonstrates maturity as well as a proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. It is courteous to make recommendation requests in person, whenever possible. One may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — as an even more personal gesture — through a handwritten note.
- Start making summer plans.
Work, play, travel, research, write, think, volunteer, create, study, learn, experiment. The list can go on and on, but it's your summer so plan on making it a good one.
- Consider fin aid options and...
Apply for financial aid well before deadlines.
Exploring the net price calculators published by individual colleges can give families a head start in estimating need-based aid at those institutions. NPCs vary by college, but exploring these can provide insight on financing estimates for incoming freshmen.
Financial aid timelines — and deadlines — have been recently pushed to earlier in the admissions cycle. Families can now submit completed tax returns according to what is known as the Prior-Prior Year schedule, pointing to the family financial scenario two years prior to the student’s year of college matriculation. Still, there is more to consider in this earlier timeframe: Students applying for financial aid via the FAFSA and possibly the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE will note that these applications are now available for completion beginning October of the senior year.
The primary intention behind establishing earlier timelines is to allow colleges to better expedite financial aid application reviews and award decisions, thereby allowing students and parents more time to evaluate and respond to aid offers. In reality, aid funds are finite therefore remember to monitor deadlines so you can be the early bird — and much more likely to catch the worm.
Juniors and soon-to-be rising seniors: Embrace the fundamental steps of the college process. Becoming organized now avoids a longer to-do list later on!
Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via www.achievecoach.com