Why? Because your senior year is coming at you fast and it will be a lot easier if you are prepared. More stress? No, less because you now have time to take a look at colleges, to think about your type of learning atmosphere, to day dream about what kind of world you’d like to live in for the next 4 or so years.
What should you be doing before June? Here’s a list.
Take standardized tests: SAT and ACT
Lots of students do better on the ACT than the SAT and vice versa. The majority of colleges and universities would like to see your test scores so they can consider them along with GPA, recommendations, rigor of classes, your personal statement, extracurriculars and volunteer projects, work history (if any), academic ambition, and personal characteristics. General consensus is that you should take at least one of the tests twice. You are likely to do better the second time because you have learned more about how you react to the test, what the test really looks like, how you respond to the time constraints, and more.
Despite the controversy surrounding the new SAT and the fact that it took them months to report even the October PSAT scores, in my opinion you should take the new SAT this year. It will give you a chance to see and experience the test. You can take it a second, or even third time, early in your senior year. Check in with your college counselor to get another opinion.
Take the ACT too. The ACT isn’t as well known in California, but it is a more straight-forward test of what you should have learned by 11th grade and up through Algebra 2. Between the ACT and SAT, see which one you do better on; for most students the difference is noticeable. Whichever test you perform better on, take that one a second time. Colleges don’t care which test you take; they want to see how you did. (Note, there are now 850 test optional schools, so if you are not a great test taker, think about applying to one of those.)
Once you pick which test you do best on, take some time over the summer to prepare for the next test. Use free test prep resources like Kahn Academy, Kaplan free tests, mock or practice tests at school, or 4tests.com. If you feel that you need to, investigate test preparation companies. You can use all of these resources before you take the tests the first time too. The better prepared you are, the more comfortable you will be taking the tests.
Take a survey of yourself
No, I don’t mean count your toes, but take a good thoughtful look at yourself. Do you love sports? Do you enjoy sitting in a discussion circle with a teacher and 10 other students? Would you prefer to sit at the back of the lecture hall and quietly take notes? Do you thrive on the fast pace of a big city, or yearn for the quiet pace of a small town? Can you deal with three months of making snow angels, or do you NEED to wear your shorts all year long? Take some career surveys. Look at what careers might interest you, what majors might intrigue you. While you may not know what you want to study in college, you might as well see what is out there. Don’t worry, you have plenty of company; plenty of other students who don’t know what they want to major in or what they want to do with their lives.
Colleges love to give tours to prospective students. Go up to UCLA or USC, check out Cal State Long Beach or Northridge. Spread your net and go to UC Santa Barbara or University of San Diego. How about University of Redlands or Occidental? There are the Claremont Colleges or Chapman. All you have to do is visit their website and sign up for a tour. Wander around campus and try to see yourself sitting under that tree studying. Can you picture it? Take advantage of Spring Break and go visiting. If you can’t physically go there, see if they have a virtual tour on line. Read the student blogs, see what the admissions officers or the Dean have to say. Get a sense of the place beyond the statistics.
Check out the college search and information resources. Big Future on the College Board site is a great place to start. Check out the resources about how to decide what type of college you want and what would suit you the best. Don’t pay as much attention to the costs. Once you have a list of colleges and have decided which ones you really like, then you can look into the actual cost of that college and what financial aid or scholarship aid you might be entitled to. Just remember that out-of-state public colleges add on a hefty out-of-state tuition fee.
Look at the colleges, see how you stack up against this year’s crop of freshmen. If the school takes 95% of its students from the top 10% of their high school class and you are in the top 50%, then that school is a real stretch. Make sure you research a variety of schools at different levels of selectivity. Selectivity is their admission rate. Very highly selective schools accept under 25% of applicants. Highly selective schools accept up to 50% of applicants. Selective schools take in 75% of applicants. Make sure your list has choices in the highly and selective schools. At this point, don’t worry about how many schools are on your list. Use the College Board or Fiske Interactive online to keep track of the schools and take notes.
Research 2 new colleges every week. You will find that there are a lot of schools that you have never heard of, but that you like a lot.
So, Get Smart:
Take the SAT and ACT junior year
Do some self-assessments
Start researching (goal: 2 colleges a week)
Get Smart for College
Independent Educational Consultant
Jamie is a UCLA trained educational consultant.