It’s back to school time and for high school students, college prep is on the mind. Even if you’re not a senior, you should be thinking about the next four years and how they will affect your college choices. With all the chaos around back to school, and all the school activities, let’s focus on the most important task for each grade level in the first few weeks of being back in school.
Approach teachers for letters of recommendation.
Most selective colleges and universities require one to three recommendation letters with a student’s application, usually from a guidance counselor and at least one teacher. If you haven’t done so already, identify two 11th grade teachers who know you well—not just the ones who gave you the easy “A”—and ask them to write a letter of recommendation immediately.
Teachers receive many requests and are not required to write these letters.Often, teachers will limit the number of letters they write, so students need to ask early.
Be sure to provide a copy of your resume, examples of your completed assignments and information about the colleges to which you are applying, so they can personalize your letter.
Senior year is a busy time if you’re applying to colleges. The tasks and to-do list will multiply as graduation approaches. For a comprehensive planning schedule, TeenLife has a College Planning Calendar in the recent fall edition of Life with Teens Magazine.
Prep for the PSAT.
Junior year is when high school students take the PSAT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Most students view this as a practice test for the SAT and don’t prepare for it. But it is not just a practice test. If you are chosen as a semi-finalist (with preparation and study it’s absolutely doable) there is a 96% chance that you will become a finalist.
When you complete the semi-finalist paperwork you will indicate the college of your choice. Only one college can be selected, however; be thoughtful when making the selection. Colleges who have money set aside for the finalists will use merit aid to entice you to attend: full tuition, room and board, books and fees, laptops, study abroad and even spending money. They might also offer automatic entrance into the honors college, the best housing and priority registration until graduation. This makes prepping for the PSAT a crucial task that all juniors should devote time to.
Nail down your extracurricular activities.
When you enter high school, you are told from day one that you need extracurriculars to get into college. Counselors and teachers lecture you about their importance. Most of the advice you receive, however, neglects to mention one crucial point: padding the resume with activities does not impress college admissions officers. They can spot this tactic when they see it and it gives a negative impression on the application.
How should you approach extracurriculars? With planned purpose. By the beginning of your sophomore year you should have nailed down a few that interest you. You don’t need a long list; just a few that you enjoy and are willing to commit to for the remainder of your high school years.
Think outside the box and remember that all activities don’t need to be school related. One student gained admission and a scholarship because an admissions officer thought his hobby of raising carrier pigeons was unique. The possibilities are endless based on your interests; but you should stick to your choices for the next three years.
Meet with your high school counselor.
The first task on any freshman’s back-to-school list is to meet with your high school counselor. You would be surprised at the amount of material that comes across your high school counselor’s desk: from scholarship opportunities, to college admissions counselor recommendation requests, to leadership positions, to volunteer opportunities. Making friends with your counselor may well be the most important and valuable relationship you cultivate during high school.
During this meeting, discuss your high school course plan and ask questions about college curriculum. Colleges want to see a solid foundation of courses that represent your ability to handle college course loads. Let your counselor guide you through this process. They know what colleges expect and also can advise you about specific courses required by any college preferences you might have.
All Four Years
In addition to the above tasks, heading back to school for those planning to attend college also requires a commitment to academics. Focusing on your GPA is one of the most important tasks for any grade level. Colleges rely heavily on your grades when making the decision to offer admission. Plan ahead so that you are prepared for senior year and the college application process.