Tackling what is notoriously known as the hardest year of high school, senior year, may seem overwhelming. The flawless transcript, a high ACT/SAT score, extracurricular activities, a job and college applications — with this seemingly long list of priorities, it may be unclear where to even begin.
That’s why it’s important to take advantage of all the resources provided and available to you in order to set yourself up for success. As a sophomore in high school, but with many senior friends, I’m learning you can’t be overly prepared for college planning, so take note!
Be prepared for the ACT/SAT
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, universities were beginning to make the ACT/SAT optional. Students can choose to take both, one or none, and each is distinctly different. The ACT consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. The SAT is composed of math, evidence-based reading and writing.
If your university of choice requires standardized tests (or even if they don’t), you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared if you are opting to take them. One way to prepare for these tests is through private or group prep classes. Prep books that contain practice tests, specific skills and other exercises can also be a great help. Popular prep books include The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barrons, McGraw Hill and the official ACT or SAT prep guide. YouTube is also a big help with many prep channels that go over tips, skills, timing strategies and anything related to preparing for these standardized tests. Two that I recommend are SuperTutor TV and The Princeton Review. An easy resource is simply making a dedicated effort to read and write more. Whether it’s a school book or read-for-pleasure book, the more you read and write increases your reading comprehension and speed on tests.
Local universities such as Washington University in St. Louis, Fontbonne University and Saint Louis University are test optional for applicants of 2022. None of these schools use test scores for scholarships, however there are merit scholarships, depending on the school, that are offered to a very small number of individuals who have achieved outstanding academic achievement as well as performing high on a standardized test. Whether a student chooses to take these tests or not, it is only a small part of the application process.
Seek out your college counselor
Although the application process is similar for most colleges, it’s important to use your high school counselor for guidance well before you begin. Karen Etlisky, founder of Find Your Voice college counseling, says that she sees students apply from anywhere from three to 30 schools, so having professional assistance is invaluable.
It is important to first have a counselor and get to know them. Etlisky says, “A counselor can help you plan ahead to know what is coming so you can be proactive in the process and not have ‘I wish I knew…’ moments. There is so much misinformation floating around, it is very good to be able to have someone tell you what you need to know.”
A counselor’s job is to find universities that fit the student, create a list of safety/target/reach schools, complete a student’s FAFSA, craft unique application essays, and help regulate any stress or anxiety regarding the daunting process.
Etlisky also adds, “While I don’t think it’s necessary to begin the college process in earnest before spring of sophomore year, many parents like to know they have someone to ask questions and go to for help beginning in ninth grade. Most commonly, my clients begin with their students in 10th grade.”
Apply early and often
A college application can consist of many different components including an application form, essay (main essay and supplementals), transcript, test scores, school profile, recommendation letters and a list of activities. A great way for students to begin is to create a high school resume that consists of all of your activities, extracurriculars, AP courses taken, work experience and internships.
Teachers prefer letter of recommendation requests early on so that they are able to hit the important deadlines. I know that essays can be the most difficult requirement to start, but if you brainstorm all ideas, even if they are not pretty, it will get the process flowing! Students can choose to submit their applications through early decisions, early action or through the regular deadline.
Admissions committees look at applications holistically, so make sure equal effort is given to all areas of the application to give yourself the best chance at admission. Nothing is guaranteed, so give yourself a break in knowing that you did all that you could. And remember, that no matter where you go, if you put forth the effort, you will receive a great education — no matter where you land.
Sofia Ung, 17, is a student at Canyon Crest Academy and recently interned at St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She attended The School of The New York Times journalism summer program and is a writer for her school’s magazine. She hopes to minor in journalism.