Summer break begins this month, and students across the country are gearing up to trade in classes and homework for pool parties, bonfires and family vacations. But high school will start again before you know it, and students will be one step closer to graduating.
No matter where your child is on their high school journey—it’s a smart idea to start preparing for the college application process. Here’s a handy college planning checklist breaking down what students should do each year of high school to stay proactive.
There’s no doubt about it—freshman year is an intimidating time for many students. But there’s a lot they can do this year to prep for their future.
Encourage them to:
- Study hard. By focusing on classes and getting good grades, they’ll have a strong GPA when they apply to college.
- Network. By reaching out to professionals in fields that interest them, students gain a better understanding of career options and strengthen their conversation skills.
- Volunteer. Working for local charities, like a food bank or an after-school program, looks great on a college application and shows community involvement.
- Get involved in extracurricular activities. Joining sports or clubs demonstrates that a student has diverse interests and will add value to a college campus.
College applications are still a year off, but it’s critical to stay proactive.
Help your student:
- Focus on academics. Remind them their GPA is extremely important when applying to college. If they struggle academically, consider tutoring.
- Keep networking. Talk to your child about their career interests and introduce them to people in related fields. Making connections may lead to future internships. If your student isn’t sure what they want to study in college or do as a career, check out these tips to narrow down options.
- Take the PSAT. While these test results won’t be shared with colleges, studies show that performance improves over time, so a practice run can help improve scores on the SAT and other standardized tests.
- Draft a resume. This can help with applying for part-time jobs and also show where there may be gaps students can fill with activities like community service, clubs or sports.
The college application process begins in earnest this year, so this list extends through summer.
In addition to keeping grades up and staying involved in volunteer and extra-curricular activities, juniors should:
- Get a part-time job or job shadow. Students canleverage the connections made over the past two years for work experience or job shadowing opportunities, both of which look impressive on college applications. Be sure they update their resume with new experiences where appropriate.
- Research and visit schools. This can be a fun one for students and parents! Create a list of potential colleges and try to visit them. Brochures and websites only show so much, so a live visit can really help you both get a feel for the campus.
- Take the SAT and ACT. Test requirements vary by college, butmany still require or encourage these two.Students can take them multiple times, and since test scores tend to increase with repetition, it’s a good idea to take them in the spring of junior year, so there’s time to repeat them if desired.
- Request letters of recommendation. Students should ask teachers or professional connections to write letters of recommendation. Teachers are usually inundated with requests as the school year progresses, so don’t wait until the very end of the school year.
- Begin working on college applications. Application deadlines vary by school (and may start as early as the August before senior year), so getting a jump start in the summer before senior year can save a lot of angst come fall.
- Write a compelling essay. This is a great summer project for rising seniors. Encourage them to choose a topic that resonates with them and allow enough time to proofread and make revisions. If the essay is a struggle, we have a useful guide detailing how to write an impressive college essay.
This year is a time for celebration for many students but remind them their work isn’t done. In fact, this is the year their efforts pay off as college application season is in full swing.
Lend your support as students:
- Finalize their application list. They should have a final list of the colleges they will apply to along with the deadlines and requirements for each, such as test scores, recommendations and essays.
- Apply. Students should have all their materials in order by October, making it time to apply, if they haven’t already. Remind them to update their resume/application with any new experience they’ve gained over the past year, and to pay attention to each school’s deadlines and requirements.
- Research and apply for scholarships. Many businesses and organizations offer college scholarships, such as banks, community groups, major brands and colleges themselves. Some are merit-based and others are based on financial need. Encourage your student to apply for as many as they are eligible for.
- Follow up. The excitement builds as students start to hear back from the schools where they applied. Some may require replies or additional information, which should be provided promptly.
- Celebrate. Hopefully, your student will receive an acceptance package to a school they want to attend. Don’t forget to celebrate their success! If they received more than one acceptance, they may ask for your input when making their final decision.
We Can Help
It’s important to stay organized and track progress while preparing for the college application process. Download our checklist so you and your child can work through all these steps at your own pace.
We also offer one-on-one college and career coaching through our Find Your Fit program to help students every step of the way, starting as early as sophomore year. Fill out our information form at the bottom of the webpage to learn more.