College Preparation Checklist: What to Do When in High School

Sheri Reed
Big Kid
12

boy studying High school kids should get some kind of degree for college preparation and everything that goes along with it. Preparing for and applying to college is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

With help from the folks at Revolution Prep, including Emily Taylor, National Director of Instruction and Training, we have compiled some information that will help parents guide their kids through the critical parts of the "college preparation to-do list" and navigate the complicated maze through choosing a college, gathering materials for college applications, and preparing for and taking college entrance exams

Here is a basic overview and timeline for the steps to both college and college exam preparation, by school year:

Freshman Year

Volunteer or join extracurriculars (Oct./Nov.): Freshmen and sophomores should try out lots of different clubs and extracurriculars to figure out what they like most. It takes time for students to figure out their passion. 

Find leadership opportunities (Oct./Nov.): Colleges also look for leadership. They want individuals who are going to come to their campuses and make them even better, as well as be excellent alums. It takes time for students to work their way up to being the editor of the newspaper, the president of the student government, the lead in the school play, or the captain of the tennis team. Start early.

Explore careers: It's never too early to start exploring careers. Have your child spend a day at work with a family friend to explore their career choices.

Research colleges: Students can do research online. College websites can all seem the same. Check sites or books that have actual reviews from current students or alums, particularly about student life.  

Campus tours: Check out campuses early. Parents may plan family vacations around them.

Sophomore Year

PSAT (Oct./Nov.): A high score on the PSAT is the first qualification for the National Merit Scholarship program.                              

Test Prep (July-Dec.): Surprisingly students usually only spend 10 hours on test preparation even though college entrance exams count as a significant portion of the college application. As a result, selecting a preparation plan in advance is critical. Consider enrolling students in the array of test prep courses available, which may include real classroom settings, online classroom settings, private in-person tutoring, private online “skype” tutoring, self-guided online courses, or a combination of these. Inquire about scholarships for students who may not be able to afford test prep courses.

SAT Subject Tests (March-June)                   

AP Exams (May/June): Students will usually only receive college credit for AP classes if they score a 4 or a 5 on the final AP exam.          

Meet with guidance counselor about college: At some public schools, the counselor to student ratio is 1:900. Students should schedule a meeting during their sophomore year to start building a relationship and getting guidance.  

Seek out real career experience: Students should consider applying for part-time jobs or internships in their field of interest.

Continue:

  • Researching and/or visiting colleges
  • Seeking out extracurricular, volunteer, and leadership opportunities
  • Exploring careers

Junior Year

PSAT (Oct./Nov.)                           

Test Prep (July-Dec.)                        

Ideal time for SAT/ACT (July-Dec.): 25 percent of a student’s college application is the SAT/ACT score. For competitive colleges, a student’s chance of admission could as much as double with each 100 point score increase on a SAT test section.                     

Late time for SAT/ACT (Jan.-June)

SAT Subject Tests (April-June)                   

AP Exams (April-June)         

Guidance counselor check-in (May-June): Most schools require a meeting at the end of junior year.            

Start thinking about teacher recommendations (May-June): Colleges usually want recommendations from the teachers students have Junior and Senior year. Often teachers from senior year don’t know a student well, unless the student had them for another grade. Top teachers get flooded with requests. Students should ask early, ideally at the end of their junior year. Then the teachers can work on the letters during the summer when they have more time. Students should provide them a copy of their resume, transcript, and any other pertinent forms for the college. Giving them a token of gratitude afterwards for their time is a nice gesture.

Continue:

  • Researching and/or visiting colleges
  • Seeking out extracurricular, volunteer, leadership, and hands-on job or internship opportunities
  • Exploring careers

Tips about college visits:

  • Many college hopefuls visit colleges prior to submitting their application. It's great to reference a visit, attendance in a class, or a particular department/professor one wants to study in the application.
  • Before visiting, check campus calendars. It's much better to visit when school is in session.
  • On campus, visit the student union to do people watching to see if the school atmosphere feels like a good fit. Visitors can try talking to current students to get an idea of their experience at the college.
  • Some students choose to attend summer programs at their top choice college, usually prior to senior year, to try out the college and have a great experience to list on their college application.

Senior Year

Guidance counselor check-in (Sep.-Oct.): Most schools require a meeting at the beginning of senior year.       

Gather teacher recommendations (Sep.-Oct.): If students haven't already, they should approach top teachers about letters of recommendation first thing in their senior year. Students should provide them a copy of their resume, transcript, and any other pertinent forms for the college. A token of gratitude afterwards for their time is a nice gesture. 

College visits:

  • Some students wait until after being admitted to a college and attend an "admit weekend" to meet future classmates and make their decision.
  • Attend football games, theatrical performances, or take a campus tours to get students excited, particularly since they see college as more than just going to class.

Test Prep (July-Dec.)

SAT/SAT Subject Tests/ACT (July-Dec.)

College applications and essays (July-Dec.): Students should check all college applications early for their deadlines and requirements and make a list so everything goes out on time.

SAT Subject Tests (Jan.-June)

AP Exams (May/June)

Continue:

  • Researching and/or visiting colleges
  • Seeking out extracurricular, volunteer, leadership, and hands-on job opportunities
  • Exploring careers

Preparing for college is a critical time in a kid's life, but it's also an exciting time. Parents can do their part to provide support, information, and guidance along the way.

Is your high school student in college prep mode? Tell us about your experiences.


Image via DAEllis/Flickr


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