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  • Writer's pictureNancy Ziselman

What You Should Be Doing Right Now to Get Into College

Now that the second semester of the school year is underway, it is an ideal time to take stock of your progress with the college admissions process. Whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, being proactive and planning ahead is key to continued success in high school and beyond. Here are some tips to help you to succeed in the first quarter of 2020.


If you are a freshman:

  • Get to know your high school’s graduation requirements and the type of courses that colleges are looking for - Your high school’s handbook or course offering guide is a handy resource.

  • Remember that freshman grades DO matter – While junior year grades are the most important, ALL grades are seen by colleges. Lower grades freshman year will impact your overall GPA.

  • If you haven’t joined clubs or activities, now is the time – Now that you have adjusted to the pace of high school, make sure that you explore interests outside of class. Extracurricular involvement is key to making you a well-rounded applicant.

  • Start thinking about how you will spend your summer – Colleges will consider how you spent your time off from school – whether you work, volunteer, participate in activities or academic enrichment - do something that will make an impact on you by helping you to learn and grow.

  • Get to know your guidance counselor – make sure that he or she has the chance to get to know you well over the next several years. He or she will play an important role when you apply to college and with your entire academic planning process.

  • Explore the course offerings available to you in your sophomore year – meet with your guidance counselor to review your course selection for the following year. Consider a more challenging schedule than your current courses. For instance, try an honors or AP level course if available in subjects where you are showing strength.

  • Get organized – Create a file to keep track of any honors or certificates you receive and keep a log your extracurricular activities, volunteering, and work experiences.

If you are a sophomore:

  • Continue to explore passions outside of class – So much learning happens outside of the classroom, so take advantage of the many opportunities in your high school and community.

  • Keep your file and log of awards, honors, volunteering hours etc. up-to-date – Staying organized will pay off later when it is time to apply to colleges.

  • Start to educate yourself about the standardized tests you will need for college and when you should tackle them - Learn about the differences between the SAT and ACT and the timeline for taking standardized tests.

  • Explore the course offerings available to you in your junior year - meet with your guidance counselor to review your course selection for the following year. Consider a more challenging schedule than your current courses. For instance, try an honors or AP level course or courses in subjects where you show strength, building up from the level of rigor of the year before.

  • Consider your summer plans – Continue to use your time away from the classroom wisely by doing something that is impactful.

  • Start to think of some of the bigger factors of college choice – Think about your desire to go away or stay closer to home and discuss how you will finance your college education with your parents.

  • Get to know the resources available for college planning in your school’s guidance office and utilize guidebooks and websites to begin exploring college options.

If you are a junior:

  • Further refine what you are looking for in a college and make a preliminary college list – Consider more detailed factors like location, academic programs, size of college, clubs/activities, diversity of student body, etc.

  • Register for a spring SAT or ACT and SAT subject test if you haven’t already done so.

  • Keep your grades up – Junior year is the last complete year of grades that colleges will see when they are making an admission decision, therefore, it is considered most important.

  • Create a study plan for the tests – Whether you enroll in a test prep course, have a tutor, or utilize test prep resources available at your local library, carve out time each week to prepare.

  • Don’t bury yourself in the books – Keep up your extracurricular involvement with things you enjoy and continue to follow your passions outside of the classroom.

  • Plan your summer - Continue to use your time away from the classroom wisely by doing something that is impactful.

  • Make an appointment with your guidance counselor - Meet with your guidance counselor to review your course selection for your senior year. Consider a more challenging schedule than your current courses. Colleges want to see a rigorous senior year program.

  • Plan some college visits – Utilize school vacations that are coming up to hit the road and visit schools. Make sure to take an official tour and attend an information session if available.

If you are a senior:

  • Keep grades up and don’t get “senioritis”. Colleges will look at your second semester senior year grades and your high school will be sending a final transcript at the end of the year. Colleges may revoke admissions to students who demonstrate a downward trend in their senior year performance.

  • Check email regularly (including spam) and respond to requests ASAP – Colleges or financial aid offices may reach out for any missing information or documents etc., and will want a timely response.

  • Continue to apply to scholarships. This is a great time of year to apply for scholarships. Many are still available and the stress of completing college application is behind you so you can give scholarship applications a good deal of focus.

  • Keep colleges up-to-date with anything impactful – Inform colleges of any awards/honors you have been given or anything else that may impact an admission decision.

  • Try to stay positive throughout the waiting game – decisions will be coming in soon, and, although waiting is not easy, know that you have worked hard, and therefore, should feel great about what you have already accomplished.

This may seem like a tall list to manage, but remember that the efforts you put into your high school experience will stay with you no matter which college you attend. By enriching and stretching yourself both in and out of the classroom, you are preparing for a meaningful and successful future. Embrace the opportunities that come your way and take every challenge one step at a time!




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