We’re kicking off “Admissions” Month here at the Tutorspree Blog with the Ultimate College Application Checklist. This checklist takes you all the way from the first day of high school to graduation with a fat envelope in hand. Come back daily this month for tips from admissions experts, real application essays that worked, and personal stories from students!
Freshman Year Fall
- Plan your courses for all 4 years of high school. Know what curriculum is required for the colleges you like, and plan accordingly. For example, Stanford asks for at least 4 years of English and Math, and 3 years each of History, Science, and Foreign Language. Your plans might change, but at least think about what courses you want to take now so you’ll be able to fit in everything.
- Sign up for clubs and community service activities. This is a great way to meet upperclassmen, it looks good for college, and it sets you up for leadership positions in the future. Try everything that looks interesting to you — you’ll soon figure out what you like best.
- Make friends. High school is tough, and it only gets busier from here. You’ll want a supportive group of friends to help you through. In the fall of freshman year, everyone is open to making new friends, so this is the time to strike up conversations and get to know new people.
Freshman Year Spring
- Consider taking an SAT subject test. If you are in AP classes now or any class with a corresponding subject test, you may want to take a subject test this year. It is easiest to take the test on the May SAT date if you are in an AP class so that your studying coincides with your preparation for the AP. Look at the AP test dates in February so you have plenty of time to sign up and study.
- Get extra help for any weak subjects. If there are any classes you’re struggling in, ask your teachers for help or get tutoring. Academics only get harder from here, and you don’t want to fall behind.
Incoming Sophomore Summer
- Read. Read. And then read some more. Read newspapers, magazines, blogs, fiction books, non-fiction books. Ask your teachers and older siblings or older friends to recommend their favorite books, or check out our recommended reading lists. The more you read now, the less studying you’ll have to do for the SAT or ACT later!
- Build your vocabulary. Whenever you come across a word you don’t know (which should be often if you’re reading enough), look it up and use it in conversation until it becomes a natural part of your vocabulary. “Mom, I abhor this meatloaf!” Your friends might tease you now, but you’ll get the last laugh in a couple of years when they’re staying up all night with SAT flashcards and you already know all the words.
- Work on something you love. Whether it’s your tennis backhand, acoustic guitar skills, or designing your own website, work on getting better at something that you really enjoy.
Sophomore Year Fall
- Ask if the PSAT is offered to 10th graders at your school. Taking the PSAT in 10th grade can prepare you for the next year’s exam.
- Go narrower and deeper with your extracurriculars. Last year you signed up for every extracurricular that piqued your interest. Now, focus on two or three that you really love, and contribute more. Ask the coaches or club presidents what more you could be doing.
- Talk to your teachers. Talk to them about concepts you don’t understand, recent news articles you’ve read, books they recommend, or any suggestions they might have for summer activities. The more you talk to your teachers now and build a relationship, the easier it’ll be to ask for recommendations next year.
Sophomore Year Spring
- Consider taking an SAT subject test. Are you taking a class that corresponds with an SAT subject test this year? You want to take the test now while the material is fresh in your mind.
- Look at club elections and other leadership opportunities. You are going to be an upperclassman soon, and leadership positions look great on your college applications. Many clubs and student government positions are decided in April or May. Try running for a position!
- Figure out your summer plans by May. Getting a job or internship will show colleges that you know how to work hard, and as a bonus, you’ll be earning money. Or, take some college classes! Many colleges offer summer programs where you can live on campus and take college-level courses. Other good summer enrichment options include CTY, Duke TIP, United World College, and Outward Bound. A quick Google search for “summer enrichment programs” will turn up plenty of other options, many of which are free for low-income students.
Incoming Junior Summer
- Study for the PSAT. In addition to your awesome summer job or enrichment program that you lined up in the spring, find some extra time to study for the PSAT. Scores on the PSAT count towards scholarships, and can qualify you for National Merit Awards that look great on your college application. Also, all the work you put in now studying for your PSAT will help you for the SAT!
- Enter a few contests or competitions. Whether your passion is science, writing, music, or photography, there are myriad contests and competitions for high school students. (You know what “myriad” means by now, right? Good.) Winning a contest looks great on your college application, and even if you don’t win, you’ll still be smarter for having entered and it might give you something to write about in your application essay. Google “high school math competition” or “high school science competition”, etc. to get started.
- Make sure you’re signed up for a challenging curriculum next year. Colleges love to see students taking the most rigorous courseload available, especially in junior and senior year. They understand course availability varies widely from school to school, so if your high school only offers 2 APs and you’re taking both of them, don’t worry about not having access to more. However, if your school offers 10 APs and you’re only taking 2, then you might want to rethink your schedule for next year.
Junior Year Fall
- Take the PSAT. Do take the PSAT seriously, but don’t stress too much about the outcome. Treat it as a dress rehearsal for the SAT.
- Take an SAT or ACT practice test. Once you know your score, you can decide how much you want to improve and make a timeline for studying or working with a test prep tutor.
- Keep your grades up! You signed up for a challenging curriculum, right? Junior year grades are the most important ones on your transcript, so make sure you’re keeping your grades up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from teachers, guidance counselors, parents, older siblings, or tutors.
- With extracurriculars, choose quality over quantity. Admissions officers would much rather see you deeply involved with two or three activities than being a passive member of a dozen. And if your grades are suffering, cut back.
- Meet with your high school college counselor. Sit down with your high school college counselor and tell him or her what you’re interested in when it comes to college. No question is too stupid to ask. Solicit his or her advice on the best schools for you, and ask if there’s anything else you can do during the rest of this year to make your application stronger. If you feel that you’re not getting enough support from your high school’s college counselor, consider using an independent college consultant.
Junior Year Spring
- Take the SAT or ACT for the first time. If you take the SAT, then you may need the May and June dates for subject tests so March is the ideal time to take the test. Also, this test date does not coincide with finals or AP tests, so you will have more time to study. Finally, if you are not happy with your score you have time to study again in the summer and retake the test in the fall.
- Take SAT subject tests. Aren’t you glad you got a few of these out of the way in previous years? By now, you should be old-hat at these tests.
- Send your test scores to colleges and scholarship programs. Colleges see this as a sign of interest, and you could qualify for special campus visit programs, information sessions, or scholarships.
- Make your college list and plan a trip to visit colleges that interest you. Visiting colleges and getting a preliminary list can allow you to start research and understand which schools truly interest you and where you want to apply. Spring break junior year is an excellent time to do this. If you can schedule an on-campus interview, do so. You may not be able to get an alumni interview after the application process begins.
- Look into financial aid options. If you plan to apply for financial aid, try to meet with financial aid officers at the schools you visit. Discovering what aid you will qualify for at what schools can narrow your application list.
- Look at club elections and other leadership opportunities for next year. You are going to be a senior soon, and this is the time to step up and take a leadership position (if you haven’t already).
- Ask teachers about recommendations. Junior year teachers are great to ask for college recommendations, and asking before summer ensures that you give them ample time to write your recommendation.
- Again, make summer plans early. Was there an enrichment program you wanted to do last year but couldn’t squeeze in? Maybe there’s a summer job or internship you didn’t qualify for last year that you’re ready for now.
Incoming Senior Summer
- Narrow your list down to about 10 colleges. Aim for about 5 schools where your grades and test scores match the average student’s profile, 3 reach schools, and 2 safety schools. Every additional school you apply to means more essays and a lot more work for you. Even if a school uses the common application they could have up to five supplements, so you will have quite a few essays to write! Ask your college counselor, parents, older siblings and friends for their input, but the ultimate decision is up to you.
- Look at early decision options and application deadlines for your schools. Make sure you don’t miss any!
- Make a calendar: Use a wall calendar or calendar app to list all of the important dates for the application process, your school and personal life (such as special events, homecoming, school holidays, and exam schedules). The former should include deadlines for college applications, scholarship and/or financial aid applications, and materials to be submitted to your college adviser, as well as testing dates and any other self-imposed deadlines for completing your applications. The next few months will be a blur, and having this calendar will be a lifesaver.
- Write your resume. A resume will remind you of all the activities you have done throughout your high school career. You can draw on this for your essays and give this to people you ask to write recommendations for you.
- Give your finalized school list and resume to the teachers you asked for recommendations. They need this information in order to make sure their letters are written in the manner the school has requested. Giving this to them in a timely manner allows them to do a good job, and ensures they will be able to finish on time. Chances are yours is not the only recommendation they are writing this year!
- Look at what essays are required for the colleges where you plan to apply. Once you have your college list compiled you can see what you need to write. Often one essay can work for multiple schools, with slight tweaks.
- Start writing those college essays. You want time to do many drafts, and senior year fall is stressful enough without having to write college essays as well. Write all your essays, even if you’re applying early decision. If you get your decision back and you are rejected, you will not be in the frame of mind to write 10 more application essays. On top of that your early decision will come right before winter break, which means finals time in most high schools. There will be enough stress without a panic to write a bunch of essays.
- Study for the SAT subject test and sign up now! The October date is your last test date where the results can be sent in with an early application to colleges. If you want to retake the test or if you have any other subject tests you want to take, this is your last opportunity.
- Fill out the financial aid, family history, etc portion of all your college applications. Submit all of this information before school starts in the fall. There is no reason to wait to fill in this information. It’s summer and you have time, so get it done. Also your parents might need time to find all the information you need for the financial aid portion, so give yourself time to remind them and them time to get it all together. Filling this in 10 minutes before the midnight deadline is not a good idea.
Senior Year Fall
- If you need any more teacher recommendations, ask your teachers now. Sometimes your senior year teachers are open to writing you a recommendation if you get a certain grade in their class or if you really get along. Speaking with them now allows you to find out their policy and ensures you do not wait until it’s too late to get a recommendation.
- Finish application essays. If you didn’t finish your application essays over the summer, get them done ASAP. You will have a lot going on later in the semester as midterms and finals come, clubs get more involved, sports get later in the season, etc. Also, some schools have rolling admissions; this means if you apply in October you will receive your response earlier as well. If you are applying early decision or early action to any schools make sure you finish your essays before the deadline.
- Submit all your applications for early decision or early action. If you are applying early action or early decision, send in those applications, and get your other apps ready to go so that all you have to do is hit “send” in case you don’t get in to your top choice schools. If you are not applying early decision, send in all your applications now. You finished all the essays, right? No reason to wait.
- If you got in early - congrats! If you didn’t, submit the rest of your applications. Once again don’t wait until the last minute. Taking action after you receive the rejection will also help you get over it. Maybe you didn’t get into your top school, but that’s ok — life is long, and you can definitely still achieve everything you want to.
Senior Year Spring
- Schedule alumni interviews. It’s always a good idea to schedule an interview, if you are offered one accept and schedule it immediately. You never know how many people are available to do the interviews, so if you schedule your time ASAP then you will have the opportunity. Ideally schedule the interviews for your backup schools first, then you will feel less pressure and you will feel more prepared when you interview with your realistic and reach schools.
- Do a mock interview with your parents or with a tutor. A mock interview will make you feel more comfortable when you are in the actual situation.
- Don’t slack now. It’s tempting to take it easy after you hear back from colleges in the spring, but don’t do it. They can and will rescind your offer if your performance slips too much.
- Look into scholarships. In addition to federal and school aid, there are lots of private scholarships available (Tutorspree offers one).
Did we miss out on any college application to-do items? Let us know in the comments!