Amazingly enough, the relaunch of the 2019-2020 Common App on August 1st is in two days, marking the official beginning of the college application process for all incoming high school seniors. The Common App has a brand new look, a few more members colleges, and improved tools to assist students prepare the strongest possible application.
Staying organized and following a timeline helps students stay in control of the application process and will significantly reduce the stress that will invariably creep in. So let’s start keeping that anxiety at bay with a few points which might seem obvious, but are often overlooked.
• Good application planning begins with establishing personal criteria. Will it be a small, medium or large campus; rural, suburban or urban setting, and what’s the geographical location? Next, students need to identify possible areas of study, how far do they want to be from home, which campus culture will they be most comfortable in, sports interests, political and religious affiliations, financial and health needs, etc. The most important criteria of all should be personal fit.
• Check your high school transcript - Get a copy of your unofficial transcript and check it for accuracy. Are the classes and corresponding grades correct? Will all the state mandated requirements for graduation be met by June 2020 - especially important for those who have attended more than one high school? It is the student's responsibility to make sure this document is correct.
• Senior Year Course Load - Follow the 4x5 formula as closely as possible: four years of the five core subjects: English, math, science, history and a foreign language. If it's not possible, get as close as possible. State mandated requirements for graduating from high school will vary from state to state, but in general are lower than those needed for a competitive college application. So avoid the temptation to take only what you need to graduate senior year and opt for a full course load.
• Extra Curricular Activities - All students are so much more than their grades and how they spend their time outside of school speaks volumes to admission officers. Write down everything you do and edit if necessary. See what qualifies as an extra curricular activity and remember the golden rule: quality over quantity. Don’t forget to mention those jobs (both paid and unpaid) as they show many great personal qualities that colleges are looking for in their students.
• SAT/ACT Scores - One of the three most important parts of a student's academic profile after the transcript and GPA/class rank are their SAT/ACT scores. But what's a good score? Also, more and more colleges are now ‘test optional’ meaning that the student decides whether to submit their scores when applying. Click here for more detailed information.
• College List - Put together a list of schools you'd like to apply to. Everyone should aim to have a well balanced college list of reach, target and safety schools. While many would encourage students to throw the net wide, a well researched list of 8-12 schools has proven to be more successful in the long run. And remember, any school with a single digit admission rate, regardless of the rigor of the student's transcript or strength of SAT/ACT scores, should not be considered a safety school.
• College Essay - Fortunately for everyone, the 2019-2020 essay prompts are the same as last year’s. Besides good grammar and spelling, a college essay is NOT an English class essay and never assume you know what the admissions officers want to read or that a good essay is a reformatted resume. It's often the small 'incident' that makes the best essay topic. An essay has accomplished its job if the reader learns something about the applicant that is not already contained in the application.
It's hard to write about yourself, but that is what will be necessary in order to produce a solid essay, and these prompts encourage that. Ask any admissions officer and he/she will tell you that nine out of ten college essays are dull and uninteresting. A good college essay tells a story, hooking the reader from the start and giving them a peek at who the student is beyond the stats. A strong essay requires several drafts and a few weeks to complete, so be patient and don't rush the process. It is now time to start thinking about it.
• Campus Visits - Never a waste of time, much can be learned from a campus visit, even if it was a school you didn't like. Keep track of the little things and listen to your intuition. Best seen with students around, few spots on a campus will better tell you if the school is a good personal fit than the cafeteria, library and dorm so make sure to visit them.
• Parental Role - Parents often have a hard time knowing how to best help their children with this very exciting part of their transition from adolescent to young adults, but in five words or less: be there, be supportive, but stay out of the way.
November 1st is the first, and best known, early application due date. However, more and more schools are offering early application (Early Decision, Early Action, Priority & Rolling) due dates as early as October 15th.
So it would make sense for rising juniors to make good use of this block of time before school starts again in September to focus purely on the college application process. It will not get any easier once school is back in session, especially for the student athletes who participate in a Fall sport.