For many parents, the conversation of where their child is going to attend college begins at an early age, as early as elementary school for some. But for many students, the gauntlet that is the college admissions process isn’t considered until the immediate future, sometimes not until a student’s junior or senior year. But no matter where your child falls on the continuum of considering colleges and entering the admissions process, there are steps you can take to make it as easy as possible.
Read on for a few ways to start the conversation with your child about applying to college.
Freshman Year of High School: A Time to Evaluate and Plan
It isn’t too early to begin the conversation about preparing for higher education in the freshman year of one’s high school career. This is the perfect time for students to begin building an academic and co-curricular resume that will impress future admissions offices.
Students at this stage should consider what their academic schedule looks like and if they should enroll in college prep courses, which a school counselor can help advise on. Since many schools assign students to a specific counselor, students should seek out their help in designing a plan or answering questions.
Focusing on achieving the strongest grades possible is important since many colleges cite this as one of the strongest indicators for enrollment. Experiencing an array of co-curricular involvement can also help students in the future, showing their willingness to get involved and make a difference in their school and communities.
Sophomore Year of High School: Continue the Hard Work
Sophomores should continue to build on their experiences from freshman year. It is so important to stay involved in activities that truly interest them and where they are able to develop their personalities and make an impact. This is also where, if they haven’t before, students may begin to consider more specifically what jobs they are interested in pursuing and what schools they might consider attending.
Students can also speak to their school’s guidance counselor to get a better sense of their own personal areas of weakness or what they might do in preparation for college, including asking the counselor questions about any standardized testing results, their course load, or other experiences that may improve their chances for admittance to the college of their choice.
Junior Year of High School: A Serious Look at the Future
Much of the heavy lifting for college enrollment takes place during the junior year of high school. To begin, students need to consider more seriously what they are good at in order to know what career they might want to pursue. For those who are unsure of where their interests lie or how their interests translate to the workforce, now is the time to take an interest inventory to get a better sense of what career may best utilize their talents.
This is also the time to consider what might be important in a student’s future college; is he interested in a large or small school, a rural or urban setting, a private or public university, a specific program or a liberal arts curriculum? Each of these answers will help a student to narrow his focus and begin a search in earnest for the school that best fits his needs.
Beyond this, though, junior year is also typically where preparation for and undertaking standardized tests occurs. Depending on where a student is considering applying, he will likely need to take the ACT or SAT standardized tests. These tests allow schools to judge a student’s overall knowledge acquisition, but many colleges report that grades and other involvement weigh more in their decision-making process than simple test scores. So preparing for these tests can be important, but equally, or more important, is keeping up one’s grades in daily classes.
The summer between junior year and the start of senior year is the perfect time to complete college visits, if not before. Visiting a college campus gives a student a chance to experience the feel of the campus, to begin to envision himself there, and to continue narrowing his options. For those who can’t set foot on a physical campus, many schools offer virtual tours online, allowing prospective students the opportunity to see what their programs, their classes, and their dorms are like. But, if possible, nothing can top the actual experience of standing on a campus and envisioning oneself attending that school.
Senior Year of High School: Not Finished Yet
Senior year brings many challenges and many opportunities. Now is the time for students to retake their standardized tests if they were dissatisfied with their previous scores. It is also the time to begin applying in earnest to schools of interest. Even if a student doesn’t know what he wants to study yet, it is important for him to consider carefully all of the factors that will make him successful at a potential school, including school size, programs available, location, faith affiliation, and more.
Applying to schools typically requires personal information, grade point average, coursework completed and in progress, teacher references, and other information. Having all of that available before beginning applications can make the process easier. Also, understand that most colleges require an application fee, so narrowing the number of schools one applies to is a cost-saving measure.
Keeping up one’s involvement and grades is also necessary, as schools reserve the right to rescind offers of enrollment if either of these change significantly in a student’s final year. And before and after the applications have gone out, it’s time to consider how he will pay for that school, including completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships.
St. Lawrence Seminary High School: Prepared for Graduation and Beyond
At St. Lawrence Seminary High School, students complete many of these tasks through the help of our guidance counselor and our classroom teachers. The guidance counselor discusses potential options and opportunities in her individual meetings with each sophomore, junior, and senior. Classroom teachers take time out of their classes to discuss specific college-related questions and to encourage students in their progress toward choosing and applying to schools. School visits take place on the weekends for students who aren’t able to step foot on a campus over a break.
Juniors are registered for ACT test preparation, working to reduce test anxiety. “College days” events for juniors and seniors help them to identify the steps they need to take yet to successfully apply for and gain admittance to college. All along the way, the counselor communicates with students their next steps and any needed documentation.
And every SLS teacher is working with students of all levels to ensure their successful completion of SLS’s requirements so that they make it to their high school graduation prepared for college.
It may seem overwhelming — the amount of work it takes to get into college — but it is accomplished regularly by millions of students. With diligence in coursework, involvement in activities and organization of timelines and materials, students can successfully navigate the process. Don’t procrastinate! And no matter where your child falls in the timeline of college admissions, choose to begin that conversation today.