While navigating the college admissions process isn’t as simple as it used to be; procrastinating just adds more stress. If you’re the parent of a high school junior that is either avoiding the subject of college or seems unmotivated about the process, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
- Request letters of recommendation – Before school gets out, ask one or two teachers in core subject areas if they would be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation. If you sense any ambivalence, just thank them and figure out whom else to ask. Teachers, especially the more popular ones, really appreciate being asked in the spring because they get hammered with requests in the fall and frequently tell students they are filled up.
- Finalize the brag sheet/resume – A well-crafted brag sheet has multiple uses; for interviews, scholarship applications, college applications and letters of recommendation. A simple, straight-forward brag sheet will help a recommender write a stronger letter on your behalf. Be sure to mention what you’ve done over your summer breaks (assuming it’s not just going to the beach and playing video games), your community service activities, any employment you’ve had as well as your extracurricular activities and any awards, scholarships or honors you’ve received. Teachers will talk about your performance in their class but they also like to supplement that with your activities outside the classroom.
- Narrow the list – Hopefully you’ve already seen a nice variety of college campuses; big, small, private, public, close to home and further away. At this point, the college list should be fairly well-defined and should contain 2-4 reach/dream schools, 2-4 target schools and 1-2 sure-thing/safety schools of which one should be a “financial safety”.
The easiest way to determine which category each college falls into is to look at the school’s middle 50% test scores or their ACT range. If your child’s PSAT, SAT, PLAN or ACT scores are below the middle 50% range listed in the college guidebooks, it is pretty safe to say that school is a “reach” or somewhere between a “target” and a “reach”. The middle 50% number represents the scores of the accepted students from the most recent class. For example: if a school’s middle 50% Math SAT scores are 560-680, that means that 25% of the accepted students scored above 680 and 25% scored below 560. The 25% of students who are accepted but score below the middle 50% typically offer something extra; athletic recruit, legacy students, development cases (big givers), first generation students, or they’re from Idaho and provide geographic diversity.
- Plan campus visits for the summer and fall. It used to be that college campuses were like ghost towns in the summer, but that is no longer the case. Many colleges and universities now have mini summer semesters and special summer programs. Try to visit all of the reach and target schools on your list. You may want to save a visit for the fall when you can sit in on a class and stay for an overnight.
- Prep for tests and select fall test dates – If you need to take the ACT, SAT or the SAT Subject Tests in the fall, take a look at the testing dates and schedule your prep work accordingly. Remember if you are applying Early Action or Early Decision that you’ll need to submit test results from the September and October test dates.