This is a list of tips for college-bound high school seniors of future generations, because I wish I had had someone tell me these things before it was too late. High school was a stressful time, but the least you can do is get all the best advice you can so you don’t end up having any regrets. (Note: this is written under the perspective of an American, so the types of tests and college credits may only apply to schools in the U.S.)
SAT and ACT
- Plan to take both tests unless you are very satisfied with a score from one test.
- Make sure you plan ahead. Think about what months you would like to take your tests. It’s common sense, but most students (myself included) don’t think about the tests too much until it’s a little too late. It’s best to start taking tests during your junior year and finish up any last few tests you need at the beginning of your senior year. Remember, if you’re taking the SAT or SAT subject tests, you can only take 1) the SAT OR 2) up to three subject tests on the same day. So if you’ve got to take 6 subject tests & the SAT Reasoning and it’s already November of your senior year…you’re in trouble.
- Generally, it’s not really worth it to take the test again if you DO NOT study. Granted, I don’t know what happened but I improved on my SAT by 200 points (without studying)…however, most of my friends only improved by 20 points at the most.
- Set aside time where you can sit down in front of your computer and look through one or more scholarship site(s). Open up MS Word and create two tables: one for “Currently Doing” and one for “Done.” Have two columns: Deadline and Scholarship. As you wade through a mess of scholarship links, pick out which ones you’re interested in doing. Add them to your list. I think it’s an awesome plan of action because it gets you going. Admit it; normally you would put off the search for scholarships because there are so many and it gets pretty overwhelming. With this method there is no panic or much brain power involved: just look through sites and write down the ones you like. I wish I had done this much earlier in the year because I missed out on a lot of good scholarships, just because 1) I didn’t take the time to look earlier and 2) I didn’t write deadlines down to keep myself on track.
- If you’re taking AP classes during your senior year, I commend you! You are one of the few. I know it might feel pointless taking rigorous classes your last high school year, but you could save time and money if you pass the exams.
- Buy AP prep books. Or if you’d rather not, go hunting at a used bookstore, or borrow them from the library. I’ve purchased all of mine and I learned one valuable lesson: if you buy them, buy them from amazon.com. Not only do you have a wide selection from different publishers, but the price is much cheaper than the bookstore price. The books I bought online were around $5 cheaper. Doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up if you buy a couple of books. Shipping is free if your order is $25 or more.
- If you are only taking AP courses because you are hoping to earn college credit (because I know not all of us are looking for just “academic enrichment”), make sure you CHECK with the college you will be attending or are interested in attending. Ask around or just search online for what AP scores earn at the particular college. Different colleges accept different things, and different colleges reward different credits. For example, it was too late for me when I racked up 24 elective credits through AP scores…I didn’t need that many elective credits, but it ended up helping me because I had the advantage of having more units under my belt. The more units you have, the earliest your registration time is for classes. The earlier your registration time, the better chance you have at getting the classes you want.
- Once you know what colleges you’d like to apply to, make sure you write down the deadlines. That’s obvious, but you should also look for merit scholarship deadlines or early decision/action deadlines if you are interested. Most schools require for you to turn in your application a month or months earlier than the regular deadline if you are interested in qualifying for their scholarship or receiving early decisions.
- Remember that Early Decision is BINDING. You cannot get out of it. If you are accepted, you must take back all of your other applications to other colleges. Do not do this unless you’re absolutely sure, and have talked to your parents. Remember, even if the school you applied Early Decision to gives you absolutely no financial aid, you cannot refuse because you are already binded to them. Early Action is good—you apply early and you can apply to as many schools as you want…with no strings attached. So definitely do Early Action if you’ve got everything ready. If you get confused between the two Earlies, just think of it this way…Early Action lets you take action to start applying earlier. Early Decision is your final decision and that is final.
- College applications can be very time consuming, especially when you’ve still got school and a lot of demanding classes. So make sure you start them early. That way, you won’t be stressed a couple of days before the application deadline.
- If your school has one, make use of the Higher Education Center. It’s much easier to stay focused and motivated here than at home and you can get help if you need it.
- Start your college personal statements/essays EARLY. At least a month in advance so that you can get criticisms, tips, ideas, and edits from teachers, counselors and friends. I saw many people who half-assed their personal statements and turned them in like that because the deadline was that day…
College Acceptance…or Rejection Letters
- Don’t wait for the mailman everyday. You can pick up the mail everyday (I’m sure your family will appreciate it) but don’t get to the point where you camp out in front of your mailbox
- NOT all schools follow the old “envelope trick” but I would say the majority of my schools DID follow it. The old envelope trick is what I call it when the college’s decision can be foreseen through the size of the envelope. Large, letter-sized envelopes are good signs. They usually have a nice letter of acceptance, maybe a certificate, and maybe other items (such as how to get started, send in your SIR, etc). Small envelopes are bad signs. Usually containing one letter of rejection, that’s all you get. BUT my point is: let the size of the envelope prepare you for what is inside, but do NOT just throw away the letter even if it is in a small envelope. You never know, and you might be throwing away a 10,000 dollar scholarship!
- With any acceptance letter, do some more research on the school. Hopefully you didn’t apply to every school possible, and did at least a little bit of research for the schools you applied to. However, now is the time to look deeper and see if you really want to go to this school. It’s good to start early, so you don’t get stressed when the deadline to send your decision is coming up.
- What do you do with rejection letters? If your first choice school(s) turn you down, feel free to mope if that’s what you feel like doing. Mope until you get it out of your system, and then plan your next course of action. It’s very possible to write a letter of appeal, but don’t make that your first choice. With more competitive students, it’s getting more difficult to get accepted. Do the letter of appeal IF something has changed your circumstances AFTER you sent in your application and has made you an even better applicant. Keep your rejection letters, burn them, whatever. If you were accepted into other schools, be proud and be thankful. Your spot could have been someone else’s. Take a good, hard look at the schools and see if you want to go down that path. However, if that is not an option or if you do not want to take that path, there is always community college. Save money, and then transfer to the school you want. Remember, it’s not the college that will make you…you make your own path and experiences. Apparently…the majority of people who did not get into their first choice end up loving their current schools.
I remember high school being full of stress for me. I hope this helped someone!