Spring 2016 Must-Dos for High School Students
Whether you're a freshman or a senior, there's something you can be doing now for your college search.
By Kathryn Knight Randolph
February 16, 2016
You may have spent more time getting lost in hours of TV dramas and Facebook than appropriate, but spring is just around the corner. With that, it’s time to spring into action in your college and scholarship search.
Whether you’re a high school freshman or finishing up your high school career, there’s something you can be doing now to better your college and scholarship search.
High School Freshmen
Start thinking about courses you want to take next semester. While this year has been all about getting acclimated to the high school curriculum, this next year should be about pushing yourself academically. If you’ve never taken honors courses, sign up to take a few in your sophomore year. They will be great practice for AP courses, which you should start taking your junior year.
Also, get more involved. New opportunities to participate in extracurricular or volunteer activities inside and out of school will be cropping up more in the warmer months. This is your chance to explore interests outside of what you already do, which will look great on your resume when applying to colleges in a few years.
You’ll be taking the PSAT and/or the PLAN next semester as a sophomore. Look for any opportunities offered by your school or community to study and practice for these tests. They are the best preparation for the SAT and ACT, which you’ll need to take during your junior year.
Finally, start your scholarship search. It’s never too soon to start looking for scholarships, and you might as well start now when you’re not devoting time to your college search and applications as well.
High School Sophomores
Like high school freshmen, sophomores need to seriously consider their class schedule for next year. If you’re taking regular classes now, add a few honors courses to next year’s schedule. And if you’ve been taking honors courses this year, it’s time to step up your game and sign up for your school’s AP courses.
By now, you’ve taken the PSAT and PLAN at your school so it’s time to begin SAT and ACT test prep. Some high school counselors will advise you to take both tests and see which test yields better results. You can also look at your PSAT and PLAN scores, determine which you performed better on and then focus on that preliminary test’s equivalent.
High School Juniors
This year is crucial to your college and scholarship search. While you may have seen a limited number of scholarships available to you as a freshman or sophomore, the door of possibilities is wide open to you as a junior.
In terms of the college search, it can’t be stressed enough that you should start doing as much as possible to progress your college search this year. A lot of students wait until the start of their senior year to begin their search, and that’s quite a lot to pack on top of school, extracurriculars and the scholarship search.
This semester, take the SAT and/or the ACT. Chances are you’ll have to take the test a few times to get your scores up to where you want them, so start now.
Research schools online, through their individual websites and on college search sites like Fastweb. Get an idea of what you’re looking for and pick five to eight schools that interest you. Unless you have always known what type of school you want to attend, make sure your list of five to eight schools has variety. Look at big state schools as well as small, liberal arts colleges.
Once you have your list, schedule college visits in March, April and May. Your spring break would be an ideal time to go so you don’t have to miss any school, but weekends are prime time to visit college campuses as well. Just try to avoid graduation weekends in May. On your campus visits, take a tour, sit in on a class and meet with coaches or staff regarding your extracurricular interests.
High School Seniors
At this point, your applications are in and you’ve either already heard from some colleges about their admissions decision or your twiddling your thumbs waiting in anticipation for that first acceptance letter. Rather than inciting a near panic attack in anxiously waiting, put all of your nervous energy into your scholarship search and applications.
At this point, apply for anything and everything, even awards for small amounts. And remember, you can still apply for scholarships while in college – so don’t get discouraged if you apply for dozens of scholarships now and don’t receive any money.
While you may receive a few acceptance letters, you may also receive a few rejection or waitlist letters. Don’t panic — this happens to many students. Set your sights on what you should be doing now instead of why you didn’t get in. Also, In March, you’ll be receiving your financial aid package. Look at where you did get accepted and start thinking realistically about which school fits best academically, socially and financially.
Your final decision is due on May 1 so take this time to make sure you’re going to make the right choice. Schedule last-minute campus visits to the schools you’re considering. Spend the night in the dorms, have lunch with a few current students and meet again with an admissions officer if you’re still not completely sold.
There are plenty of students who make their final decision but don’t really fall in love with a school until they’ve been there for a few months, and there is nothing wrong with that. So don’t worry if you’re not head over heels for your top choice. As long as you can really picture yourself on that campus, in those classes and making friends in those dorms, you’re on the right decision-making path.
Finally, take time to reflect on and enjoy your final moments as a high school student. College is such an incredible experience, but don’t let senior year lose its luster. Continue to work hard in class, savor those last few baseball or choir practices and make a point to spend time with your close friends.
Where are you in the college search? And what do you need to do to catch up this spring?
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