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September College-Prep Checklist for High School Seniors

This autumn you'll need to be flexible as college admission processes are morphing throughout 2020.

Shawna Newman

August 31, 2020

Class of 2021: Find out the eight things you should focus on in September to help you plan for college.
September College-Prep Checklist for High School Seniors
Summer is over and a new semester has arrived. So, you're probably wondering: What should I be doing to prepare for college—ESPECIALLY in 2020?? Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here. This is the year you’ll finally be graduating: Class of 2021! You’ll be applying to colleges and, soon enough, heading off to college. This is the real deal—your senior year glow up.

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There’s so much to do! But we know you can handle it. Remember, the earlier you begin, the easier it will be. Keep in mind you’ll need to be flexible this year, prepared to pivot due to the Coronavirus pandemic. College admissions is ever-morphing through 2020. Here are some suggestions of what high school seniors can do to prepare for college admissions this September:

  1. Narrow down your college list.
  2. Start by creating a list of what you’re looking for in a college and making your colleges list. Then, compare the two, crossing off any colleges that don’t meet your criteria. Order your colleges list based on which schools meet the most criteria at the top to the colleges that meet the lowest amount of your criteria at the bottom.

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  3. Register to take or re-take the SAT/ACT exams.
  4. If you haven’t heard, many colleges have gone test optional due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, according to the National Association for College Admissions (NACAC), more than 525 colleges are not requiring SAT/ACT test scores for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. As a high school senior, we encourage you to use your narrowed list of top colleges and schedule a time to discuss standardized testing plan ASAP! Use your top colleges list and do a bit of research. Look to see how many have paused ACT/SAT admission requirements. Consider this, as you’re deciding whether or not to test or re-test. If you’re a strong tester, having high scores may help you land institutional scholarships. If you’re a stronger student in other areas, you may want to reconsider taking the SAT/ACT or decide to take fewer retests (there’s a fee each time you take a test). Finding a test center to take your standardized exam is also not as easy as it once was. Some worry, as the fall season approaches how accessible in-person testing locations will be due to the possibility of increased COVID-19 outbreaks. You can still sign up for online test-prep courses, get a virtual tutor or even practice questions online for free!

  5. Schedule as many college virtual visits as possible.
  6. Campuses are so beautiful in the fall, but this year you’ll have to check out campus beauty from photographs. Work together as a family to schedule virtual visits this fall. A silver lining—you can fit in more visits this autumn because you’ll be visiting from home! Schedule them throughout the next few months and be sure to make it official by putting the dates into your Google calendar and inviting those you’d like to join you. This way it’s a thing, and you don’t forget! Grab the popcorn and gather a few seats around your desk at home. Helpful Tip: If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to create your own college research binder. Divide it up by college. Include sleeves to place any college admissions pieces you get by mail and include loose-leaf paper within each college category. As you take a virtual tour of each college write down your top five likes and dislikes. Also include a section with questions you and/or your parents would like to ask an admissions counselor. You’ll feel better prepared and more comfortable with your final college decision this way! Also, do you know a college student attending one of your prospect universities? If so, reach out. Maybe they can show you around campus virtually. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to a college admissions counselor to see if they can set up a Zoom call for a more personalized visit. Using one of these methods will give you a better picture of what campus life is like. However, do know that college campuses across the nation are serving up an abbreviated version of college life for students because of COVID-19. It’s likely there will be more involvement and a thriving campus life after a Coronavirus vaccine has been created and distributed.

  7. Start out - and stay in - great academic shape.
  8. As you're working on college applications, you’ll want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward – academically speaking. Make a strategy on how you’ll approach this semester - and follow it. A strict semester game plan helps ensure you’ll stay focused on achieving your best. This year consider how you’ll handle your classes and stay connected if your school district has to move online. If you have a friend that graduated high school in 2020, ask them if they have any helpful tips to get you through the virtual school year. It was an important year for them, they’re likely to have some great ideas and lessons learned to keep you on track your senior year of high school. Your high school grades matter (all of them) and a slip up is really difficult to recover from, especially in terms of your cumulative grade point average . It's not impossible to recover from a slump, but why give yourself the extra anxiety? If you stay on top of your grades, you won't have even more pressure than you already do! Remember, even if you’re admitted to a college, if your grades slip too far below from the grades you applied with, colleges are able to rescind your admissions offer. So keep those grades up – you’re not out of the woods yet!

  9. Evaluate how you’ll pay for school.
  10. While it’s a great investment, college is not cheap. Financial aid should be top-of-mind for high school seniors—even in September! Begin understand and gathering the items you’ll need to file your FAFSA . The 2021-2022 FAFSA opens up in less than a month! Try to complete your FAFSA early, as this can greatly impact the amount of federal financial you receive. Your state also provides financial aid from your FAFSA. And every state has its own deadline! If you start applying for scholarships now, it will be a lot easier to pay for school later! You’re expected to pay back any student debt or student loans you take on in college. But, the awesome news is—you don’t have to pay back scholarships!!!! Begin by organizing your scholarship search, then apply for as many scholarships as possible. Applying for scholarships your senior year will give you a HUGE head start. Helpful Tip: Consider setting yourself a scholarship application goal. Try applying for at least two scholarships per week. If you feel like you’re crushing this goal, bump it up. Setting goals, and sticking to them, fuels the grit you’ll need to succeed in college. Who knows, maybe you can write about this accomplishment one of your college admissions essays!? Talk to your family about your college budget so that everyone is on the same page and you can have specific financial aid goals in mind. While it’s important to be realistic regarding your college choices and tuition prices, if you have your heart set on a specific school, you'll simply have to work a little harder to achieve the funding. Don't worry, any amount is possible to achieve with hard work and determination!

  11. Gather and prepare your application materials.
  12. It’s helpful to have any documents you may need on hand for your college applications, like your ACT/SAT scores, any personal information and any payment information if you’re not applying via the Common Application. That way, you won’t have to worry about gathering your materials each time you want to submit an application – everything will be in one place.

  13. Begin your college essays.
  14. If you know which schools you’re applying to, you can check out their essays and start brainstorming topics you’d like to write your essay on. Helpful Tip: Try organizing your thoughts in an outline or diagram and go from there.

  15. Question if early admissions options are right for you.
If you already know which college is right for you, you may want to consider an early admissions option. It’s not right for everyone, but it may be worth considering if you have your heart set on a specific school. Early Decision deadlines are binding commitments; if you’re accepted, you must attend that college. You may be asked to withdraw applications elsewhere and to submit your deposit before May 1. You can learn more about early admissions and decide if it’s the right route for you.

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