Fall College Planning Tips: Preparing for College Application Season
By Erin Barnes on September 23, 2020
With a new school year underway, so begins the next college application season. Over the coming months, high school students need to establish a pace of good planning, positive energy, and careful execution.
Knowing what lies ahead - and planning accordingly - can give you a tremendous advantage as you prepare to apply to college. The following are some tips that will help you prepare for the college application season, put you in a more competitive position and, hopefully, relieve some stress along the way.
Anticipating the rush of Senior Year activity is one thing. Managing it is quite another. The key is to take control. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by things beyond your control. Rather, know what you want to accomplish and be prepared to do what it takes to make things happen. Be responsible. No excuses. Take charge of your life and give meaning to the things you do. Success won’t just happen. You will need to make it happen.
Invest in Yourself
The college application process will seem like another high-level course or two on top of everything else on your schedule. That doesn’t mean you should stop doing the things you enjoy. Instead, give them everything you’ve got. Expand your involvement. Look for leadership opportunities. Try new roles. Doing so may prove quite challenging and require a difficult balancing act on your part. When you consider the potential short and long-term benefits, though, aren’t you worth the effort?!
Stay on Top of Your Grades
Selective colleges want to see what you will do in the classroom when you think the pressure is off—when no one is looking. Your hard work has gotten you this far academically—now is the time to sprint to the finish!
Finalize Your College List
Ideally, your college list is completed by now. While there are all kinds of reasons why you may feel the need to apply to lots of colleges, eight is a good number. If you have managed expectations around a good college fit, this list should be dominated by “target” schools—places at which you have a reasonable chance of gaining admission - 40-60% probability.
Research the Applications of the Colleges to Which You Will Apply
If you haven’t done so already, there is no time like the present. Become familiar with the supplementary information required of the colleges to which you are applying on the Common App’s “member pages” as well as the institutional applications for schools that do not use the Common Application. Do the same with the Universal Application and/or the new Coalition Application if you are so inclined.
Develop a Plan for Telling Your Story
What are the key messages you want colleges to know about you? How can you use the different elements of the application to convey those messages—to “connect the dots” in revealing a clearer picture of who you are?
Start Working On Your Essays
While you don’t need finished drafts right off the bat, you need to start sometime. Remember, good writing is a process, not an event. It doesn’t happen overnight. Try to have solid drafts of at least three 500-word essays finished by early October. Otherwise, the “adrenalin rush” that has served you well in the past might prove to be more elusive than you anticipate later in the Fall.
Make Sure Your Supporters are Ready to Help You
By early fall, you should have met with the individuals who will write letters of recommendation for you and notified your counselor of the colleges to which you may be applying. In addition, familiarize yourself with your high school’s procedures and deadlines for processing application materials including transcripts, mid-year grades and counselor recommendations.
Invest in Yourself
If you are thinking about Early Decision, plan an overnight visit at your first-choice college AND at another of your favorite colleges. Compare your impressions of each before completing any ED forms. If you are not 100%, unconditionally committed to a school, then ED should not be considered. If you are applying Early Action to schools that offer that option, be respectful of the rules each has regarding the use of EA as some offer it as a restrictive, single choice opportunity.
Become Familiar with Financial Aid Forms and Process
In determining your eligibility for need-based financial aid, all schools require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and many private schools also require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. Know the submission deadlines. (Note: you can submit the FAFSA as early as October 1 using your family's IRS tax return. Consult financial aid professionals at schools where you might be applying if you have questions. If you are considering Early Decision and cost is a factor, many schools will meet with you to provide an “early estimate” of your expected family contribution (EFC). Do not regard information taken from institutional Net Price Calculators as the absolute gospel with regard to your EFC.