Since 2009, New York Times education writer and author of The Gatekeepers, Jacques Steinberg, has been curating and contributing to a blog called “The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Financial Aid.” As a Lawrence-centered blog that has styled itself as “The Demystificator,” we are of similar minds most of the time.
Today’s post, “Counselor’s Calendar | August Checklist for Rising Seniors,” written by Chris Teare, the director of college counseling at Antilles School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, provides some great tips for those of you college-bound seniors who want to start off your year—and your college search—right. As one of the Colleges That Change Lives, a group of colleges that focus on student-centered admission, we heartily endorse the advice Chris offers in this post; it’s good, smart stuff:
If you’re a rising senior who plans to apply to college, you might be a little nervous right now. Then again, you might be avoiding the issue completely — and appalled that someone like me would intrude upon your summer. If you’re anxious, you’re normal, because you have a big year coming up. Your nerves indicate that you care. That’s good. College is worth caring about. On the other hand, if you’re ignoring the calendar, you’re passively saving a lot to do with less and less time to do it.
Here is some advice to keep you on track:
Do the Summer Reading
Over 30 years, the students I’ve seen get the best results out of the college process are the ones who take care of business one day, one class, one assignment at a time. They’re not flashy; they’re steady. When I coached lacrosse, I said, “Pick up the next groundball.” Little things add up. Stop texting, log off Facebook, turn off your cellphone — and read. Not the SparkNotes. The book.
Pick the Right Courses
Selective colleges often start their review with your transcript, and strength of program is the first criterion of selection. Make sure your final transcript will include four years of the “five basic food groups”: English, math, history, science and foreign language. If you substitute from elsewhere on the curricular menu, select a course of equal or greater rigor in an area that better suits your abilities and interests. Make sure senior year is at least as challenging as junior year.
Keep Testing Under Control
By now, I hope you know whether you like the SAT or ACT better. Focus on the exam that works for you; if you prepare well enough, you’ll be likely to receive your highest score on the first or second attempt. Take your SAT II Subject Tests, if you must, whenever you’ll know as much as you can. Then forget bubble tests. Your scores are what they are. Stressing won’t raise them. Say the Serenity Prayer. Go test-optional. Focus your energy on classes, activities, and applications.
Keep Extra-Curricular Activities in Perspective
Remember that the hyphenate is extra-curricular. Even if you are being recruited for a talent in athletics or the arts, you must find a good deal of time to hone that skill set. You are no good to anyone if you run yourself into the ground by trying to do too much. Breathe. Eat. Sleep. Chill now and then.
Start Your Applications
If you haven’t already done so, create accounts. Use the Common App. [Lawrence note: we use the Common Application.] Invest increments of time early on: When you have a little time, fill out the simple stuff. When you have a little more, add your activities and work experiences. When you can carve out still more, start drafting your activity paragraph and essay. Start on the supplements. Good writing usually takes time. Accept advice. Show what you have to your counselor or best teacher.
Create a List of College Fits
Shop for value: Figure out the program, size, type, location, personality, and likely final cost of the colleges that best suit you. Then list colleges that you might get into, some that you should get into, and two that you will get into.
Make more decisions up front. Be realistic. Make sure you can cover the cost. I like lists of six colleges. I understand nine. Beyond that, you’re denying reality, deferring decisions, and making the spring harder, via too many rejections or too many offers. Save yourself time, angst, and your parents’ money.
When it comes to life decisions, choosing a college is the first one in which most young people play a significant role. But it’s not the last one. Life has more in store. Pace yourself. Stay calm and sail on.