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I am an optimist! I always think that I can get more accomplished in a given day than is humanly possible. And, so it is with the college process. I had hoped that my second blog would be sent out mid-August. But, here it is September 2nd and we are at the start of another school year. But, that is okay. High School Seniors: prepare your engines – and get ready for take off!

 In my last blog, I suggested that high school seniors start preparing for college in August. I know that some of my clients — who are current seniors — are already finished with test prep, student resumes, and recommendation letters. And, now they are working on their personal essays.

BUT, even as they continue to prepare, they ask me: “What is the timeline for the college application process?”

So let me tell you how things are going to roll in the next three months.

And, please understand that guidance needs a one-month lead-time. So anything that you hand into them must be one month prior to anything that is due to a college. *Please check all suggested deadlines below.

I. First Up: Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters must be into Guidance within the next four weeks. (By Mid-October)

You will give your “teacher of choice” a recommendation form distributed by Guidance. He or she will fill it out and submit it. You will NOT have the privilege of seeing the letter. So choose your teacher wisely (make sure he or she likes you and enjoys the process of recommending you). Even better: write a letter that will help your teacher to recommend you.

Questions to consider and responses to share when asking a teacher to write a recommendation:

·      What did I learn from this class?

·      How did my teacher contribute to my learning in a meaningful way?

·      How did I contribute to my class?

·      How will I use this learning in the future?

I have attached my daughter’s recommendation letter as one example.

*Deadline: October 15th (For Early Action); December 1st (For Regular Decision)

II. Student Resume

A student resume isn’t essential, but it will help you or your teen when they need to fill out the common application. It is also an excellent way to keep your son or daughter’s accomplishments in one spot. Students often give out their resume during college interviews and upload it to their common app as supporting documentation. (By the way, you can go on-line and fill out your Common Application as soon as your resume is complete.) What is the Common Application? The Common Application is an undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use to apply to any of nearly 700 member colleges and universities. Most, but not all, of your teen’s schools, will accept this application form. So your teen can keep his or her info all in one digital locker.

*Deadline: October 15th (For Early Action); December 1st (For Regular Decision)

I have also attached my daughter’s resume as one example of how to format the resume.

III. Student Personal Statement or Essay

The personal essay is the only opportunity for college-bound teens to reveal who they are in their own voice – beyond the data – as a person with a personality, rather than just a test score and GPA. Students should be crafting their personal essay NOW. I can’t stress enough how important this document is for many colleges. Written well, it will set your teen apart from other students with the same GPA, AP and SAT scores and extra curricula’s. Everyone loves a good “story”.

*Deadline: October 15th (For Early Action); December 1st (For Regular Decision)

I have attached my daughter’s personal essay to give one example of how an essay goes “deep” (how she solved a problem) versus wide, which is a more general narrative. The personal essay is designed to showcase something about a student that is not revealed anywhere else in their application, resume, recommendation letter or transcript. It is the one opportunity to share something unique about him or her that is not revealed elsewhere in their application.

IV: Test Prep

I know that some students are done with test prep! But, for those students who are still taking exams in September and October – you should be practicing every day. No one will make this a priority but you. (Except if you are my client — then I will hound you mercilessly. Just ask some of your friends.)

V: Narrowing Down Your College List

Establish the five most important criteria that a school must have and determine what schools fit that profile. Consider geography, school size, major, campus social life, and cost. There are several important resources that can help you with your research: College Navigator, College Data 411, Fiske’s Guide to Colleges, College Board’s Big Future and Insider’s Guide to College to name a few.

VI. Early Action

Once you have narrowed down your college list – find out which schools offer Early Action. Not all schools do. What is Early Action? It is an application process that allows you to apply “early” versus “regular” decision. It is like dating. You are showing a strong interest, but no definitive commitment. It signals to colleges that you are seriously considering their school by applying. There is no binding contract, but it shows:

1. You have your act together by applying by November 15th and

2. You have a strong desire to attend that school.

Applying Early Action is an excellent way to know by December 15th (which is generally when you receive an answer) which schools will accept you and what merit aid and scholarship packages you can reasonably expect to receive. Early Action provides some perspective going into the regular decision application process on January 1st.

VII. Financial Aid Forms

There are a number of changes to the financial aid forms this year. Under the changes, students who are high school seniors this Fall (2016) will be able to apply for financial aid for their freshman (academic) year of college in 2017-2018 by submitting the FAFSA (government form) in October 2016 using income tax information from their parents’ 2015 tax returns. This is a HUGE change. And, the earlier you file, the better your chances are of receiving aid.

This new method is referred to as “prior, prior”, because students’ college financial aid eligibility will now be based on income from two years prior to when a student enrolls in college, not one year prior the way the rule has been until today.

If you are applying to private schools, you will also be asked to fill out the CSS Profile as well as the FASFA. What is the difference? The College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® is an online application that collects information used by almost 300 colleges and scholarship programs to award financial aid from sources outside of the federal government. After you submit your application, the College Board sends it to the colleges and scholarship programs you have chosen.

VIII. Supplemental Essays

Even if a school does not require extensive supplemental essays, EVERY school will either ask you in an interview or via an essay one or more of the following questions:

1.   Why are you interested in our University?

2.   What makes you a good fit for our school? In what ways do you think that you can positively contribute to our school?

 You must know WHY you are applying to a school? So give yourself time to reflect on this most important question. Then, make sure that you know what makes that school a good fit for you. What makes that school special? Read brochures and understand how the school “brands” itself. Just like you would want a university to consider YOU as a unique individual — so does the school want you to consider it as a unique entity to you. I have attached one example of a supplemental essay that my daughter wrote to give you one example. 

IX. Spend a Day on Campus

Most schools offer “Senior Visit” opportunities to attend a class or shadow a student. If you are seriously considering a school — you should spend a day and go visit. (No excuses about missing classes – this is more important.) Not only will it show “demonstrated interest”, which is extremely important to most colleges, but it will also pull back the curtain so that you can see what the school, campus, professors and students are really like behind the ivory tower. NO ONE should go to college without having had a first-hand experience of what a school is really like. It would be like getting married without having dated.

X. Early Decision

If you have your heart set on a school, money is no object and you are the “low-hanging fruit (the 25% for GPA, test scores, etc.), then apply Early Decision. It is the best guarantee of acceptance. What is Early Decision? It is when a student tells a university that if accepted, he or she will attend that college. It is a formal commitment. Colleges love ED students because it does not have to offer merit aid or scholarship money.

The college process can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a journey of self-discovery and amazing opportunities for every teen. Students: do your research and be prepared and you will be poised for a wonderful future!

College-Bound Teens: Check out my two workshops coming up next week at Newtown Youth Academy:

  • Seniors: How to write a great personal essay that resonates with college admissions officers!
  • Juniors: Are PSAT Ready? Get an Edge on the SAT by Preparing for the PSAT!


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