Be Curious

Juniors, the college search process may seem overwhelming right now. While there are thousands of two and four year schools in the US, you’ll be able to narrow down which schools you should explore further if you devote the time to establish the best type of college for you. Be open minded, be curious and try on all different types of schools to discover where you should steer your research.

Think about the following as you begin:

Do you want a to find a college that will feel similar to your high school or are you looking for something entirely new? You may not know the answer at this point but the more research you engage in, the greater level of confidence you will have in your list

. Size, setting and focus sum up the main differences among schools. Small, medium and large schools each have distinct characteristics.

Small schools typically offer greater access to faculty, small class sizes and a strong sense of community. Large universities typically offer more majors, a wider variety of extracurricular activities and clubs, research opportunities and graduate programs.

Do you see yourself in a city or in a country setting? An urban school offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in a city. Part of the appeal of an urban school may be exactly what the city has to offer, such as internships, off campus jobs and arts and cultural events. Rural schools are generally self-contained and usually offer a greater sense of community. Rural settings may allow you enjoy the outdoors. Suburban or small town schools combine a little bit of both— they tend to be self-contained but with easy access to the surrounding community.

Focus really means whether a school is considered a liberal arts, research or professional oriented school. Focus is an important consideration and the main differences in focus include: the range of majors, research opportunities, classes taught by professors versus teaching assistants or graduate students and graduate study opportunities.

Now is the time to start your research. College guide books, such as the “Fiske Guide to Colleges”, offer facts about basic admission requirements such as GPA, SAT and ACT ranges, course requirements, tuition, student body demographics and feedback from current students. Read free online college blogs, follow college admission related blogs and read newspapers to learn more about schools and the admissions process. Attend college fairs in your area. Look through school websites which provide detailed information about a school’s student body, required curriculum, courses of study, tuition and financial aid, housing and extracurricular activities. Look for academic, athletic and extracurricular programs you’d like to find out more about.  Also, take a look at admissions requirements. Take a few virtual tours which will give you a first look. Most schools offer tours on their website that allow you to get a good sense of the physical campus and what a school has to offer. 

 Talk to your parents and guidance counselor for their ideas about what schools may fit your needs and interests. It may be helpful to reach out to current students and also alum to ask questions and get a better feel for a school’s “personality.” 

Create your list of the schools you’d like to research further. After your initial fact-finding, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of the type of schools that appeal to you. There are, most likely, many schools that will be a great fit for you.

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Making a Master Test Plan

Remember, that while there is so much talk about testing, your standardized test scores are only one piece of your college application. Admissions officers will be interested in your grades, your test scores if submitted, your curriculum, your participation in extracurriculars and what you express about yourself in your essays. If you do plan to submit standardized test scores with your applications, now is the time to create your testing plan.

Follow these step to create your personalized test plan, including a schedule for prep and tests which will allow you to be better prepared with less stress:

FIRST: Schedule a meeting with your guidance counselor. Learn about the different tests and understand how they differ and and which tests you should be considering.

SECOND: Take a practice SAT and ACT to determine which test is best for you. Kaplan Test Prep offers free SAT  and ACT online events and tests to help you compare. The Princeton Review also offers free SAT and ACT online tests.

THIRD: Create a schedule. If you can take either the ACT or SAT in junior year, you’ll have more time to focus on applications and financial aid when you’re a senior. Look at SAT and ACT test dates for the entire year and choose dates that allow you enough time to prepare. Should you want to improve your scores you will have the option to take additional tests during senior year. Take into consideration any AP or IB exams as well as your course finals when planning your schedule.

FOURTH: Ask your parents and guidance counselor for input. Choose test dates that don’t conflict with any of your own personal obligations and talk to your parents to clear the test dates you are considering with the family calendar as well.

FIFTH: Register for tests as soon as possible to ensure your spot at the location of your choice. Keep a master calendar of the tests, test dates and locations that you register for and store your registration tickets in a place you’ll remember on test morning.

SIXTH: Find test prep resources. Search for ones that will work best with your learning style and also your budget. There are many free resources available. Test prep books are available on public library shelves and you can also purchases them online and in your local bookstore. Use these resources to take practice exams. Take as many timed practice tests as possible to get comfortable with the test and develop a good sense of how to pace yourself. In addition, there are many online prep programs as well as classes in your local area. Ask your guidance counselor, and also friends and relatives who have done this before, for recommendations.

SEVENTH: Keep track of your scores. Once you have your results, record all your test scores on a master calendar like the one included in The College Bound Organizer. From this list you’ll choose your top scores, even if those scores are from different test dates, to submit with your applications.

The list of colleges and universities that don’t require the ACT or SAT in their admissions process has expanded significantly in the last few years. According to FairTest, the percentage of schools not requiring standardized test scores has risen from about 45% before the pandemic to 78% now. Whether you decide in advance to opt out of standardized test taking or you’re not happy with your scores, test optional schools may be a good choice for you.

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Helpful Tools

There’s a lot to understand about college admissions. Early in high school you can become familiar with the process by staying up to date on the latest news. Read newspaper and magazine articles, and college admissions blogs too. Get comfortable in your guidance counselor’s office. Get to know your counselor and the office staff as well. Learn what their office has to offer and take in everything you can learn from them.

Juniors, as the time approaches for you to begin to think more specifically about college admissions, you will be more focused on college research and what type of schools appeal to you. While this process may feel a bit overwhelming, here are some helpful resources to help you to get started:

  • College guide books including Fiske Guide to Colleges, Princeton Review and Barrons, which will help you to get a general outline of a school’s offerings and stats.
  • College and university websites offer virtual tours and specifics about a school.
  • College admissions blogs will catch you up on the latest news and topics in the college admissions world.
  • Newspapers and magazines may have interesting feature articles as well as news.
  • Your guidance counselor is a great resource; make use of his or her knowledge and understanding of admissions. Make an appointment soon to get started.
  • Your family knows you best— ask for their input.
  • Net Price Calculator is the US Department of Education’s online tool to help you understand the real price of attending college, it’s available on every school’s website.

While you make use of these resources, keep in mind key factors to help you focus your search: school size and setting, distance from home, academic programs, cost to attend, personality of the school and your chances of admission.

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Registration Reminder

Today is the registration deadline for the February 12th ACT exam. 

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Don’t Let Scholarship Money Slip Away

Search for scholarships and grants to help pay for you college education. (The terms “grants” and “scholarships” are often used interchangeably.) This type of aid doesn’t need to be repaid, making it the most attractive form of financial aid. Here are some tips that may help search for aid:

  • Meet with your counselor for help on how and where to search for scholarships.
  • The majority of scholarship money is awarded by colleges and universities, so search here.
  • Deadlines vary from school to school, so it’s important to be aware of application due dates so you don’t miss any opportunities.
  • Optimize your chance of qualifying for scholarships by applying as soon as possible.
  • Complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE in order to be considered by many private colleges and some state schools for scholarship programs, as well as for non-federal financial aid.
  • Submit any required supplemental application forms.
  • Confirm whether the scholarships and grants may be contingent on meeting certain requirements, such as maintaining a minimum GPA.
  • Be mindful that scholarships may be awarded based on need and/or merit, so tailor your search accordingly.
  • Search for scholarships that meet your profile, as any number of criteria including academic, athletic or artistic accomplishments can be used to award merit scholarships.
  • Contact local and community organizations, employers, professional associations, and religious and cultural groups to which you are affiliated to ask about their scholarship opportunities.
  • Don’t forget to reapply annually if the scholarship is not awarded in a lump sum up front..
  • Explore scholarships which are career specific, for example, those available to students studying to become teachers and also student specific awards, available to students from a military family or even to those with a unique hobby.
  • Use the many resources, including fastweb.com a helpful resource to match you with scholarships 
  • Visit your guidance office to pick up scholarship applications and look through the lists of special scholarships available to students in your school district and town.

This is the time to search for scholarships. Make a list of scholarships you plan to apply for with their respective due dates and check them off as you complete your applications. 

 

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Writing Your College Essay

While grades are the first part of your application that Admissions will review, there are many other important components. A well written essay will give you the opportunity to demonstrate who you are beyond your grades and test scores. What you have done during high school and how you tell your story will give Admissions an idea of what you will bring to their school community.

Top tips for writing your most effective essay:

  • Getting started can be challenging. Begin by reviewing the essay prompts. Ask your family and friends what makes you unique to help you decide which prompt will allow you to best express who you are to Admissions.
  • Choose a topic you feel comfortable writing about. Even a topic that is ordinary and every day can help tell you own story if you do it in a thoughtful way. For example, if you are responsible for caring for your siblings or younger cousins after school, share what you have learned, how have you demonstrated responsibility, independence, initiative.
  • Create an outline with four or five bullet points, then build on each topic sentence to tell your story.
  • Connect your interests and extracurricuricular activities to your community involvement and other responsibilities to tell your personal story. By making that connection, you’ll be sharing what is important to you and what you have chosen to prioritize during your time in high school.
  • Tell your story with authenticity and passion. Highlight what is important to you and share your goals to demonstrate your own qualities and individuality.
  • Show your essay to a proofreader, a family member, teacher or friend. It’s easier for another reader to offer you an objective opinion on whether you have conveyed your story well. But make sure your essay remains in your own voice.
  • Also have your reader look for typos and spelling errors. Don’t rely on spell check and beware of auto-correct.

Your essay is your chance to give Admissions a reason to remember you when they are sitting around a conference table discussing which students to admit.

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Waiting For News

Early decision notifications are on their way!  You can check your school’s website to confirm the decision release date.  If you did apply either early decision or early action it is time to take the next step in your journey to college.  For those of you who applied rolling and have received news it’s also time for you to take action. This is what you will need to do:

ACCEPTED: Congratulations!

Early decision is binding.

  • Confirm your plan to enroll by sending in the required non-refundable deposit by the school’s due date. Make sure you don’t miss this deadline.
  • Withdraw any other other applications you sent.
  • Check your inbox often. You’ll be receiving mailings relating to special programs for admitted students. In time you will also be sent notices relating to housing, medical and health forms, and invitations to special events that may require your response.

Early action is not binding.

  • If you’re certain this is the school for you, send your deposit and secure your spot by the deadline in the class of 2026. Although not required, you should be considerate to other applicants and withdraw your outstanding applications to other schools.
  • If you’re not sure this is the school for you or need to evaluate your financial aid offers and want to leave your options open, hold off until you’ve received all your other admissions decisions before accepting or rejecting your offer of admission.

Rolling admission is not binding.

  • You don’t need to respond until you are absolutely certain this is the school you would like to attend.
  • Unless you’re sure this is the school for you, finish your other applications and send them in by the due dates.

DEFERRED: Take a deep breath.

  • If you received a deferral from your early school, think about whether this school is truly your first choice. If you believe the answer is yes, communicate that thought to your admission rep by letter, sending it both by snail mail and email. Express the reasons this is your top school and offer to provide any additional information to further support your application.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about your plans. Also, ask if they would reach out to your admissions rep to speak on your behalf.
  • Focus on completing all your other applications by the deadlines.

Whether deferred or rejected, please realize this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not qualified, it may simply mean there’s not enough room for all the accomplished candidates who have applied. Many competitive schools receive many, many more applicants than spots open in the incoming class. Take a step forward and complete the applications for the other schools on your list.

ALSO:

Once you commit to a school, remember to reach out and thank your teachers and counselors and anyone else who has supported you in your college bound process. A hand written note is a really nice touch.

Keep in mind acceptances are conditional on maintaining your grades throughout senior year. So while you have good cause for celebrating, continue working hard to finish this school year strong.

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Registration Reminder

Today is the late registration deadline for the December 11th ACT exam. 

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Common FAFSA Mistakes

We all know applying for financial aid is challenging. There are many resources that can help you through the process and successfully apply. We can’t stress enough how important it is to be on top of filing your FAFSA accurately and on time.

If you have not already submitted, and are not sure how to get started, ask your counselor for a meeting. They can help you begin and also answer many of your questions. They may also know of virtual application completion events to help you with your financial aid forms.

Maximize your chances of receiving aid when filing out your FAFSA by avoiding these common mistakes:

  1. Not completing the FAFSA at all. Don’t make any assumptions about your ability to qualify for aid as the criteria used includes not only income but also family size. The FAFSA is used for federal work study, federal loans and even scholarships and grants. So if you don’t apply, you may miss out on the chance for the money you need to pay for college.
  2. Not requesting an FSA ID before filing out the FAFSA. Use your FSA ID to start your FAFSA when you sign in as either student, parent or preparer and use it again to sign your form electronically before submitting.
  3. Not submitting your FAFSA by the deadline. Fill out your form as soon as possible as some aid is granted on a first-come first-served basis. You must submit before your state and school deadlines.
  4. Not reading all the definitions carefully before working on the form. Many terms are not obvious so be sure you are clear on what information the FAFSA is really asking for.
  5. Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRT). Use the IRS DRT to quickly and accurately enter the required tax information directly from your family’s tax return. If you’re offered the “Link to IRS” option, use it.
  6. Entering incorrect information on the application. Proof read your application to confirm you have no typos.
  7. Not filing out all the required fields with the necessary information. Read through before submitting to be sure you have completed all fields as some may not have auto-filled if you used the IRS DRT.
  8. Not listing all the colleges/universities you are considering. You can list up to ten schools at a time. You application will not be negatively affected by adding schools since colleges can’t see the other schools you have on the form. If you apply to more than ten schools, follow the instructions on the form.
  9. Not signing the FAFSA form. You are required to use your FSA ID to sign and then submit the form and your parent is also required to do the same with their parent FSA ID.

You won’t know if you qualify for financial aid unless you apply. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to help pay for your college education. Apply now.

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Avoid Mistakes On Your Applications

Your application is how you introduce yourself to Admissions. Make a good impression by submitting your best, most accurate and carefully written application. Review your applications before your hit “submit”. Avoid common mistakes which will make you look disorganized and careless.

Things to check before you submit:

Spelling: Don’t rely on spell check and be careful of autocorrect. For example, you’re on the “Honor Roll” not the “Honor Role”. Read and re-read multiple times

Accuracy: Look for typos or easily overlooked mistakes such as incorrect information about your counselor’s contact info or your telephone number and email address should Admissions try to contact you. Be sure your date of birth and social security number match what is on your high school transcript. Have you listed your extracurricular activities on the Common App in the order of importance to you?

Be Specific: Make sure each essay and your short answers are detailed and specific to the school to which you are applying. Mention the school but be sure if you are copy and pasting that you don’t refer to the wrong school. If you’ve indicated a high level of commitment in a club or activity throughout high school, highlight and discuss your involvement on your application in order to demonstrate your interest.

Due Dates: Applications, special programs, scholarships and financial aid all have different deadlines, even within the same school. Don’t miss out on any opportunities because you overlooked at deadline. Look them all up on school websites and keep a calendar or agenda with each due date.

Proofread: Read and re-read your application. Have at least one other person read your application before submitting. You want to make sure you’ve conveyed your message with care as well as to confirm you haven’t overlooked any errors.

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