Nowadays, it feels like to get into the college you want, one has to find the cure for cancer or be a national champion. The fact that the process seems to be getting more random every day doesn’t help either. People who wouldn’t normally get accepted(due to their statistics) do and people who were expected to easily get accepted don’t. There’s really no way we can be guaranteed to get accepted into a specific college, but we can make sure we are fulfilling the basics. We will start off with a general prep timeline and end with some tips.
To-Know Key Terms
FRESHMAN YEAR – YEAR ONE
This is the year you start to explore and get used to high school. You can start thinking about a broad idea of what you want to do. Do you want to go to college in the first place? Do you want to join the army? Do you want to start working right out of high school? Think about what experience you want to have, if any. However, DO NOT stress about college applications/college essays yet. This is not the time to be worrying about those issues. Do not push yourself too hard. This is the time to start making friends, joining clubs that you think are interesting, participating in sports that you like, and doing your best in classes.
There honestly is not that much to put here in terms of college applications. Don’t stress about it much as a freshman and just explore different things that interest you.
- Make friends
- Join clubs that interest you, if there aren’t any that’s ok!
- Do your best in class
- Do sports you like, if you don’t like any sports then don’t do any
- Get used to the high school lifestyle
- Don’t stress about college applications or college essays
- Agenda to keep track of all of your assignments
Over the Summer:
- Do something you like.
- Get a job and make money. You know yourself best: do what you think will make you happy but also productive.
SOPHOMORE YEAR – YEAR TWO
At this point, you have a brief understanding of what you are interested in. Maybe you joined the track team and loved running. Maybe you joined the math club and like talking about numbers. Maybe you took a class in Biology and really like it. Whatever it is, dive into it more and have fun with it. This is also the time where you start narrowing down on your decision on what to do after high school. Maybe you learned more about community college and think that’s the path for you. Maybe you found a college a few countries away that you really like. Whatever it is, this is when you will begin crafting the path you will follow.
Questions Asked in Regards to Sophomore Year:
What is the PSAT?
The PSAT is a practice SAT test that the school usually administers for sophomores and juniors. It will give you a brief understanding of the different strengths and weaknesses you have with the test.
Should I be an officer in a club?
If you want to! If you are truly passionate and think you would make a great fit at a club, by all means take a leadership role. However, if you’re doing it because it’s “good for college” and you don’t enjoy it, I would recommend not doing it because it becomes more of a drag than a passion.
Should I take AP classes (as a sophomore)?
This is, again, if you want to! If you’re interested in a subject and want to challenge yourself, by all means take it.
Do my grades matter (in terms of freshmen and sophomore year)?
It all depends on what you want to do after high school. If you want to go to a T20 university, look up their average GPA and see if you’re on track to meet it. If you want to go to community college after high school, make sure you pass all of your classes so you don’t have to retake subjects.
JUNIOR YEAR – YEAR THREE
If you want to get a headstart and save yourself time for senior year, I would recommend taking standardized tests in Junior year. This is to get a good understanding of what the tests are like, how they’re structured, how their timing works, etc. You don’t need to stress about them too much because you can always improve scores in senior year.
- Note: because of Covid, a lot of schools have changed their policies on standardized testing.
You know yourself best and will know how to challenge yourself while also taking classes that interest you. You can join r/APStudents for tips on studying and funny memes!
Do things that you enjoy and try taking them to a leadership level! For example, I really like organizing events and putting projects together. So in Junior year, I served as the president for the NHS and school block. I also plan on forming an arts club at school. I would like to note that because of covid, a lot of extracurricular opportunities are not going to be available. I would say that you should try doing things that make you excited from home, and taking it to a leadership level. I’m sure that schools are going to be able to understand that a lot of opportunities are not going to be available. (however don’t take this as the truth, a lot of things are up in the air because of Covid)
Over the Summer:
- Start a college list spreadsheet
- Write down what kinds of schools you want to apply to. Other information that might be of use is location, application fee, tuition, etc.
- Continue studying for standardized tests
- A great resource for the SAT is Khan Academy. It is a free website where you can connect your College Board account and see your strengths and weaknesses, and work to improve your weaknesses. They also have tons of practice tests and practice problems.
- Apply to college visits/visit colleges
- This is for future generations after covid. If/when schools open definitely visit colleges if you have the capacity to. It will help you learn more about the atmosphere and if you vibe with the campus. It also shows DOI.
- Start drafts on college essays
- I know this may seem early, but it doesn’t hurt to start drafts of essays to see what you want to start writing about, even if it’s a few sentences and ideas. The normal Common App essays are the same every year, so it doesn’t hurt to see which ones you prefer to write about. It also doesn’t hurt to make an account for Common App and set the biographical / profile information.
- Think about finances
- Every school has a financial aid calculator. If you input all of the information, it will give an estimate about how much you will be paying if you get accepted into the school. I would definitely recommend completing it so you know what you’re getting into when you start applying. This also relates with scholarships. Make sure you apply to different scholarships.
SENIOR YEAR – YEAR FOUR
Important Events / Dates:
Commonapp opens – August 1
Start applying! Make sure you write all of your essays on a Google Doc and not in the interface, because you can edit them easier.
FAFSA/CSS Opens – October 1
This is when you start inputting all of the tax information. Whenever your parents or your guardian files taxes every year, there should be a form that has all of the information you need. All you need to do is take from the paper and put it on the FAFSA website.
- UC App Opens – November 1
- Early Applications – Around November
- Regular Decision – Due around New Year’s for most schools
SAT/ACT – before December
- Take the SAT / ACT again after you studied over the summer and have refined your craft.
AP tests – May
Not as important as Junior year’s scores because you’re probably going to have your decision by this date.
Interviews are probably going to start happening after you apply. Usually, interviewers are chill and just want to get to know you. It’s not like a debate or anything, it’s a standard conversation just to get to know what type of person you are. If you don’t get an interview, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically rejected. Letters of Recommendation are extremely important. Choose teachers that you really like and have worked with. These should be letters that are not cookie-cutter, but unique to you. It should have experiences that the teacher remembers about you, what you’re like, etc.
After everything is over:
You play the waiting game. It will feel painful. It will feel excruciating. You keep doubting if you will get in, then if you don’t. On Decision Day, record the moment. You don’t have to post it! If you get accepted, when times get stressful, you can watch the video over again and remember the joy it felt when you first opened it.
If you get accepted:
- Join the Facebook group to meet people like you.
- If your school has one, post a pic on the “Class of” Instagram page to get people to learn more about you
- Make Instagram group chats with other people in your class so you can interact with them
- Khan Academy, for everything school related. Definitely use this for SATs and AP tests, because it’s completely free and actually works.
- Go on r/ApplyingToCollege to talk with people that are in the same situation as you. If your friends or family members can’t relate with you and you need to vent, this is the place to do it. They also have funny memes on Wednesdays and it’s a place where you can de-stress from all the turmoil that is going on.
- Making a separate email for only college. When you start applying you will be flooded with emails from every single college in existence. Make sure you create a college related one (and don’t name it some weird thing like dreamstan5410 or something like that, make it professional) so that your personal email doesn’t get spammed.
- Watch YouTube videos where people talk about their experience, it helped me understand what colleges want.
- Look at the average SAT / GPA statistics for schools that you want to apply to, most schools post all of that information on their website. You will get an understanding of the other people that will also be applying and their stats.
- Make a physical calendar and get all of the deadlines written on it so you know what to do and when. Pace yourself and make sure everything is on time.
This is important so it deserves its own section.
- If there is anything to take away from this, it’s this: the essay is arguably the most important part of the process. This is your chance to show the admissions officers who you really are. Prior to this, they’ve just been seeing a bunch of numbers on a screen, and not you: a real person that has creative thoughts and an interesting personality. This is your time to show who you really are.
- Be you! Do not try to be someone that you are not. If you write about yourself in a way that seems “fake”, the readers can see through that.
- Write about stories that are important to you. Show how you have grown throughout your life.
- Don’t have someone else write your essay for you. I’ve read some Reddit stories where some parents wrote their essays for them and they used third-person instead of first. Do not let this be you!
- There are some topics that are overused like the sports injury topic and the immigration story that some people say to NEVER to use, but to be honest, if it truly means a lot to you, you can frame it in a way that shows your growth. If you think will be meaningful to your application, then by all means put it in. However, these topics are frowned upon for a reason, so use them at your own risk.
- Pace yourself – spread out time so that you’re not scrambling before deadlines.
- Try not to use a thesaurus all the time to make your essay flowery and show that you use advanced vocabulary. Remember that this is a high schooler writing the essay! If you make it cluttered with big words it will seem forced.
- Have different people read your essays. This can range from a student that you know from a previous year, a teacher, a friend, even your parents. This is because everyone will have different opinions on it and it will be insightful to see what people say works, and what does not work. However, you always have the final word on what does and does not go into that application.