A survival guide to college preparations

No matter if you are a freshman or a senior, college prep is an important aspect of school life. Students may not realize that the college application process outlines all their achievements since freshman year; therefore, it is important to take every year seriously. Here are some tips by grade level to get yourself ahead.

Freshman Year

The transition from middle school to high school is a significant milestone in a student’s academic career. During freshman year, students should focus on building a strong foundation. Long term involvement in clubs, sports, and community service reassure colleges that the applicant is an involved and well-rounded individual. Joining a variety of clubs last minute will give colleges the impression that you are padding your resume, being a member over a long period of time shows dedication and interest in the school and community.

“Colleges are less concerned with the number of organizations that you join, but rather what you do as a member of those organizations. Choose activities that you are passionate about and take leadership roles,” CAP advisor Stephanie Miles said.

Overloading your schedule and extracurricular activities during your years as an upperclassman will not only fail to impress but will overwhelm the student. Colleges look for improvement and growth throughout high school- make sure your transcript demonstrates this. Plan accordingly from the beginning and aim for rigorous and balanced schedules. Build a strong relationship with your mentors and teachers, as they may be a recommender later on.

MAST will offer the PSAT on Wednesday, October 11. This will give you a general idea of your strong suits prior to the SAT/ACT. A great way to become involved and ahead of the game early on is to begin to volunteer and look into DE and internships.

Sophomore Year

Sophomore year is often dismissed as an uneventful year because it happens to fall between the immersion into a completely new environment in Freshman year, and the beginning of college preparation in Junior year. This is a misconception; college applications outline a student’s achievements throughout their entire high school career and it is important to make every year count.

Students should expect to take the PSAT for the second time. This year, the PSAT is scheduled for Wednesday, October 11. Make sure to review your scores, know your strengths and weaknesses and start working on correcting them, as you may qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Continue to focus on making good grades, as well as working on community service, sports and clubs. Plan to take rigorous courses Junior year. Start familiarizing yourself with Naviance and getting to know your counselors; both will be key aspects of Junior year.

As always, take advantage of the summertime to get involved in Dual Enrollment, FLVS, internships, community service and summer jobs.

Junior Year

Junior year is notorious for being the most important year of high school. This is the last transcript colleges might see, therefore, students should focus on maintaining high grades and showing leadership inside and outside of school. This is the year to start asking yourself college oriented questions regarding size, academics, ranking, location, and cost. To students planning on applying to specific majors, it is recommended to research the schools providing it to check if there are any prerequisites.

Begin to show interest in colleges by contacting college representatives and participating in the meetings offered at MAST through Naviance. CAP counselors alert students of upcoming opportunities and events on Naviance, other resources such as questionnaires and recommendations are available on the website.

“We already have at least 40 visits from college admissions counselors scheduled for the next few months. These presentations will take place in the CAP Office in room 111. Students need to log into Naviance to register for these visits,” Miles said.

Aside from involvement and interest, there is one very important factor in the dreaded college application process, the SAT/ACT. Students should plan to test at least once in the spring. BeckCollegePrep partners with MAST to provide affordable test prep. Taking the test cold is not recommended.

This year is the last year taking the PSAT, it is also the year that students have the possibility of qualifying for National Merit Scholarship.  These scholarships and distinctions help students stand out when applying for colleges and programs such as QuestBridge, Posse, Silver Knight, etc.

Familiarize yourself with CommomApp and Coalition, you will often visit them your senior year. The summer before senior year, focus on community outreach, self-improvement, and the requirements for college application.

Senior Year

Senior year is a time of excitement, as well as stress. While there will be lots of perks and fun activities, there will also be applications, deadlines and essays to deal with. In order to cope with the chaos, students should remain focused and organized; this is not the time to procrastinate.

Start by doing thorough research on colleges and narrowing down your list of schools to apply to. This list should consist of about 10 schools or less and should include reach, target and safety schools. Keep in mind that safety schools are most likely to provide scholarships.

Retake the SAT and ACT and make sure to always prepare for the test before you take it.

Keep track of deadlines for applications as well as scholarships. It may be helpful to put them all on a calendar in your room, or write them down on post its and stick them to a wall.

It is important to show interest in a school by being in constant contact with them. Some schools do keep track of how often a student reaches out members of the faculty. According to Stephanie Miles, a good way to do this is to, “meet the college admissions officers when they visit MAST….[and] follow up with an email to the college admissions counselors.”

When it comes to financial aid, make sure to do your research and apply on time. Applications for Bright Futures will be done with the help of the CAP counselors. FAFSA and CSS open in October and should be completed as early as possible.

All acceptances and scholarships must be reported to the CAP counselors.

Finally, when May 1 comes around, it will be time to make a registration deposit for your chosen college.