A Letter to College-Bound Underclassmen on Application Advice

  If you are an underclassman, you may be surprised to see a college advice article in January, as opposed to June. But take it from me, a senior who just made it out of the college application process: it’s best to know the ins and outs of applying well before it comes time to hit the send button. Cut and dry, here’s what you need to know:

Your grades matter. Do not rely solely on your junior year grades to get you into college. Freshman and sophomore grades will affect your GPA, and it is much harder to try to raise your GPA junior year than it is to maintain a strong GPA throughout all of high school.

   Start the college process early. Visit and tour colleges during February and April breaks of junior year so that you have an idea of what schools you like before the summer. The summer after junior year is the best time to get ahead on the application process by creating a final list of schools. Have some safeties, and have some reaches. Use Naviance to look up schools that have your specific interests, (if you do not know what Naviance is, make sure you actually pay attention to your guidance counselors when they talk to you junior year — really, pay attention) and then use Google for further research. Write down any school you like, and then try to cut down your list to however many seems appropriate for you. Keep in mind that every school does have an application fee. Here’s a hint: if you cannot see yourself going there, do not apply.

   Know your colleges. Once you have a finalized list of potential schools, research whether or not the schools require the submission of SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests scores (I’ll say it again — check to see if you need to take subject tests). Then, take these tests early, at the end of junior year, to give yourself time to take them more than once. You must separately submit these scores to colleges, and pay for each submission.

   Watch out for hidden supplements. There are often writing requirements within the question section on the Common Application, and they might come as a surprise when you go to submit the application. Create a checklist for every college and start completing it during the summer. Dedicate a couple of summer nights to fill out your common app, and write your college essay (you might be able to guilt your English teacher into letting you use class time to do this in June, or at least have them read your essay to give feedback). Once school starts, it may come as a shock how little time there actually is to tour schools or schedule interviews.

   Keep your parents in the loop. Your parents need to fill out certain financial aid profiles, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profiles, or the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) in order to apply for financial aid. Each profile has a due date, and different colleges require different profiles. Educate yourself, and your parents, on the financial aid process.

   Deadlines are real, but also not real. You must submit all college applications by the deadline listed; however, you do not need to wait until the deadline to submit your application. As soon as you are done with the application, you can submit it to a college. When you do so, make sure to tell your guidance counselor so they can send your transcript to the school. You do not need all of your material sent in at the same time, as long as it all gets there eventually.

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