Robbye Fox, Independent Educational Consultant, The College Lady
- Focus on Academics — The most important task all underclassmen can do is to focus on schoolwork. Colleges look closely at junior year courses and grades and want to see you on an upward trend this year. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get help, whether it’s through peer tutoring or working with a private tutor (if you need some help identifying one, let me know). Asking a teacher for additional help and clarification can also help you establish a connection/relationship with a teacher who you may want to write your recommendation letter next year, even if it’s a class in which you feel you’re struggling. Teachers who see you working hard and asking for extra help this year can write about your initiative and work ethic next year.
- Develop a Testing Plan — Whether you work with a private test prep company or not, this fall is the best time to determine which test (ACT or SAT) is the best fit for you and which testing dates you will prepare for. It’s best to plan to take your selected test at least twice and to prep prior to your first sitting. There are lots of free resources either online or through test prep companies for taking practice ACT and SAT tests to determine which test may be the best fit for you, including Kahn Academy for SAT and the ACT Academy for ACT.
- Start researching colleges — Check out local college fairs, visit nearby campuses and utilize online search engines such as BigFuture.com, collegexpress.org, or your high school Naviance account. Think about how you might visit ones that you’re interested in over the coming year. If visiting over school holidays, be sure to register for tours and information sessions early as these do book up. If you want help creating a college list, consider talking to your school counselor or reaching out to an independent educational consultant. Be sure to keep good notes on all of your research as it does all start to run together. The free Evernote or Onenote apps can be great for this.
- Practice life skills — Soon enough, you’ll be on your own, handling your own money, laundry, health care, alarm, calendar, etc., so start practicing now. Colleges are reporting freshmen students who are academically skilled, but increasingly unprepared for managing basic life matters. Mom and Dad, it’s time to start letting go and handing over control wherever possible. When asked for help, try responding with “How do you think you could handle that?” or “What’s your plan for that?” See this New York Times article or this Washington Parent one for more tips.
- Enjoy your extracurriculars — Whether participating in a school club, sport, part-time job, internship, music or art activity, spend your free time actively exploring areas of interest and looking for opportunities to demonstrate responsibility and leadership. Colleges want students who explore their interests and have demonstrated committed participation in a few activities — focus on depth not breadth.