The Great Search — Looking for a College in Your Senior Year

1 Aug

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith most school systems prepared to open later this month, students are enjoying their final few weeks of summer vacation. But for those who are about to enter their senior year in high school, thoughts of which college they will be attending a year from now are also sprinkled into their psyche.

Alexis Haakonsen, director of admissions at Southern, says the end of summer is a good time to start planning in earnest for the college search/admissions process. Without the pressure of daily classes, as well as sports and club activities, an effective action plan can more easily be put together.

As a guideline, Haakonsen divides the process into four components:

*Academic preparation. “This is, or at least should be, the number one priority for students,” she says. While the first three years of your high school transcript have been written, an impressive senior year can sometimes make the difference between getting into the college of your choice and having to settle for a school that was not among your first few. It may be a good idea to get a jump on the start of the school year by reviewing last year’s notes if you are taking an advanced-level class this year (such as Spanish 3 or Chemistry 2); doing some reading/practicing in advance, if you know which books and the course material you are going to see this year.

*Researching colleges. Find out important information about colleges that you are considering – everything from where they are located to majors and minors offered to scholarship availability to general admissions requirements. It is a good idea to prioritize the schools you are considering, if you haven’t already done so.

*Visiting colleges. “Students really need to get on the campuses they are seriously considering and see how they fit,” Haakonsen says. This process is much easier if you have narrowed your selections to a manageable number, especially if the schools you are considering are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Ideally, some college visits are done during the summer before your senior year, if not earlier. But if you haven’t visited some schools yet, it is a good idea to start planning to do so.

*Preparing the college application portfolio. In addition to standard paperwork and letters of recommendation, this includes the college essay. The essay can play a key role in determining your future school admissions, so be sure to give it your all. It may take multiple drafts before the essay exemplifies your best writing. But consider that an investment in your future. Don’t be afraid to let someone else – a guidance counselor, teacher, parent or even a friend — read your essay before submission. This doesn’t mean letting them write it for you, but rather providing feedback so that you can improve your own essay.

So, how do admissions offices ultimately decide whether you are accepted, placed on a waiting list, or are politely rejected? Haakonsen says each school proceeds in a distinctive manner, but that generally speaking, a “holistic approach” is used. “At Southern, we look at everything during an application review – high school grades, SAT/ACT test scores, essays, letters of recommendation and more,” she says. “The numbers don’t tell us the whole story – we want to know the whole person to help determine if that student will be successful at our particular institution.

“My main advice to students and parents as they are starting the college search process is to have fun! This is an exciting time in their lives and they should enjoy it,” Haakonsen adds. “There are so many great colleges and universities out there, students have many terrific opportunities to explore.”

She recommends the following link as being helpful to students entering their senior year, as well as for their parents:
http://www.collegebound.net/article/v/18956/college-preparationsenior-year-timeline/

And another link for a broader, multi-year approach in selecting a college:
http://www.petersons.com/college-search/planning-list-students-parents.aspx

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