Monthly College Search Update
Welcome to our monthly update on the college search and application process. Each month, we'll be updating this page and including it in our newsletter, so that all of our subscribers can have access to summaries of what they should be thinking about at this point in the college search process.
These updates will mostly focus on the junior and senior classes. Freshmen and sophomores should focus on maintaining good grades, academically pushing themselves, getting involved in extracurriculars, and making sure their summers incorporate meaningful experiences for growth.
Class of 2025
Refine Your "Fit Formula"
Continue Formulating a College List
Begin Developing Your Activities List
Create a College Appropriate Email
Register for Standardized Tests
Start Thinking About Letters of Recommendation
Refine Your "Fit Formula": Now is the time of year for juniors to start to home in on what college fit might look like for them. This includes considering finances for college, size of a school, academic culture, majors/minors, location, and campus culture (amongst other, more detailed items students can explore as they start generating their college list). It's also important for students to have adaptability and flexibility in what they are looking for in schools. Who a student is now is different from who they were four years ago, and who they will be four years from now. Growth and change during the college process are healthy and normal for students as they search for their vision of College Fit.
Begin Formulating a College List: The College List is the list of schools to which a student plans to apply. We anticipate students having a fairly finalized college list by June, when we begin the essay writing process, so there is no need to rush. As a reminder, there are over 4,000 colleges in the USA alone, and most students will apply to somewhere between 8 and 12 of them. Students who work with Virtual College Counselors are expected to build a balanced college list, including likely, target, and reach schools (terms that imply the likelihood of admission). Regardless of which category each school falls into, every school on a student's list should be one they would be excited to attend. Lastly, much like College Fit, it is normal and healthy for the College List to develop and change over time.
Relevant Blogs: How to Research Colleges to Build a Balanced List
Begin Developing Your Activities List: March is a great time to begin crafting your activities list for the Common Application. Other applications may require a similar list, with different questions or character limits (like the University of California application), but the Common App activities list can serve as a solid foundation to build upon when needed. There are only 10 spaces, and the description of each activity is limited to 150 characters (that's right, barely over half a Tweet). In general, the activities list is simply a detailed resume highlighting how students have engaged outside of the classroom throughout high school.
Create a College-Appropriate Email: If you haven't created a professional-looking email address yet, now is the time to do that. We strongly recommend that students create/use a Gmail address for all things college-related, including applications, scholarships, and correspondence with schools. Many students gravitate toward utilizing their high school email addresses because it is the one they check most often, but those addresses cease to exist the second you graduate, and we want to be sure that colleges are able to reach you when needed. We recommend an address that includes some semblance of your name (specifically last, if not first and last) and some arrangement of meaningful numbers. Often, your contact information can be the first impression you leave on an admissions representative, so firstname.lastname@example.org isn't the most appropriate email to use. And it should go without saying, but please start checking this new email address daily and update any accounts that may be using a less appropriate or school email address.
Register for Standardized Tests: We are excited to be navigating a continued test-optional college landscape, but we still recommend that juniors take the ACT and/or SAT at least once, in order to keep all admission and scholarship doors open. Many high schools offer an in-school sitting for the SAT, and we recommend all juniors participate when offered. Outside of that school exam, there are several opportunities to take the ACT or SAT before summer break. You can register for the ACT HERE and the SAT HERE. Many students and families have asked whether or not they should take the exam with the essay portion, and our recommendation is to take it without the essay. The SAT essay is only available during the in-school exam, and there aren’t many colleges that require the essay portion of the exam anymore (if you're interested in one of the military academies, however, you'll need to take the ACT with essay if taking the ACT).
Start Thinking About Letters of Recommendation: You won't start requesting letters until the end of Junior year, but since you'll be asking your junior-year teachers for their recommendation, now is a good time to ensure your teachers know who you are. Ask questions and participate in class, hone your study skills to perform well in your courses, and start considering which teachers may know you best. Some colleges specify which subject areas a teacher letter of recommendation can come from, others will allow you to choose. As you're building your college list, start taking note of this requirement so your decision can be easy and more informed at the end of the school year.
Class of 2024
Check Your College Portals
Keep Us (and Schools) Updated
Plan to Visit Top Choice Colleges
Check Your College Portals: While many colleges will publish on social media and keep students informed of when decisions will be released, others won't. It's important to keep tabs on your prospective student portals to ensure all pieces of your application have been received, and also because some schools will post admission decisions before informing you to check.
Keep Us (and Schools) Updated: It likely goes without saying, but we want to keep hearing from you about all decisions. We are here to celebrate the offers of admission, and to navigate deferrals and waitlists. We are also here to support you if you hear less favorable news from your schools. In any case, we are so proud of the work seniors have put into this process, and we know you all will have many incredible options on the table by the time you're tasked with making a final decision in April/May. Additionally, as more decisions roll in and you begin to narrow down your choices of where you want to attend, you can let colleges know if you are enrolling elsewhere. Usually, there's a spot in your prospective student portal to decline an offer of admission. If there isn't, you can send a short email to the admissions office letting them know that you have chosen to attend elsewhere, while thanking them for their time and consideration in reviewing your application.
Plan to Visit Top Choice Colleges: Once you've narrowed down your top few choices, if you haven't had a chance to yet, it's time to plan a visit to the campuses. Getting a chance to explore the campus, try their food, and ask questions in person can help students determine which school may be the best fit for them. Oftentimes, these final college visits help make the decision process easier. Most colleges have an Admitted Students Day (or weekend), where students will have a chance to engage on campus beyond the typical information session and campus tour, and we encourage you to attend these events (if they are financially feasible) for the institutions of interest.
FAFSA Updates: As of the time we are writing this, the Department of Education has not yet determined when they will begin to process the submitted FAFSAs beyond that it will start to happen this month. As a result of this delay, and the resulting delays in releasing financial aid offer letters, many schools have shifted their deadlines to enroll to May 15th or June 1st. Be sure to keep tabs on the deadlines for your schools of interest!