A 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 2023
Review High School Class Requirements for Graduation & College Apps
Request Letters of Recommendation
Standardized Testing (What You Need to Know)
Create your Common App (and UC Apply) Account(s)
Finalize Main Common App Essay
Make Progress on Supplemental Essays
Review High School Class Requirements for Graduation & College Apps: Now that it’s September, it’s time to double check that your current class schedule includes the courses that you need to be eligible for graduation in the spring, in addition to meeting minimum requirements for your colleges of interest. If there are any discrepancies, it’s important to catch them within the first few weeks of school, when schedules can still be adjusted.
Request Letters of Recommendation: Whether you requested letters of recommendation in the spring, or plan to this fall, now’s the time to engage with the teachers from whom you plan to request letters. Many high schools also require students to complete a form or two to provide more context for recommendation letters from counselors and teachers. Be sure to stay on top of your school’s requirements and remind your teachers and counselors of your application deadlines. Remember, all of your applications should be in at least two weeks prior to the institutional deadline, so you can also let your teachers know that is your plan of action. You do not need to delay submitting your applications until your recommendations are in, though! Learn more about requesting letters of recommendation and our suggestions on who to ask for recommendations on our blog.
Standardized Testing (What You Need to Know): When completing applications for schools that are test optional, you will be asked if you would like to submit test scores. For most schools, you will NOT be able to change your mind later, so if you’re not sure of your scores yet or if you’re not sure you want to submit them as part of the admission review process, please don’t submit your applications yet. You can learn more about college testing policies on our blog.
Register for Fall Standardized Tests: If you haven’t done so already, don’t delay registering for upcoming ACTs and SATs. In order to have your scores ready by early action deadlines, we strongly recommend completing all testing by the end of September. Early October test results may be available on time, but it may also be cutting it close if schools begin reading applications prior to the early deadlines. If you're unsure about taking the ACT/SAT, you can find our thoughts about test-optional admissions and if you should take the test or not on our blog.
Create your Common App (and UC Apply) Account(s): If you haven’t done so already, create your application accounts as soon as possible. Just a reminder, if you’re applying to the Cal States (including Cal Poly SLO), the application won’t open until October 1st, so you can’t begin working on that yet. Be sure to use your college appropriate email address (not your high school email address) to create these accounts, because that email is how colleges will be communicating with you moving forward. Sit down with a parent or guardian to complete the basic components of the application, including their work and education experiences. It’s also helpful to have a second set of eyes on the basic information, such as your name, address, and social security number (because it’s a huge pain when one of these is incorrect, and the colleges can’t match documents rendering your application incomplete). You can download a helpful step-by-step PDF HERE.
Finalize Main Common App Essay: Students who have been working with us independently on essays should have finalized their Common App essay by the end of August. Students who recently began working with us will finalize them before the end of September. For students who are not working with us directly, be sure to review your essay for grammatical and spelling errors, as well as flow, structure, and purpose. We recommend having at least one other person read the essay to ensure that it is easily digestible. Remember, the admission officer reading your application will likely spend fewer than two minutes on the essay (often, closer to 30 seconds!), so it should be easy to follow. Once you’ve verified that the essay is free of errors and under the word count limit, feel free to copy and paste it directly into the Common App. There is an option to upload it directly from your Google Drive account, but we recommend against doing so, because it leaves room for error.
Make Progress on Supplemental Essays: Many colleges have additional writing components called Supplemental Essays. These are typically shorter (50-300 words), but some allow students to write extensively to answer their prompts (Tulane and College of Charleston, for example). Any supplemental essay that is labeled “optional” but asks a question about you and/or your interest in the school is not truly optional. The only real optional essays are the ones about disciplinary action (if you haven’t been arrested, convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, been suspended or expelled, etc., you really don’t have to write that one). We advise all students to create a document or spreadsheet to house all supplemental essay prompts and their word (or character) limits. There is often overlap in questions schools and programs ask, including “why are you interested in our school?”, “Why are you interested in studying ____?”, etc. Putting all the prompts and their word limits in one place will allow you to see the overlap easily, and structure your response to best fit all similar prompts, in order to work smarter not harder. If you still need help navigating common supplemental essay prompts, we have two helpful blogs on “Why This College” and “Why This Major” supplemental essays.
Class of 2024
Connect with Teachers
Explore Learning Styles and Hone Study Skills
Begin Recording Activity Participation
Class Selection: Now that school is back in session and you have your schedule in hand, double check that you’re on track to meet graduation requirements. Junior year coursework should include the most difficult classes in which you can perform well. Remember, junior year grades are the last set of grades colleges are going to see, so your performance in the classroom is paramount to the admissions process. Take tough classes, ask questions and be sure to follow up with your teacher to improve in areas you may feel you are struggling. Students and families often ask our thoughts on AP or IB courses, which you can find in this convenient blog post.
Connect with Teachers: Most colleges require letters of recommendation from junior year teachers, and most often from core classes. Now is the time to connect with your teachers, make sure they get to know you inside and outside of the classroom. They will be writing about how you interact in the classroom, how you engage with your peers, how you contribute to the class they teach and the overall student community, etc. Give them positive reasons to remember your name: ask meaningful questions, accept constructive feedback to improve your skills in the class, and make sure to seek out help if you are struggling with the content of the course.
Explore Learning Styles and Hone Study Skills: Understanding how you learn best will come into play when you begin exploring college options and building your college list. Do you find that you do better in classes where there are more opportunities for hands-on learning (like projects, labs, etc.), or do you find that you retain more information when teachers lecture and you take notes? This is also a great time to really hone your study skills. How much effort do you need to put in outside of the class to do well on exams?
Begin Recording Activity Participation: In the spring, we are going to recommend that students begin drafting a resume of the activities in which they’ve participated in during high school. This resume will ultimately become your activities list, but by the time the spring rolls around, many students forget activities in which they’ve engaged. Future you will thank you for creating a spreadsheet with each activity, and recording the number of hours and frequency of engagement. Activities can include anything from sports (JV/Varsity and Club), music, school clubs, honor society participation, volunteer/service work, paid work, internships, family responsibilities, hobbies, and anything in between. Truthfully, an activity is whatever you spend your time doing when you’re not eating, sleeping, and going to school.