Lifestyle

Juniors planning for college

Summer offers a great opportunity to prepare for college. College consultant Joan Franklin offers this advice to commonly asked questions.

Q: As a junior, what should I be doing this summer in terms of college planning? I don’t even know where to start.

A: You are very wise to be thinking of using your summer for college planning. Too many students push college out of their minds as soon as school ends. They find themselves scrambling when they are in the midst of their senior year, and then they are too busy with schoolwork, sports and activities to put in the time college planning requires. Summer also offers a great opportunity to put in some hours each day to prepare for future standardized testing and to research colleges either in person or on the Web.

For students who have elected not to take an SAT prep course over the summer, there are many opportunities to take practice tests with the Princeton Review’s “11 Real Practice Test for the New SAT” or through a Kaplan SAT review guide. Both books, along with other test prep books, are currently available at the Mercer Island Library or Island Books. Schools such as Yale are moving away from requiring SAT IIs if you have submitted ACT scores with the writing component, it might make sense to practice and register for the ACT test to eliminate testing frenzy in the fall. Most colleges will accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT.

In terms of college planning, the first place to start is to take an honest assessment of where you are in terms of grades and scores. You should have some indication by the end of your junior year of your overall GPA and at least one set of scores on your SAT and/or ACT test.

While college admission is based on more than simply grades and test scores, it does help to narrow your search and look at schools that are within your reach. Simply go online or to a most recent edition of a college guide such as the Fiske or College Handbook published by College Board to read the profile of admitted students. Most books will give you the range of scores on the math and verbal components of the SAT and the average GPA score or will share the mid 50 percent test scores and grades. The Web site will also give percentages of students admitted, which can help you determine how selective a particular college is. Recognize that this has been the most competitive year yet in terms of college admissions, so the profile of students for this year’s incoming class might be even stronger than in previous years.

All too often, students come to me with a list of “dream schools” that they have heard about though peers or upperclassmen. While some of these schools might be an appropriate choice, it is vital to create a list specific to your own interests and needs. As college admission becomes more selective each year, it is critical to include a full range of possibilities so you have created a list with schools that you are most likely to get into, probably can get into and a few "dream schools." You must find a minimum of six to eight schools that you will not only have a good chance of being accepted at, but also more importantly, be happy to attend.

The advantage of starting in the summer is that it gives you time to go online and peruse course offerings, types of majors, course requirements within the major and the general education requirements that are specific to each school. College Web sites will also give you a feel for the types of activities, clubs, sports and housing options that are available. Hopefully as you begin to narrow down your choices, you might be able to visit a few of the schools on your list or at least spend time at both large and small colleges in the local vicinity to gain a better perspective how each might work for you.

While the common application (generic application that is used by many colleges) is not available until July 1, it is a good idea to research online what supplemental material will be required by each individual school you are considering as each school might ask for a different essay. This information is available online for each college by clicking the admission link. I tell my students to begin to brainstorm ideas for college essays over the summer with the hope that many of them will have at least some rough drafts ready for the fall that can possibly be reviewed with their English teacher or college counselor. As soon as the common application is available, it makes sense to at least complete and save the demographic sections so you can concentrate on completing the short answers and essays in the fall or early winter.

Summer is also a great time to write up your resume. While this material is usually covered on the application itself, a resume allows you more space to elaborate your activities, honors, community service, interests and hobbies. This is your opportunity to convey to colleges what type of person you are as well as what you make time for in your life. As college admission officers put together a class, it is often this material that will enhance your chance of admission. Even if you elect to not submit your resume to the colleges themselves, it is necessary to have an updated resume. It will not only help you complete all of your applications, but will be vital to share with your teachers who will be writing recommendations for you and with those you might be interviewing with.

Lastly, summer is a great opportunity to contact students who currently attend schools you are considering who might be home for the summer. Nothing replaces a firsthand account from fellow students who are willing to share their experiences.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an Independent College Consulting Practice.(www.thecollegesource.org) She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at 206 232-5626 or at joanfranklin@thecollegesource.org.

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