At Spark Admissions, we find that the best way to overcome feelings of anxiety and uncertainty is to start planning for the college process as early as freshman or sophomore year. College applications are due in the fall/early winter of senior year, so there are essentially three years of high school for students to differentiate themselves and demonstrate to colleges how they are unique.
Three ways to plan ahead are as follows:
- Begin researching and visiting colleges at the end of sophomore year. By this time, students should have an idea of how they are performing in high school and a general sense of what is important to them in terms of their college environment (e.g., small classes, ample research opportunities). To begin, we suggest that students generate a list of colleges that match their academic and extracurricular profile. Next, students should visit schools to determine what environment they like and what types of college programs or surroundings they find most stimulating. After all, the goal is to find (and get into) a college that is the right match for each individual.
- Develop a plan for standardized test taking. To determine whether a student is better suited to take the SAT or ACT, take a baseline test of each, compare their scores, and also see if there is one test that the student prefers. Then, study only for the test that has been determined to be the better fit for the student. In addition, beginning sophomore year, students should plan when to take the SAT Subject Tests. Students typically take SAT Subject Tests at the end of their sophomore and junior years, with the exception of Math, which can be taken throughout the year (RSM will tell students when they are ready to take Math Subject Tests). Practically speaking, it is difficult to find the time to prepare for, take, and possibly retake SAT/ACTs and SAT Subject tests. Therefore, it is critical to create (and stick to!) a detailed timeline.
- Develop a focused area of interest. Colleges want to see that students have a specialized area (e.g., math, music, neuroscience, physics) in which they have succeeded and are unique. This does not mean that they should be in every club and do a little bit of everything. In contrast, colleges want to see a focused student who has taken a deep interest in a particular area and has succeeded in that area. This is how students can differentiate themselves.
College admissions, like any other process, is best handled with careful planning and preparation. Working through these three steps, along with other college preparation activities, will alleviate stress and increase students’ chances of getting into the college that is the best match for them.
Spark Admissions is a college admissions consulting firm for families seeking expert guidance throughout the college preparation and application process. Located in Newton, MA, and serving students worldwide, Spark Admissions is led by Harvard doctorate Rachel Rubin and University of Chicago MBA Rachel Blankstein.