How to Apply to Universities as a High School Student
When you’re applying to fourteen schools with eleven different requirements each and three application platforms, it’s easy to lose track of what you need to do by when. That’s why we’ve constructed a general checklist organized by deadline and urgency, along with an overview of the essentials.
This period lasts from September to January of your senior year.
You’re coming down to the wire. You haven’t slept since eight cups of coffee ago. Last you checked (which is probably now), there’re twenty seven and a half minutes until the Regular Decision deadline, and you’re still editing supplement six out of thirty five.
Hopefully, things won’t turn out that stressfully for you. Here are some dates to keep in mind around this time period.
By September, you should know whether you plan on taking more standardized tests, and also begin deciding whether you’ll apply Early Decision I or Early Action. You should also have a general idea of how many schools you’ll be applying to, and begin narrowing down your options. Preferably, you will have asked your teachers for recommendations before the summer, but if you haven’t, now is a decent time – any later may seem inappropriate. You should also be taking as many upper-level/AP/IB courses as you can, while keeping in mind the workload of your other tasks, such as those looming college applications and, hopefully, your handful of extracurricular leadership positions. Do make sure to maintain your GPA, as your final semester’s grades matter the most.
If you’ve decided to go the route of Early Decision I or Early Action, then you should begin to make headway on your Common Application by mid-October. You should also work on the supplements for the school of your choice as of this time. Do note that November is your last opportunity to have a standardized test (SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests, or the ACT) count towards the Early application.
By mid-December, you should have finalized the list of schools you want to apply to and have your letters of recommendation in hand already. If you haven’t written it already, your Common App essay should be well on its way, and you should be mostly finished with the majority of your supplements. Your school will be sending out your official documents around this time.
You should begin to pick up pace around the end of your sophomore year, while keeping in mind that you want to kick into full gear at the end of your junior year.
You’re probably gloating in envy as you watch your upperclassmen friends struggle under the workload of APs, college applications, and standardized testing.
Don’t gloat too long – unless if you prepare correctly this year, that’ll be you in twelve quick months.
The summer between your sophomore and junior years is a good time to prepare for your SATs or ACTs, whichever you plan on taking. If you have a list of schools that you’re thinking of applying to, it’s also a smart idea to tour your colleges either this summer, or the summer between your junior and senior years.
In the first half of your junior year, remember to take as many upper-level/AP/IB classes as you think you can manage. Sign up for a standardized test in this time period – many students don’t do as well as they hope on the first go and testing earlier gives them the opportunity to try again more later on. Attend and actively participate in several clubs that you’re interested in and passionate about, while keeping in mind that taking on a position of responsibility (officer, captain, president, manager, etc) could strengthen your portfolio considerably.
In the second half of your junior year, maintain your GPA and your level of participation in the clubs you enjoy. If you believe you can do better on certain standardized tests, sign up for your second attempt now (if you take AP classes, keep in mind the exams take place in May, and schedule your SAT around them). Also, maintain your relations with two or three teachers that you feel can convincingly write about your personality, work ethic, and your other admirable traits – preferably, you’ll want to ask them for letters of recommendation around the end of your junior year.
Over summer, you’ll want to consider the type of schools you’d like and create a working list, while also keeping an eye to the Common Application and thinking about what you’d like to tell colleges about yourself. These hot months are also a good time to check specific requirements for certain schools you’re relatively certain about applying to – for example, some schools require specific SAT IIs.
Starting freshman year, there are several things you can do to round out and strengthen your application.
As a freshman just out of middle school, there are some immediate actions and plans you can make that will help you immensely later on. The easiest, and perhaps most obvious and overstated one, is working on your GPA. While colleges sometimes forgive a lower freshman GPA (transitioning can be tough), a dedicated student with a clear plan for the future can showcase his or her foresight through hard work early on. Another smart thing to begin working on are extracurriculars – don’t join every single club and community service opportunity that comes along, but focus on a few that you feel passionate about, and a few others that you just find entertaining to take part in.
Also, a smart and simple (but simultaneously intimidating) action you can take is to attend any college fairs or visiting college talks as top schools often tour the country. When they come by your city or school, attending their presentations and even going up to talk to the representatives at the end can help you get a better picture of how schools vary. This also gives you a chance to leave a (hopefully positive) impression with an official who may read your application.