College Preparation & Planning for Freshmen/Sophomores
Begin thinking about what type of college you will attend. What are the advantages and disadvantages of small, medium, and large colleges or universities? Do you prefer a broad liberal arts school or a university that allows for greater specialization? How far from home will you search? Will you aim for a tier I school? Tier II? If so, what are you doing to prepare for admission to these high tier schools?
Make plans to explore or visit several different types of colleges or universities. At this point, it is most important that you get a feel for the options that may be out there. Once you decide upon the type of school, then you can narrow your search to specific schools. You won’t know if you like the feel of a large or small school unless and until you visit one or two of each. Put aside your pre-existing assumptions, and make the visits. Students often find that their perceptions do not match reality.
One of the most important things you can do now: Make a plan for high school that involves community service, leadership and co-curricular activities. Think about the narrative you will weave together throughout your high school career. In what types of activities will you participate in order to tell that story?
Often, students prepare for the SAT as an 11th or 12th grader by taking a course or reviewing an SAT prep manual. Yet, the best time to prepare for this test is now!
Do you have gaps or lack of understanding in specific areas of math? Now is the time to begin filling them. This is the best way you can improve your high school SAT score on the math portion of the exam. Continue to monitor your math understanding throughout high school. If the class moves on, but you didn’t understand a concept, don’t settle to leave the material behind: seek clarification
Read, read, read! This is the best way to improve your SAT score on the verbal section of the exam. It will also help you develop writing skills. Specifically strive to build your skills in the areas of vocabulary and comprehension.
Begin preparing a college resume that highlights your academic achievements, special honors and awards, as well as your co-curricular, service and leadership involvement.
Develop a deeper understanding about each component of the college admissions process:
1. The SAT/ACT score: What is the range of typical scores for the colleges to which you will apply? What does it mean for a college to be a “reach,” “safety,” or “target” school? Do you understand the structure of the verbal, mathematics, and writing sections of the high school SAT? Do you know what the different is between the SAT and the ACT? The SAT/ACT score is the single most important piece of data in your admissions file because it puts all students on a level playing field (no matter what kind of academic program they attended).
2. The high school transcript and GPA: There are many myths out there related to the high school GPA and transcript. In many states, schools add 1 quality point for honors courses and 2 quality points to the quality points offered for an AP course (i.e. a student can earn a 5.0 or 6.0 for an A, respectively). In North Carolina, we add 0.5 points for an honors course or 1.0 point for an AP or dual enrollment course. Does this mean that students in other states have a “leg up” in the college admissions process? Definitely not. Colleges will consider your transcript within the context of your own school. If you are applying to an elite college and your high school offered six AP courses, then you had better take all six of them. If your high school didn’t offer any, you will not be penalized in the college admissions process. In fact, every transcript sent to colleges is accompanied by a transcript supplement/school profile that includes information about our school’s offerings.
3. The college essay: This provides your best opportunity to show a college or university that you are more than an application, but instead a three-dimensional person who is interesting and well-rounded. If you apply to competitive schools, all applicants will offer a strong GPA and a high SAT/ACT score. The essay provides an opportunity for you to stand out from all of the other applicants.
4. The teacher reference letter or form: Most schools will require at least one, possibly two, references from people who know you well and who can comment on your academic achievements and character.