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Back to School: College Prep Tips You’ll Need Starting This Year
Preparing for Application Season
As a high school senior, there’s a lot of planning and preparation to do before starting your final year of high school. There are some things all college-bound seniors have to do: begin their applications, ask teachers for recommendations, get their transcripts in order, and so on. Lately, there are several items in the news that have changed the college game — from states offering free tuition to colleges rescinding offers over students’ behavior — and still others that serve as reminders for how to navigate application season. Read on to learn about a few of the most important back-to-school dos for your senior year.
Clean Up Your Social Media Presence
While you may not think your social media presence can have such a dramatic impact on your future, that’s exactly what happened to at least 10 would-be Harvard students. Recently, Harvard rescinded several acceptances over offensive and explicit memes the students had posted in a Facebook group.
You should, of course, avoid posting anything inappropriate or offensive online at all. Assume that admissions officers and future employers are going to see it. Many do, in fact, check your online presence before accepting or hiring you. If you have anything you deem borderline, get rid of it. Err on the side of caution.
This includes incidences that may not seem all that bad, but might reflect poorly on you (even if your peers are posting similar things), such as pictures involving alcohol, drugs, or anything illegal or discriminatory. Even if you use a different name or just your first name, there’s still a chance colleges might find your accounts. Set your accounts to private if you feel like you can’t be without social media, and be extra careful with everything you post.
Check out Do Colleges Check Your Facebook?: How Much Due Diligence Colleges Actually Perform on Your App to learn more about how your social media presence could impact your applications, and what to do about it.
Check College Funding for Your State
Several states recently began in-state tuition programs. For example, New York’s Excelsior Program offers free tuition to SUNY (State University of New York) or CUNY (City University of New York) schools for students whose families earn $125,000 per year or less with standard assets. The rules are a bit nuanced, so be sure to investigate the scholarship thoroughly to make sure you qualify.
Additionally, Rhode Island’s Promise scholarship grants students free tuition to the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI). Oregon and Tennessee have similar programs, and other cities and states have plans in the works. Be sure to check funding plans for your state to see if you might qualify for free or partially-funded tuition.
Remember that most state colleges and universities offer large merit scholarships for state residents who have exemplary high school records, which can make college much more affordable for many families. This might be a good route to consider if you’re concerned about the cost of private schools. Make sure to look into financial aid options for colleges on your list as well.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
The University of California, Irvine, rescinded nearly 500 admissions offers because of failures to meet deadlines. While about half of these acceptances were later reinstated, the incident serves as a reminder that you need to stay on top of deadlines during the entire college process. That includes deadlines that occur after your admission, and ones you may consider other people’s responsibility.
Try using an online or physical planner to keep track of deadlines. The blog post How Using a Planner or Calendar Can Make Your Life Easier has some useful tips for doing so. Also remind anyone involved in your college process (such as your teacher recommenders, guidance counselor, and parents) when your deadlines are and when they need to turn in any paperwork. Set daily reminders on your phone or calendar if this helps you remember important dates.
Create a Study Plan to Stay on Top of Your Schoolwork
Applying to college is a lot of work. While you’re busily completing your essays and applications, you also need to maintain a strong academic record. Remember that senior year grades — including the ones you earn after your college acceptance — matter. If your grades drop significantly during your senior year, colleges can rescind your acceptance.
This happened to a number of accepted students who expected to matriculate at UC Irvine, and while many students who missed paperwork deadlines had their acceptances reinstated, some whose admission had been revoked do to poor academic performance did not.
You can avoid this scenario by creating a plan that accommodates your schoolwork and applications. Check out Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School for advice on getting started. Also be aware that the Common App offers new features to help you stay organized, such as allowing students to upload documents directly through Google Drive. Alternatively, students may use the locker feature of the Coalition Application, allowing them to store documents they will need for their college applications before their senior year.
Planning to Follow a Nontraditional Route? Research Your Options
The profile of the typical college student is changing, with more first-generation and older students matriculating than ever before. To account for this, many colleges have created special programs for nontraditional students. There are also more funding options available.
For instance, the Forever GI Bill restores education benefits for veterans, helping them pay for college. New benefits for veterans include no expiration date for education post-service. So if you’re planning on taking some time off in between high school and college — to go to the military, travel, take a gap year, and so on — you can expect some new accommodations when you start your higher ed career. Read Can I Attend a Top College if I’m a Nontraditional Student? to learn about some of the special programs available.
Remember: This Year Is Different
This year will be a dramatic departure from your previous high school years. You’ll need to take college preparation work seriously, along with maintaining a strong academic record. In addition to the above suggestions, make sure you have your college list narrowed down, research all the schools on your list, note deadlines and requirements, and start working on your application materials. You’ll be a college freshman before you know it!
Looking for help with your college applications? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process.
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