1. Take the proper classes. You need to take challenging classes all 4 years of high school to be the strongest candidate for selective colleges. This means taking AP or IB classes if you can do well in them.
You should also plan on taking 4 years of each of the 5 core subjects, English, math, science, social studies and a single foreign language. Do you need to? No, but most of the students you are competing with for admission will have.
2. Plan for the SAT or ACT. You should start planning early in high school on when you will take the various college admissions tests. For some students, it may be appropriate to take SAT Subject tests as early as freshman or sophomore year.
The SAT and ACT on the other hand is best taken in the spring of junior year. But if you haven’t decided which test to take, and prepared for that test before spring junior year, you may not get the results you had hoped for. Without knowing what your final test scores will look like, you will have trouble deciding which colleges are academically appropriate for you.
3. Think about what you want from a college. Do you know what you want from a college? Most students never think about this question which is part of the reason that the transfer rate is so high in this country. Can’t find the right college if you don’t even know what you are looking for.
You should start thinking about what you want from the college experience at least by your sophomore or early junior year. If financial aid is an issue, your parents need to start to understand financial aid during this period of time.
3A. Visit colleges. Visiting colleges is the best way to determine if that college you found in the guidebook is really a good choice for you.
4. Find appropriate colleges for you. By the end of junior year you should have an idea of what you are looking for in a college and based on your grades and test scores what colleges might be appropriate for you. Now is the time to get serious about finding a variety of colleges that fit you.
5. Start working on applications. Once you have a list of colleges you can start working on your applications. The best time to start is the summer before senior year. Applications not out? No problem, look at the essay questions for the common application from the previous year. These questions don’t change often.
Ideally, you will have your common application essays done, or at least in good shape, before your senior year starts. Having started your essays early will make your senior year much more pleasant. Trust me on this.
5A. Request recommendations early. Back to school for senior year? The first thing you want to do is go to the teachers that you plan on asking for recommendations and ask. This gives the teacher time to actually think about what they are going to write and, if they are a popular teacher to ask for recommendations, it makes sure they have time to do yours.
6. Finish applications by the end of November. Yes, I know your applications are probably not due until the end of December but get them done early. Do you want to guess how often computer systems like the common app crash the night of December 31 because of heavy loads? Way too often to be something you have to worry about.
Understand and follow the process and you will be ahead of 90% of your classmates. Who knows, you might even actually enjoy the college admissions process.