Preparing for College
I'm currently a junior in high school with a 3.74 gpa and I was just wondering, what should I be doing to prepare for college right now? My counselors have been no help haha. I've currently been exploring colleges and such but should I be writing essays or reaching out to colleges yet? Anything helps! Thank you so much.
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You must go to a large public school if your college counselors are not currently fully engaged with you. But you can take charge and do things to improve your chances of getting into a good college. I will say that since your HS counselor will have to write a recommendation for you, in the future, you need to make an effort to meet with them and establish a friendly connection with them, otherwise, the other 50 or 100 people they are working with are going to be getting a good recommendation.
You need to be doing these things regardless of your 3.74 GPA.
1. Test prep for the PSAT which is going to happen on October 13th - 16th. If you haven't done anything yet. Go to CollegeBoard and download and take a practice exam.
2. Continue your HS Coursework and aim to get the best grades possible.
3. Continue working on your spike activities and your other ECs. This can include team playing a musical instrument, sports, individual sports, school leadership positions, School clubs like Model UN, Debate team, Deca, and Robotics, and community service leadership positions and volunteering.
4. Put all your information into College Vine Profile and select some schools you might be happy to attend and see how close or how far away you are from getting into these schools. This will help you understand how competitive a candidate you are and give you some guidance to what your safety, targets, hard targets and reach schools are.
5. If you have obvious GAPs in your academics or ECs or Test Scores, Junior year is the best time to correct them before you embark on your last year of high school where you will only have 1 semester to fix things which unfortunately is not enough time for most people.
6. I don't know your financial situation or what kind of resources you have at your disposal. If you are aware that you need any kind of help fixing a problem with your academics or testing or ECs, then now is the time to ask for help. If you have a good rapport with your parents, explain to them that you need this kind of help or assistance. It might be SAT/ACT prep, taking online courses to improve your course rigor, planning on a Summer Program for next year, getting music lessons or dance lessons, I don't know. But everyone even 4.0 straight-A students need help.
7. When you meet with your HS Counselor either in May/June, come very well prepared. Put together a resume for your counselor so she can see all your vital information on 1 printed page, your grades, class rank, leadership roles, Clubs, honors and awards, sports, work experience, family situation if there are any mitigating circumstances like you having to babysit for your siblings or work at your family business or take care of a grandparent. Your HS counselor who doesn't really know you, CAN NOT advocate for you if you do not help them understand who you are and why you need their help.
As a regretful senior, I have some things to add, but everything others have said so far is solid.
1.) Maintain your GPA. Try to improve it if you can! 3.74 is a very good GPA (don't let anyone fool you) but I wouldn't recommend letting it fall. If you can get straight As through your junior year, not only will it help give you a net gain, but it will also give the impression of someone who started off with good results and worked even harder to get great results. That's something that colleges like to see, and often times they will disregard previous poor results in this case as it shows dedication and college preparedness.
2.) What extracurriculars do you have right now? Clubs, sports, volunteering, jobs, (etc.)? Those are very important. If you don't have anything right now, join something. Doesn't have to be particularly difficult, but commit to at least a few clubs and then maybe narrow them down. If you have a good idea of what you want to do in the future, try to specialize in that - i.e, if you want to be a biologist, colleges will love to see you demonstrate this outside of school, maybe through volunteering at a fish hatchery or joining the biology club or being a TA for your school's biology teacher. At the same time, though, make sure you have some variety. Have at least one or two sports and maybe a creative outlet in there as well, just to be "well-rounded."
3.) You don't need to be narrowing down your college list this early, as it will definitely change, but it will give you a head start to have a good idea of what some of your criteria are. Think location, major, culture, rural/urban, East/West coast, anything like that. If you're looking to get into a selective college however, then start planning now depending on what you have to do to meet their requirements. That way even if you ultimately decide not to apply, you're now a better candidate for less selective schools.
4.) As the others said, start the ACT/SAT process now. Get a prep book for one or both if you can and start taking the practice tests. Generally, almost everyone is better at one test than the other, and it will be pretty clear. (I believe you can find conversion charts online - i.e., an ACT 34 is equivalent to a 1520-1550 in the SAT, so if you get a 34 and then a 1410, it's definitely worth pursuing the ACT route.) Start studying for whichever one you're better at (or both if you want to take both - it's really up to you) and take the Pre-ACT or PSAT whenever possible. After that, I would recommend taking whatever test you decide to for the final time in June/August. Taking it multiple times is actually beneficial, because a surprising amount of selective schools will either superscore (take the best scores in each section of the test for every time you've taken it and add it up) or take the best scores in general. Regardless, you'll want to have your scores back by AT LEAST October of your senior year, and that's pushing it considering some ED deadlines are in October. This is just so you can have all of the necessary information for college apps ready to go and you're not scrambling when they get delayed.
5.) MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR TEACHERS!! Something I didn't do and ended up kicking myself over. You will have to ask for letters of recommendation for colleges and if you don't know your teachers very well, it's not going to be easy to get a good one. Generally you'll want to ask for one late junior year/early senior year in order to give your teachers enough time, so now is the perfect time to start showing them that you're a dedicated and friendly student. If your school does tutorial time, show up. If you have a question on any homework assignments, bother them about it (nicely)! 90% of the time this will not actually annoy them but will show them that you care about their class and the content they're teaching. You don't have to go over the top, but make them remember you. (2 teacher letters is typically the best number to go for.)
Finally, as someone else said, advocate for yourself. Knock down your counselor's door if you have to. Drop in just for a few questions, be friendly and open, and they'll definitely warm up to you, even if they're not particularly helpful. I'm not positive what your school requirements are, but in mine the counselors are required to send a letter of recommendation to all schools for all students, so standing out to your counselor is very important.
A few suggestions: If possible, work to get straight A's in all your classes. That would send your GPA up to the high 3.8's or 3.9. (This assumes 3.74 is your unweighted GPA.)
Go for officer/leadership positions in any clubs or activities. That will look better than just memberships. Or start a new club - that says "initiative, self-starter!"
Take ACT or SAT earlier rather than later. That way you'll both know where you stand, and have time for test prep for a second try if you need it. There may be opportunities for free practice ACT's or SAT's in your area. Test prep companies often provide those as marketing tools. Worthwhile if you can take them early enough in the year. Practice tests can be a big help in deciding which of the 2 tests to focus your efforts on.
You don't really need a college list until next summer. If there are a few colleges you are really interested in, it wouldn't hurt to reach out. May want to wait until after November 1. Admissions people are pretty busy with seniors right now.
Hey @so_carey, great questions! I definitely second all the comments made thus far, and have just a few things to add:
1. Dig in. Whether it's in academics or clubs and extracurriculars (it should be both), junior year is the time to challenge yourself. If senior year is the year you actually apply to college, then junior year is the year you build the strong foundation that your college applications are based on. Challenge yourself in your classes and take advantage of the academic opportunities available to you as much as you can. Double down on your clubs and extracurriculars, and try to distinguish yourself in terms of both accomplishments within them and in terms of time commitment.
2. Prep for your standardized tests. Whether you prefer the SAT or the ACT, now is the time to prep for these tests, so you can acclimate to their testing styles and thereby do your best. You should be done testing by the time your senior year starts, but the sooner you get scores that are comfortable for your college application goals, the better. Get a test prep book for each, and see which one is more your style.
3. Build your relationships with your teachers and mentors. As part of your college application, you will likely need to supply letters of recommendation from teachers in core subjects (e.g., English, History, Math, Science, Foreign Language), so ideally you'll want to have developed strong relationships with your teachers (especially with those in subject areas that are your particular strengths/favorites) by the time you ask them for recommendations toward the end of the school year. This advice goes hand in hand with digging into your academics, and should follow naturally as you redouble your academic efforts. Go to their office hours, chat with them, ask them what you can do to maintain strong performances in their classes.
4. Build your narrative. As an applicant, you'll have certain narrative or "spike" to your application. Think about all the things that you do, all the features that make you who you are, all the things you're interested in. The political and community organizer, the theater devotee, the English writer -- these are all spikes. What kind of a student and person are you? Developing an answer to this question will be key when it comes time to represent yourself in your college applications.
5. Learn about schools. While you certainly have time before you actually apply to schools, now is a good time to start tapping into what you want from your college experience, and start researching and learning about colleges and universities that might be good candidates for your eventual school list. I would start by visiting the admissions webpages for schools, and getting a sense of the character/offerings/quirks of each.
I hope this is helpful, and good luck -- you got this!
Hey girl. As a junior in high school, you should be researching what schools you want to go to and narrowing it down to around 20 schools. You should NOT be writing essays yet. If you want to play sports in college now is the time to reach out. Other than that, don't just yet.
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