If you’re looking ahead to your second-to-last year of high school, here’s a to-do list for you. Check these items off during your junior year, and you’ll be squarely on track to get to college.
- Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
- Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
- Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
- Attend college fairs and go on campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
- Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
- Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
- Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
- Fill out the FAFSA4caster at ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.
Finishing the final classes of high school or college can feel impossible. Many students start to miss class, evade homework and let their grades slip—all classic signs of senioritis. How can this “disease” be cured?
- Stop it before it starts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you notice yourself starting to tune out, find ways to stay motivated. Have friends and family hold you accountable, and set goals for yourself.
- Remember that grades still matter. Colleges can reconsider admission decisions if your GPA plummets. They can also reconsider financial aid packages they’ve already offered. Scary, right?
- Set small, specific goals. Don’t let the big picture (graduation, scholarships, etc.) scare you. Take things one step at a time. Just focus on doing well on your next big exam, attending all your classes and getting enough sleep.
- Ask for help. Talk to a teacher, parent, school or someone else you trust. Tell them how you’re feeling and describe issues you’re facing. They might help you in a variety of ways like giving homework assistance, cooking meals or even just offering encouragement.
- Take time to relax and sleep. Burning the candle at both ends all the time doesn’t solve concentration issues. Having trouble staying awake in class? Schedule nights where you have plenty of time to wind down with a book or movie and go to bed early.
- Keep yourself challenged. Are you slacking because you’re bored with school? Get involved. Find inspiration that will get you out of bed in the morning. Volunteer for a student organization, offer to help a teacher or plan some senior activities. This is a great opportunity for self-improvement.
- Keep your eyes on the prize. You wouldn’t give up running a long race if you could see the finish line, would you? End your high school or college career on a high note. You’re almost there! You got this!
Studying for an exam can make anyone feel anxious—even overwhelmed. Here are tips to help you ace the exam, big or small, every time.
- Don’t procrastinate. Give your brain enough time to process and retain information. When you find out about the exam, immediately mark the date when you need to begin studying. Waiting will just stress you out.
- Organize your study space. Some people have trouble concentrating with a million things in front of them. Clear off your desk or clean your room. Do whatever helps your brain focus.
- Know yourself. Figure out what time of day you focus best. (Early morning? Lunch? Before bed?) How do you study best? (Alone with silence? Listening to music? In a public place?)
- Turn off your Internet, TV and phone. If you get distracted by these things (who doesn’t?), save them as a reward for completing your study session. If you need your computer to study, try an app like this one that blocks websites for a short time. Give your phone to someone until you’re done studying.
- Set timed goals for each study session. A schedule will help you stay focused. Example: Study three chapters of U.S. History for 30 minutes, take a 10-minute break and then make a study guide for your math test in 20 minutes.
- Make flashcards. Make free virtual flashcards and quizzes on websites like Quizlet.
- Explain the material to someone. This is a great use for a study group. Take turns explaining relevant items to each other. You will learn from your peers, but you will also remember the material better if you can internalize and explain it.
- Study in different places. Different locations force your brain to form new associations with the study material. Basically, the more unique memories you have with the material, the better you’ll remember it.
- Rewrite your notes. Copying your notes by hand is a great way recall older material and reinforce your knowledge.
- Get creative. Make up stories and songs about the material. You’ll be surprised how much better it will stick in your brain.
- Take breaks. Plan to take breaks while studying. Get a snack. Dance around. Play music. Do jumping jacks. Breaks are beneficial for your brain and concentration.
- Plan your exam day. What time will you leave? What will you eat beforehand? How will you get there? Plan to arrive early so you’re not flustered.
- Be positive! Half the battle is believing you can win! You got this!
If you’re a teacher, counselor or anyone who works with students, you’ll probably be asked to write a letter of recommendation at some point. These letters can be consequential for the student, so it’s crucial that you write as strong a message as possible.
- Ask for input. Ask your student specifically what the letter is for. What field of study are they entering? Do they have a scholarship description you should read? Ask your student which qualities and experiences they’d like you to emphasize, and they can help you create an outline.
- Explain your connection. In your letter, be clear about how you know the student. Did you have them in a class? In an extracurricular activity? How long have you known them?
- Provide new information. The student’s application will show GPA, class rank, test scores, etc., so you don’t need to repeat this information. Instead, provide details that will create a complete picture of the student.
- Stay positive. Make sure you say at the beginning and end of the letter that you think the student is a strong candidate. You might say you recommend them “without reservation.” You can also turn negatives into positives: “Although math doesn’t come easily to him, Thomas worked hard to earn an A in my pre-calculus class. He came in before school to ask questions and took advantage of extra credit opportunities.”
- Avoid ambiguity. Don’t use phrases like “as far as I know” or “to the best of my knowledge.” They send the message that you don’t know the student well or you don’t believe in them.
- Give specific examples. Back up the statements you make. Did you say someone is a team player? Mention a time they worked with other students, maybe students who didn’t share their viewpoint, to achieve a common goal. Did you say someone is a problem-solver? Discuss a particular obstacle and exactly how they got past it. Did you say someone is highly responsible? Explain how you put them in a position of trust.
- Be honest. Don’t try to sell attributes a student doesn’t have. If someone isn’t a natural leader, don’t say they are. Focus on praise you can give truthfully.
- Share your contact information. The letter’s recipient should have a way to contact you if they have further questions. Make sure to include your email address and phone number.
- Watch your deadlines.Make sure you know when the letter is due and how you’re expected to submit it.
- Decline if you need to. If you don’t feel comfortable endorsing the student, decline instead of writing a mediocre letter. Say something like “I don’t think it’s in your best interest for me to write you a letter” or “I recommend you ask someone who knows you better than I do.”
It’s National School Counseling Week, so take a minute to say thanks to your counselor. Stop in the office or write a quick note—it will be appreciated! In the spirit of this week, here are some of the many ways your high school counselor can help you along your path to college:
- Taking the right courses. Your counselor knows the coursework most colleges recommend and can make sure you’re taking the prerequisites and classes you’ll need. If your counselor pushes you to take more challenging classes, pay attention.
- Getting a head start. Your counselor can also help you get into Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment classes, where you can earn college credit while you’re still in high school.
- Choosing a college. Your counselor can help you understand the concept of “college fit.” There’s no single best choice for everyone. Your counselor will help you look at your interests, abilities and career plans to identify colleges that might be the best fit for you.
- Applying for college. Your counselor has been through this with many other students and will have valuable advice for you. Counselors can even help you request waivers or deferrals of application fees. They’re also great sources for letters of recommendation. Just remember to give them plenty of time, because other students will have the same idea.
- Applying for financial aid. Your counselor can steer you toward FAFSA events at your school or in your community. The counseling office is also a good place to look for information on scholarships.
College Application Month is underway away (including the Iowa College Application Campaign), and students are working to complete packages that will best showcase to colleges who they are as a person and a student. An important, though sometimes overlooked part of the application, is the recommendation letter. A good letter can provide a broader picture of what makes a student unique and well-suited for a school, while a bad one can come off as obligatory and offer no personal connection to the subject. Here are some tips to consider when pursuing application letters:
Who Needs Recommendation Letters?
Most schools will state if a letter of recommendation is required or optional, though some may provide the opportunity to provide both. Usually, required letters will be asked from a school counselor or teachers with whom the student has worked. Even if a school only requires an optional letter, students should take advantage of the opportunity to present someone who can reinforce their strengths to an admissions officer.
Recommendations can be essential in the following situations:
- A student needs someone else to help explain an obstacle or hardship. Learning disabilities, deaths in the family, unusual personal or family challenges can all fall into this category and a school counselor is often the person who can help explain.
- The applicant needs clarification from a school official to explain what is or isn’t on the transcript. If a student was unable to complete a certain course because it wasn’t offered on campus or limited by school policy, the school counselor can help explain.
- A student knows their application will undergo review. Letters of recommendation from teachers and optional essays will help in the holistic review process.
Who Should Write Recommendation Letters?
Finding the right person to write a student’s recommendation letter is a strategic decision. The right person will know a student well, be able add something to the application that isn’t well represented in the student resume and essays and can speak to your child’s academic strengths?
Students should include at least one academic teacher who has taught them in class for at least one full semester. Even if the student didn’t earn an A, a the teacher who can discuss a student’s academic abilities will go a long way to supplementing a list of activities from a student’s resume. Teachers should be encouraged to illustrate with specific examples, if possible, showing how a particular project, paper or situation showed student strengths through handling the work.
Who Should NOT Write a Letter of Recommendation?
The desire to get a big or recognizable name to write a letter of recommendation will not only serve as a poor replacement for quality letters people who know the student well, they can actually undercut the impact of a letter if the writer only offers a broad recommendation that doesn’t show closer knowledge. Just because a family member might be connected to an influential community member or businessperson doesn’t mean that a letter can replace one written by a person who knows the student as a person.
For many, summer vacation is the reward for a year of hard work and dedication in the classroom. But for those moving from high school to college, the months between graduation and arriving on campus can be fraught with challenges and distractions that can lead to students not completing their college goals.
“Summer melt” is the name given to those students who, for whatever reason, apply to a college, accept admission, but never arrive after high school graduation. There are many factors that can drive a student toward summer melt. Being aware of a few of those, and taking the steps to stay focused on the college path, can help make sure that the only thing that melts this summer is your ice cream!
Keep in touch with Counselors and Reach out to College Advisers
School counselors are there to help when challenges arise. Before graduation, students should ask high school counselors what resources are available to them in the summer. Need a helpful boost or reminder of why it’s important to get to college? Give your counselor a call!
Colleges are also looking to help students stay on track during the summer transition, many schools can reach out to students by text and email to make sure that the important dates during the summer transition aren’t missed.
Find a Mentor
It’s always easier to tackle a new challenge if you’ve spoken to someone who’s been through it. Community groups, schools and other non-profits offer mentors who can talk to students about the transition to college. But it can be as easy as talking to anyone you know who’s either in or graduated from college. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns about the transition when talking to a mentor. These relationships can last beyond the transition to freshman year and can offer a resource for support both in school and down the road. To hear some advice from first-generation students about making the move to college, check out our video “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me.”
Visit the College Website
Your school’s website is a great resource to answer questions you might have before starting school. Everything from student life, financial issues, academics, organizations and more can be found on a school’s website. Take some time to review the website, even before your student orientation. You’ll have a level of expertise that will make the transition to college that much easier.
Look into Placement Testing Before Orientation
Most schools have some sort of placement testing for incoming first-year students. These tests help gauge where students are in math, reading, and writing skills and makes sure students are taking the courses appropriate for their level of understanding in each subject. Some colleges will offer these tests at orientation, others require students to do them online or on-campus before fall semester starts. Students should make sure to contact the college to know when they need to take the tests.
Check College Health Insurance Plans
Many colleges have health insurance plans for students. Students should check their college’s requirements early to see whether it is affordable. Sometimes, colleges will automatically enroll students in the college’s health care plan. If a student already has qualifying insurance, they can usually apply for a waiver. To learn more about transitioning healthcare for students after high school, read the healthcare guide.
Take the time to emotionally prepare
No matter how much you prepare, college is a big change for many people. Whether you’re travelling far away or staying close to home, college is a major step into adulthood, complete with personal responsibilities that may not have been part of your high school routine. The stress of that change can have negative effects, with many freshmen citing it as a reason for dropping out during their freshman year.
If you’re leaving home, take the time to get you (and your family) used to the idea of you not being there every day. And if you’re staying closer to home, start identifying the people you can lean on in times of stress or the ways that you can deal with the pressures of school in a positive way.
Believe in Yourself
The best support students can find to stay on path to college is themselves. Remember: You’ve done the hard part and gained acceptance to college. Your dream of an education, as well as the career and life that comes with it is in your reach. But you can’t get your degree if you don’t show up.
For more tips and advice for planning for, getting to and succeeding in college, check out Iowa College Aid’s Your Course to College.