An Underclassman’s Guide to College



The college application process starts earlier than one may expect…

The college application process is daunting to most, especially without the direct, step-by-step guidance high school students are used to in school. However, with planning and time, the process can be a breeze and even quite exciting.

Even though as a sophomore college seems so far away, it is important to start preparing. During sophomore year, the most important things to do as a student are take challenging courses and maintain good grades. Although college is still a few years off, during the application process, college admissions counselors take into consideration all years of high school. (However, if some grades do slip during freshman and sophomore year, it is still possible to receive admission into a good college or university if the student is able to bring his/her grades back up during junior and senior year.)

Sophomore year is also the time for students to begin to look at colleges and his/her financial situation as well as prepare for the SAT which will be taken junior year. Using his/her PSAT score, one can work on strengthening any skills which may help reach a higher SAT score the following year.

Junior year is the time to solidify research into possible universities and career paths. Although nothing is permanent at this point, and students should not feel pressured to decide as a 16 year old their life path, now is the time to take tours of college campuses, take time to pursue interests, and of course, maintain good grades along with participating in extracurricular activities. Junior year grades are the last indication colleges receive when deciding acceptance, so pulling up grades that suffered in the past is very important.

Also with junior year comes taking the SAT and/or ACT. Both the SAT and ACT test an individual’s strengths in reading and math, but are formatted just slightly different, as the SAT has a no calculator portion of math and the ACT has a science section. Deciding which test to take depends on an individual’s strengths and the college he/she ends up applying to. Most colleges accept either test, but taking both could prove beneficial as students usually perform better on one over the other.

Junior year is also the time to develop positive relationships with teachers, as many college applications require or recommend teacher recommendations. A senior teacher who has only known a student for a few months will most likely not provide the accurate or in-depth recommendation that a junior year teacher could offer.

Senior year is the time to begin the official college application process! Most colleges have both an application that is specific to that school as well as either a Common App or Coalition profile. Through Common App and Coalition, students can fill out one overarching application and then just finish essays and recommendations specific to the schools to which they are applying; if a student is applying to multiple universities, using these sites lessens the application time considerably.

After filling out the application profiles, writing the required essays (start early!), and submitting high school transcripts, senior year turns into a waiting game. Some schools have rolling admission while others have decision dates on which all applicants find out whether they were admitted or not. However, a good way for students to help take their minds off the suspenseful process (and maybe even make some money in the process) is to apply for scholarships. There are myriad websites on which students can find and apply for scholarships ranging from $100 to $10,000 and cover everything from accomplishments in volunteering to having red hair. As college is currently so expensive, any amount of money helps and will add up over time.

Starting the college process early alleviates much of the stress that comes with senior year for those who begin without direction. Even though the application process can be quite discouraging at times, focusing on statistics and comparing them to a nationwide pool of applicants, with hard work and drive, anything is possible.