What should high school students and their families be doing in the late summer/early fall to be ahead of the college planning game? Here is what I would suggest:
Seniors: Do as much as you can before senior year starts. You will be distracted, you will be busy, and besides applying to colleges your main job will be keeping your grades up. Start your college essays; you can have them well underway if not finished before your classmates — one less stress during crunch time come November-December, which is prime application-time. Check the essay prompts for the Common Application, which are pretty typical. Even if you are asked to write a different kind of essay by a particular school, cutting and pasting sections is often possible.
Also, do some initial scholarship research to see what you might qualify for (also a time-saver later), and visit any schools you have a clear interest in that you haven’t visited. Many colleges regard an official visit as an indication of sincere interest, so don’t miss out on communicating this.
Juniors: Do some serious prep for the ACT/SAT (see my blog of Feb 21, ‘11) and take each exam. If your results aren’t stellar determine which was your strongest test, do more prep and re-take it. Schools will only consider your highest scores, so there is no downside to repeating these tests.
Make this a standout academic year, as junior year grades are what you will be showcasing in the majority of your applications come fall of senior year. Maintain one or two of your past extracurriculars, as these will be scrutinized as well.
Begin building a college list and touring colleges in earnest to identify what kinds of schools match you, and to establish your interest. Participate in some of the college fairs that happen locally in the fall. This is a great chance to learn more about all kinds of colleges, collect information, and meet admissions reps.
By all means, consider working with an independent educational consultant!:)
I made additional recommendations for high school sophomores and freshmen in my past blog of Sept 28, ‘09; check it out!