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Back-to-School Guide: Adding a Course in College Prep

By Zach, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

Welcome back to school! I hope you had a wonderful summer, but I also hope you are excited for another school year. Before you find your rhythm balancing school, activities, and friends, I am going to suggest an important addition to your “coursework” this semester: Preparing for College.

Now, while Preparing for College might be a fictional course, it is a very real task that students need to tackle as they start back to school this fall. Treating college prep as an actual extra “class” will help keep it in your usual assignment rotation, preventing you from forgetting about it or procrastinating. Like studying for a math test or writing a paper, you know by now that it’s always better to start early and chip away gradually instead of cramming at the last minute. Our Preparing for College course has some variations depending on your class year, but the main goal of this course is simple: to help you get on track with your college prep.

Ready to get started? Here’s what our Preparing for College course entails for each class year.

Preparing for College: Seniors
Hopefully, Preparing for College is not brand new to you. This means you likely know that you have the most work ahead. Your two major course assignments are all about communication: Writing the College Essay(s) and Talking to Your Schools.

The first and biggest assignment is managing the essay-writing process. If you are planning to apply to 7-10 schools, expect to write at least one additional essay for each school (so you can be pleasantly surprised if you don’t have to!) If each school asks for an average of 250 words, adding in the approximately 650-word meaningful personal statement in the Common Application or Coalition Application, that’s at least 3,000 words of personal reflection and school research across many prompts. Doing this – and doing this well – is going to take time. Brainstorming, crafting multiple drafts, and implementing edits from your college counselor should be part of each essay. Don’t skimp on research, either! If a university asks you write an essay for their specific application, they want you to demonstrate that you know the school and illustrate why that school is a great fit for your academic, personal, and professional goals. Budgeting an hour each day for the next three months to brainstorm some new ideas, scour a university website, or give a first draft a stern editing will ensure you have a polished finished product well before the deadline.

Don’t forget about your second assignment: Talking to Your Schools. A good place to start is understanding how – or if – the colleges on your list want to hear from you. Some are very busy and aren’t looking for attention, while others absolutely love it when students get in touch. If any of your colleges offer interviews, you should take them up on their offer. This is the most important way to talk to them. Outside of an on-campus visit and potential interview, a thoughtful e-mail can go a long way. As you research each university to craft a supplemental essay, jot down the aspects you like the most. Then, a few days after you apply, send an e-mail to the admissions representative who reads applications from your high school (this breakdown can often be found under the Contact Us section of an admissions website) that tells them you are excited to have recently submitted your application and mentions 3-4 top reasons you are drawn to that school. It is likely just one paragraph in total, but everybody likes a personalized message!

Preparing for College: Juniors
Juniors will have plenty of schoolwork to do this year as they embark on a challenging course load that includes taking some really high-rigor courses for the first time. When it comes to Preparing for College, there are two important assignments to add to your homework: Standardized Testing and Visiting Campuses.

The SAT or ACT may seem far away, but if you want to avoid jamming even more into a packed upcoming senior year, you should start preparing now. If you haven’t already, take a practice test for both the SAT and ACT to determine which exam is a better fit for you. Then, hit the books! Mastering the SAT or ACT is all about slowly accumulating information while gradually learning how to take a four-hour exam. If two hours each week can be devoted to practice problems and mock exams, sitting for the real exam twice before May 2020 is a great goal.

Your second assignment is going to take you away from home – but that’s part of the fun! For upcoming breaks or long weekends in the fall and spring, plan to visit a few universities. You will quickly start to realize what you love about some schools and dislike about others, which makes the entire college process feel more real and more exciting. Visiting colleges will help you complete some other assignments within your Preparing for College course, including building your balanced college list, demonstrating interest, and doing effective research on each of the schools you’re interested in applying to next fall.

Preparing for College: Freshmen and Sophomores
While Preparing for College might feel more like an elective course for younger students, there are a few assignments in this class that you can complete now that will set you up for success in the course in later years.

Planning early rarely hurts, so start with some simple online research assignments looking into possible colleges of interest. Not only does this help you become familiar with different types of schools, but it is a great way to prepare you for assignments to come, like building your college list or identifying majors of interest. Other elective assignments that can help you get on track include outside reading, exploring activities of interest, and looking into some standardized testing options like SAT Subject Tests.

Another good assignment in our Preparing for College course for underclassmen is to schedule a meeting with your college counselor to map out what courses you will take over the rest of your high school career in order to attain your post-secondary goals. By planning out your coursework early, you will have a solid track to follow and can make adjustments along the way – rather than scrambling each year to pick the classes you need to take to stay on course.

Adding more “classes” to your schedule can be a lot to handle, but if you’re up for the challenge, adding Preparing for College to your regular schedule will help you tackle the college prep process in manageable chunks and set you up for a successful college admissions process come senior year.

At IvyWise, we work with students to help them ace their Preparing for College assignments and set up a realistic college prep timeline that will help them complete their “assignments” on time! Contact us today to learn more about our college counseling services.