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Setting Fall Semester Academic and College Prep Goals

Whether you’re a freshman still adjusting to your first year of high school, or a college-bound junior ready to hit the ground running, it’s important to set academic and college prep goals for the fall as soon as school starts back up.

Goals not only help keep students on track with their college prep, they also help students learn more about who they are, what they’re interested in, and how they can better pursue those interests. Goals can also help students stay motivated during a particularly busy or stressful time.

When developing academic and college prep goals, it’s important for students to understand where they are in the process and how improvement can help not only enhance their high school experience, but also set them up for a successful college admissions process.

Setting Academic Goals
We can’t stress it enough: grades are the most important factor that colleges will consider when evaluating applications. It’s important for students to not only be on track with their grades, but also taking the most rigorous courses available to them. Setting academic goals this fall can be as simple as maintaining an ‘A’ average, or as ambitious as raising one course mark a whole letter grade from the semester before. Freshmen and sophomores should be working toward an upward grade trend, meaning their grades improve, or stay high, as they take more challenging courses. Aim to set academic goals that help you also delve more into your interests. For example, if you’re interested in STEM, aim to improve your math and science grades before the end of the semester. Set smaller goals, too, like getting an A on a special project in your biology class or completing an extra credit assignment.

Juniors should pay special attention to academic goals, as junior year grades are often the last marks that colleges see on students’ applications – especially if you plan to apply early. If you’re struggling in an honors or AP course, set a goal to make a ‘B’ on your next exam, and then an ‘A’ on the next. You can also set other goals like setting aside one hour per day to go over any lessons or concepts covered in class earlier that day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself struggling in your courses.

Setting Test Prep Goals
If you’re a high school freshman or sophomore, test prep might be the last thing on your mind as the fall semester kicks off. However, now is a great time to start thinking about simple steps you take to get on the right track with your test prep. For example, many colleges require students to submit SAT Subject Test scores as part of their college application. Students can get a head start on completing SAT Subject Tests by preparing for Subject Tests that align with their current course work, like biology or chemistry. Students can also begin prep for the PSAT, which can be taken in 10th or 11th grade, and can also help them ease into prep for the SAT or ACT. Set simple test prep goals, like “study for the biology SAT Subject Tests one per week” or “take a SAT Subject chemistry diagnostic by December.” This can help younger students break down their test prep goals into manageable chunks.

For juniors, setting test prep goals can be a little more pressing, since they should aim to complete their testing by the end of junior year or summer before senior year. This fall, set realistic score goals based on your current test prep and practice test results. For example, if you need to increase your SAT Math score, determine a realistic point increase and work to obtain that during practice tests before sitting for the real test. Also set other smaller goals, like completing one practice exam per month or dedicating 2-3 hours per week to your SAT or ACT prep. Then, as spring approaches, aim to increase both your weekly prep time  and practice test frequency in order to be best prepared for your first official sitting. This is also the ideal time to start working with a tutor or test prep expert who can help you achieve your goal scores before senior year.

Setting College Prep Goals
Maintaining academic and test prep performance is just one part of the college prep puzzle. There are a lot of other college prep goals that students should aim to set this fall that are easy to manage and can help make the process less stressful down the line. Freshmen and sophomores, for example, can set simple college prep goals like creating and maintaining a resume throughout the semester, completing outside reading, visiting one or two schools to get a sense of different campus atmospheres, and exploring activities that match their interests. Setting these small, but impactful, goals can help students build a clearer picture of their interests and what they want out of a college experience when it comes time to build a balanced college list junior year.

For juniors, college prep goals can be more tangible, like visiting three schools during fall break, creating a preliminary college list by November, meeting with your college counselor before your next SAT or ACT test date, or visiting two college fairs this semester to meet admissions representatives from your top-choice colleges. Evaluate where you are in the college prep process. Have you started researching colleges? Have you registered for information sessions at upcoming college visits? Have you updated your timeline with upcoming test dates? Maybe you need to set a goal to create your college prep timeline by October. Find out where you are and where you need to be at this point in the process and set goals to help you get on track and stay ahead.

When developing back-to-school academic and college prep goals it’s important to remember to be flexible. Different students work at different paces, so if you’re constantly comparing yourself to your peers, or working at an unsustainable pace, you can do more harm than good in the process. Don’t forget to take some time to reevaluate your goals and timelines if you find yourself falling behind, struggling, or just overwhelmed.

At IvyWise, our team of expert college admissions counselors work with students to help them develop and set realistic academic, test prep, and college prep goals that will help them get and stay on track for a successful college admissions process come senior year. To learn more about our college counseling and tutoring and test prep services, contact us today.

Ready to get on track with your college prep? Our free checklists can help! Click here to download our free College Planning Checklist and our free Academics and Test Prep Checklist.