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Balancing College Apps and Senior Year Coursework

By Mike, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

As the sun sets on the summer and we enter the 2021-2022 academic year, seniors are less than a year away from the induction into adulthood and independence that awaits after high school graduation. Before that new journey begins, seniors must contend with graduation requirements and post-high school plans.

During my tenure as the Director of College Counseling at a private high school in New York City, I oftentimes saw seniors weighed down by the stress and uncertainty of the college application process. I found that my advice to students during the frenzy of their senior year centered on three areas: plan, organize, and prioritize. In other words, the POP method.

Create a Plan for Applications

When working with seniors, I emphasize the importance of focusing on what they can control with the college application process and encourage students to develop a game plan for their senior year. This means having a complete, or nearly complete, college list as they begin the year. Knowing where they will apply to college aids seniors in understanding how many different applications they will need to fill out, the number of college supplemental essays they will be asked to write, and the deadlines by which they must submit their college applications.

I liken this process to what a student would do when they first attend a high school or college course: review the course syllabus and take note of what they need to read for the class, how many tests or projects they must complete, and when they must complete assignments and exams.

In addition to gaining awareness of what their college application process entails, seniors should also be proactive in planning to ask their high school teachers for a letter of recommendation if they have not already done so. Typically, the most well-respected teachers are the ones students flock to first, so asking teachers early is key to securing their coveted letter of support.

Additionally, some seniors may be taking their first SAT or ACT – or even retaking the exam one last time before they apply. Preparing for either of these standardized tests may consume a good chunk of a student’s schedule, so students ought to factor in the amount of time they will need to adequately prepare for their retake exams.

Once students have a firm grasp on the amount of work involved with their college application process for the colleges on their list, they can then review the syllabi for their senior year courses and create a plan for attacking both their senior courses and their college applications. In sum, the PLAN component of the POP method focuses on knowing what one needs to get done in senior year.

Get Organized For Your Senior Year

The ORGANIZE component of the POP method focuses on the order in which students will tackle their work with their college applications and senior year courses. This usually takes the shape of developing some form of a calendar system in which students map out both their college applications and their senior year course assignments, projects, and exams.

In working with students, I encourage them to use spreadsheets, planning applications, or digital calendars to organize and track all of this. I have found that students who are organized in this way feel like they have control over their senior year compared to those students with a haphazard approach in which they begin applications or course assignments a day or two before they are due.

Ultimately, creating a schedule in which students devote regularly scheduled time to their college applications and senior course assignments and projects keeps them on a steady pace to complete everything on time and produce a better-quality college application or senior course grades than those students who fly by the seat of their pants. While your senior year may feel like a mad dash to graduation, I emphasize that it is more of a marathon.

Similarly, organizing your college application process invariably means determining which college applications you should work on first given their application deadline and where they rank on your college list, as well as when you will work on the supplemental essays you will need to write.

I urge students to view the college application process like an elective course with a lot of writing and weekly assignments that they need to stay on top of and complete in a timely and consistent fashion. Thus, they should build a weekly schedule that includes all college application tasks, as simple as filling out all their Common Application sections outside of the Personal Statement, or more complex ones like writing drafts of three supplemental essays for their Stanford supplement. Every bit counts.

Learn How to Prioritize

The flurry of senior year can easily pull students in multiple directions: senior year courses, extracurricular activities, SAT or ACT examinations, senior year events, and college applications. I level with students that the fall of senior year will likely be the most challenging four to five months of their high school career, balancing more rigorous coursework, more leadership and extracurricular activities, and a slew of college application assignments. Thus, I stress that they will need to PRIORITIZE.

Conversations about prioritizing during the fall term of senior year typically center on seniors doing well in their senior courses (colleges do pay attention to senior year grades, even spring term), staying on top of their college application processes, and taking care of themselves during these stressful and chaotic months. Everything else can wait until their last college application has been submitted.

This means they will need to make challenging decisions on how they will spend their limited time to complete everything they need to do in their college application processes and senior year courses. For some students, this may mean fewer hours of sleep. For others, this may mean reducing their social time with friends.

Ultimately, this is a decision students make for themselves. Whichever route they take, I emphasize the importance of taking care of themselves during the fall term, whether that be getting enough sleep or rewarding themselves for completing one of their applications on time with a dinner out with friends or family. For many students, the PRIORITIZE component of the POP method is a matter of short-term sacrifice for the long-term rewards of positive college admission results.

POP: a method of balance

Plan, organize, and prioritize. That is the name of the game for a senior year full of balance.

If you are just beginning the college admissions journey, but are unsure of how to get started, contact us today to learn more about how our team of expert counselors can help you get on the right path.

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