Choose your Path Wisely

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Remember that lesson from “The Tortoise and the Hare” that we learned as children? Well, juniors, senior year for you is approaching quicker than you expect and this time, take some advice from the Hare. While slow, steady and modest wins the race to good character, fast, productive and confident is what will get you through the college process. You will often be told not to compare where you are in the process to other students’ progress because everyone goes at their own pace. While it is true that you should not get stressed out if others are further along than you are, no senior will deny that getting their work done earlier is preferable.

Being in the graduating class is a strange phenomenon; you never envision yourself being a part of it until you are there. Do not let this discourage you from taking the necessary steps to helping yourself get to the right place – both in your last year in high school and beyond. Senior year will come, and it won’t be pleasant, but by planning college visits, brainstorming essay topics and familiarizing yourself with SATS and ACTs ahead of time, you will eliminate a significant amount of anxiety.

A good way to start is with college visits. The key to this step in the process is to start early (spring of junior year) and visit both small and large schools, nearby, faraway and in different settings.

Judge the size is by comparing to what you have already experienced. A college the size of Staples is considered to be a small school. If you’re tired of all the people you know now, you might want to consider a larger school. Is the school within a three to four hour drive? If you don’t want to take a plane to get there, you like four seasons or maybe you get homesick, start with a nearby school. Do you like a campus feel? As opposed to a more urban setting, campuses have large grass areas, typically referred to as quads, where people you see are mostly students. They usually have quaint architecture, on-campus study areas, and snack bars and coffee shops dispersed throughout. Some kids like colleges in cities because they view it as a larger step toward adulthood. Many city schools allow kids to live off campus during their freshman year, which allows for more freedom.

Getting a specific sense of the size and scope of your ideal school will help determine the next steps in your quest and which parts of your application will require more time than others.

For example, if after visiting five schools, you determine that you love the feel of a small liberal arts college, you can incorporate details in your college essay about your ability to think creatively and collaboratively with others since these are qualities that many smaller colleges are attracted to. Moreover, your essay is the one part of your application that demonstrates that there is a real person behind the scores and data presented. Thus, it is crucial that your essay is unique, well thought out and genuine. Considering potential essay topics ahead of time will ensure that once the time comes to sit down and write it, you will have many thoughts prepared.

Another benefit of visiting colleges early on in the process is knowing their requirements, such as SAT Subject Tests or Art Portfolios; you should start planning ASAP (again, spring of junior year). SAT Subject Tests demonstrate your mastery of a particular subject so they often take a lot of preparation. Likewise, Art Portfolios need preparation because they should be a collaboration of your artwork over time, not only artwork done the month before your application deadline. You do not want to fall in love with a college too late in the game, unable to fulfill one of the application requirements.

Lastly, try both the SAT and the ACT before you determine which test you will focus on. Often times, one test is more suitable for certain students as opposed to the other. Give yourself the opportunity to get your best test score by determining which test exemplifies your strengths the most.