Two weeks ago I was speaking with my daughter, a high school junior, and we were talking about college visits. She’s narrowing down her choices somewhat, but there are still a number of potential schools we have not visited.
I said, “We can see them over the summer.” Then I looked at the family calendar.
Between speech & debate tournaments, a mission trip, family vacation, a week at a psychology immersion camp, and a family reunion, we only had three weeks available. That’s three weeks to cover 6 schools across the state of Texas and 4 other colleges in Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
And that’s when I felt like the client instead of the professional.
I’ve seen so many families with good intentions (and plans) fall behind because they didn’t realize how little time they actually had for college visits, attempts at the SAT or ACT, or applications. Today’s article will outline some of the optional and necessary college planning for current sophomores and juniors. If you have a freshman, take notes because you will need to start planning soon.
We’ve all seen plenty of college planning timelines. I’ve written articles on the subject. But it only becomes real when it is written on the family calendar.
It is easy to think, “We can do that over the summer.” Or, “She / he will have time for that next year; college is so far off.” But once we are in our routines for the school year or summer, it is easy for time to slip away.
Here are the college planning activities I would encourage you to pencil in for your family:
SAT / ACT
For Current Juniors:
Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has already finished with testing. Congratulations! But many students are still preparing and working towards a score goal. Here are the remaining test dates:
- April 14, 2018
- June 9, 2018
- July 14, 2018
- September 8, 2018
- October 27, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)
- May 5, 2018
- June 2, 2018
- August 25, 2018
- October 6, 2018
- November 3, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)
Plan which test(s) you can take. Remember to watch for conflicts with AP Exam weeks (May 7-18), prom, final exams, vacation, and fall activities.
The sooner you finish testing, the sooner you can devote your full attention to the next step: applications.
For Current Sophomores:
You have the luxury of planning ahead right now. Next year when will you have the most time and interest to prepare? Try to avoid competition season for sports and activities. Consider the time demands of future Advanced Placement (AP) classes. (AP exams are always the first two weeks of May.)
Students who complete Algebra II as sophomores will have enough content knowledge to take the ACT or SAT in the fall. Students who are currently taking geometry and will take Algebra II in the fall may want to consider
- Taking the ACT which does not include higher level Algebra II concepts and / or
- Waiting until the spring to take these exams
Other than math, most students will not learn anything in school that will help on the ACT or SAT. So you don’t need to wait for spring in order to test. Many of my clients are done with testing. Some finished back in September and October when they earned top scores on these exams as juniors. The key is finding the time that is right for you.
Here are the test dates for next school year, so you can start planning. Keep in mind many students will take their choice of exam 2-3 times.
- September 8, 2018
- October 27, 2018
- December 8, 2018
- February 9, 2019
- April 13, 2019
- June 8, 2019
- July 13, 2019
- August 25, 2018
- October 6, 2018
- November 3, 2018
- December 1, 2018
- March 9, 2019
- May 4, 2019
- June 1, 2019
It is not a requirement to visit every school on your list before you apply. But it is a good idea to visit a minimum of 3-5 colleges so you have a better idea of what different schools offer and how your interests may be met differently at specific schools.
There are so many variables when it comes to finding schools that are a good fit. I always say a college visit is like test driving a new car or trying on a new pair of shoes. You can read websites, compare rankings, talk to neighbors, and get the advice of experts. But when it comes to making a final decision, the only opinion or ranking that matters is yours.
I understand time and money are limiting factors in making college visits, but I also know the more informed you are, the better you can decide. Part of the evaluation process is where to apply, but the other part is where to attend. Notes made on trips during your junior year might save you a last-minute rushed visit in the spring of your senior year as you try to make your final selection.
Here has been our college visit approach:
- Summer before junior year—visit a variety of schools (big, small, urban, college town, etc.), take good notes, make a list of likes, don’t likes, and must haves.
- Junior year—continue adding possible colleges and removing some for not meeting criteria. (For example, my daughter likes liberal arts colleges, but has decided schools with fewer than 1500 students are just too small.)
- Junior year—visit more campuses. Take advantage of school holidays and breaks. Look for colleges you might be near as you take family trips.
- Summer before senior year—narrow your college list. I’m nervous when students have fewer than 5 schools on their lists and I know most students don’t have the time, energy (or money) to apply to more than 15. (They Dorsey list currently has 10 schools. That might increase or decrease by a couple between now and August.)
- Summer before senior year—make sure you have done official tours with a minimum of three of the colleges on your list. Visiting friends and relatives doesn’t count. You need the tour and information session from the admissions office to count it as a college visit.
As I found, it was easy to imaging we would have time to make all these college visits—until I started to pencil them in on my calendar. Most admissions offices let you schedule campus visit online, so you can do this at anytime.
Note: Many campuses are in a transition period right now, so don’t worry if you can’t schedule summer visits just yet. The national date to inform students of college admission in April 1. Seniors have until May 1 to inform the colleges of their decisions. Many schools are still focusing on this year’s seniors and will get summer visit schedules online soon.
Ideally students should be involved in meaningful activities throughout the year. But sometimes projects, community service, and hobbies get delayed during the school year. Summer is the ideal time to catch up.
This summer my daughter needs to finish her Girl Scout Gold Award and she has a goal of earning more service hours. She will also attend a week-long psychology institute at Wake Forest University. And we can’t forget all those hours working on speech & debate!
What are your summer plans? What else can you accomplish?
When students tell me they are just going to hang out for the summer, I remind them they will still have time for fun AND activities. And if you need a little convincing, take a look at some college applications and see how well you can fill in the “activities” section.
I will cover the topic of applications in greater depth in another article. What you need to plan for is some time, maybe a couple weeks, to draft a resume and start working on college essays. Summer is a great time to get started, but keep in mind, most colleges don’t open their online applications until August 1.
For those of us with juniors, that senior year will be here before we know it. It seems like high school just started and now the reality of college applications is here.
Take a little time to actually put testing, college visits, activities, and application work on your calendar, so you don’t accidently fall behind.