Seniors: By now, you should already be well underway with your college applications. One of the most common mistakes I hear about are students missing application deadlines. This absolutely should NOT happen. You must stay organized and keep track of all of your colleges’ varying deadlines. I highly recommend you create a spreadsheet with all of your colleges and their deadlines to ensure that everything is turned in on time. If possible, turn things in BEFORE the deadline (I can’t tell you how many times an application portal has crashed on a deadline day because so many students decide to submit their applications all at the same time!! Don’t let this happen to you!). This is extremely important since all colleges have varying deadlines for Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), and even for Merit Scholarship consideration. For example, if you have schools like the University of Washington, any University of California school, and/or the University of Southern California on your list, all three of these schools have different deadlines (UW Nov 15, UC Nov 30, and USC Merit Scholarship Deadline at Dec 1). Make a spreadsheet and stick to it!
Are you considering applying Early Decision?
Some Pros: there certainly seems to be an advantage to applying in this early window. For example, in Jan 2021, 18% of Brown University’s Early Decision pool was admitted compared to 5.4 % acceptance rate in the Regular Decision pool. Now, this is NOT a reason to apply ED – the majority of ED applicants are recruited NCAA athletes, legacy, and typically your strongest applicants in the class which is why the acceptance numbers are so high. However, if a specific school IS your #1 choice, ED is definitely something to consider. Does this mean you have to apply Early to get into the school you want? Of course not. But there is no denying the strategy behind it. The admission folks at Vanderbilt University do a great job explaining more in detail here.
Some Cons: Early Decision is a binding contract meaning, if you are accepted you WILL attend the school and withdraw all of your other applications. If you will need to compare financial aid offers, ED is not the right choice for you. Also, if you really are not sure that one school is your top choice, or your current academic profile (GPA, test scores, etc. ) is less than stellar you may not want to apply ED since the majority of students who apply in this pool typically have the most competitive and complete profiles.
Juniors: Usually, test preparation should also be at the forefront of your mind. However, with some universities going test-blind (University of California) and most staying test-optional, many junior may still be wondering if they should test or not. IF you are in an area where testing is available and you feel standardized tests MAY help make a case fo you to certain colleges, there are tons of free resources available online – take advantage of all of them. There is truly no excuse for not coming to these tests prepared. Here are some of my favorites:
-If your area has opened up and you have activities to account for: Make sure you take some time to look at your entire junior year schedule. Write down everything you have prioritized for the year (high school rugby season, club rugby season, finals week, prom etc.) Then, make sure to cross-reference this to the dates the SAT and/or the ACT are being offered. Make sure you don’t plan to take one of your standardized tests the same week or day as something else you plan to do (each year I hear horror stories of students having to take an ACT all day and then try to make it to a state championship game that afternoon!)
Sophomores & Freshmen: Fall is the critical time to start getting involved on your high school campus. If your high school is closed and there are not opportunities to join a school club, I highly recommend trying to get involved with your community in other safe & distanced ways such as volunteering to sort and pack food at a local food bank or doing beach clean ups and similar activities.
Colleges look for students who are passionate about their interests and take on leadership roles. One of the best, and easiest, ways to do this is to join a club at school early on. Love animals? Join your local Animal Lovers’ Club. Love engineering and science? Check to see if there is a Robotics of Math Olympiad club or an online class you could take on your own time. Interested in giving back to your community? Check out TeenLife’s list of 10 Community Service Activities for inspiration. If there isn't a club at your school that peaks your interest, start your own! Admissions counselors will look for depth of a passion and interest; this should be seen in all areas of your application, from your classes to your extra-curricular activities. Ideally, if you join a group early, by the time you are a senior, you will also be able to take on more leadership roles which is extremely valued on a college campus.
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