Whether in your experience it feels like a whirlwind or slow motion… senior year is more than half over! You’re on the home stretch.
Above all, my hope for you is that you can spend the next 4 or 5 months until graduation being present in your last months (for many of you) living at home with your family, and going to school with classmates you may not see much after this summer. I couldn’t wait to leave my small town and high school; decades later I feel nostalgia and gratitude for the key teachers who pointed the way and encouraged me (hello, Mrs. Subram, my senior English teacher!), my family, and the cast of characters who made up my friend group and then dispersed to new directions.
If you received an Early Decision admission offer— congrats! You’re all set (don’t forget to send your deposit!) If you have Early Action or other offers in hand, those offer a lot of relief for the months ahead, knowing that you have options in hand.
For many seniors, the next couple of months can be a challenging time as far as thinking about your college search. Likely, most or all of your applications have been submitted by February 1, and now it’s time to wait.
Whether or not you have applications pending (and even if you have an Early Decision destination locked in), this period isn’t altogether passive. There are still things to do to stay on course and connected.
Stay in touch— While you don’t want to overthink or over focus on “demonstrating interest,” the fact is that colleges want to admit students who are likely to attend, and one way to show your likelihood is to communicate. If you haven’t yet, write a sincere, succinct, and personal email (meaning one that reflects your voice and not generic platitudes about the school) to the admission officer assigned to your region— check the college’s admission website if you don’t know who this is; most colleges have an assigned regional rep.
Read more about "demonstrated interest" from my friend Sara here.
Set up and check your portals, and check your email! Every college and university doesn’t use an admission online portal, but many do. Usually, the link to set one up comes by email at some point after application. Set it up, and check it regularly! This site will provide application updates, possibly your final decision, and is the place to submit any updates.
On the same note, I can’t say this strongly enough: check your email. While your generation doesn’t use it much to communicate, it is the primary mode of communication in the adult, college and work worlds. Don’t miss vital information, invitations, requests for information, or anything else because you are not checking it at least a couple of times a week, and get used to the habit of doing so! Worst case scenario, I know of students having applications withdrawn by the college simply because they missed a request for a lost document, update, or additional information that was sent repeatedly to their inbox (case in point: UC’s and Cal States don’t ask for transcripts at the time of application and they can’t be submitted then, but sometimes they request them for clarification during review!)
If your application was deferred from an early round, you want to send a follow-up message to indicate your continued interest. By the way-- your application is still in the mix! It's frustrating to have a decision postponed, but your application will be reviewed again in the regular decision pool.
Note: there is a lot of randomly generated bad advice floating around out there about “LOCI” (letters of continued interest) on Reddit forums, etc. In fact, I think the term LOCI itself came from Reddit forums. There’s not a formula or recipe, or any guarantee that an update message will tip the scales, but colleges often consider whether you are still keeping them in consideration. A simple note, sent by email, is sufficient— and any updates on your academic and extracurricular life since you filled out the application are helpful and welcome. Some colleges (USC, for example) make it clear that they do not want additional information— respect this request! Others, like Colorado College, send a short survey asking you directly where they stand on your list— answer!
On this note— refrain from the impulse to send new letters of recommendation, or other documentation that is not requested. It’s an ask that takes up valuable teacher time and will likely not be considered.
Keep researching and learning about the finer points of the experiences offered at the colleges you applied to. Attend online information sessions or presentations on special programs— admission offices are doing a lot more of this kind of “virtual” information sharing these days. It’s so easy to focus on “getting in” that we can forget that you’re making a choice about a place you are going to live for four years. Get as much information as you can!
Keep the focus
“Senioritis” can be a powerful force. Stay the course— colleges want to admit and enroll students whose academic powers are tuned and on an upswing. On the other hand, small shifts in your record aren’t going to sink your ship. Think of it this way—if you’re an A/B student and your final senior transcript at graduation has multiple C’s, or a D (let’s not imagine other possibilities), the admission office at the school you’re planning to attend may be concerned. Usually this results in a letter— sometimes it just reminds you that you were admitted with the expectation of continued work at the level you had shown, sometimes it asks for a written explanation, sometimes you may be put on academic probation to start your college life, and sometimes, if you let things go seriously off course, admission can be rescinded.
Even more precarious to your future than academic bumps are any disciplinary consequences you may face in senior year. Make good decisions— there is often an exciting celebratory spirit emerging in senior year as you and your friends feel the freedom and independence coming your way. Enjoy it— and be responsible. Your whole educational future can and likely will be jeopardized by a bad decision that leads to suspension or expulsion from school.
On a final note, this may be the first moment in your life that you’re living with uncertainty over an outcome that is out of your control. It’s not easy, but try to practice embracing and living with that gray area. In many pivotal moments in your adult life, you will have to put yourself out there, and wait for the results. Know that you did your best at the time you applied, and recognize that college admission decisions are neither validations nor rejections of your worth as a human being. There are institutional priorities and behind the scenes conversations that you can never know, and which aren’t about you. It is so important in your life to learn to focus on what’s in your control (see all of the above advice) and let go of the many things that are not!
This is your time— this is the ideal moment in your high school trajectory to start digging into the college search.
First off, create some systems to manage and organize information over the next year. Email is an important communication medium for your college search. You may even want to make a new account specifically for colleges— it’s not a bad idea; just be sure you’re checking it frequently. Create some folders to organize messages from the colleges that you’re interested in. It’s also a good idea to make a spreadsheet to keep your notes and thoughts about different colleges together, along with any visit notes.
In the last calendar, I talked about how to begin doing research. That research develops and leads to the most meaningful options when you think of it as a continually evolving process— as you learn about what different colleges and communities have to offer, and how those things connect with what you know about yourself, your preferences, and how you learn, those factors shape your search and lead to new discoveries.
This spring might provide some good opportunities for you to visit colleges in person. It’s the ideal time to start that process, in my experience.
See my tips and advice on planning visits here.
I also talked about planning for standardized testing in the last calendar. This is the ideal moment to begin preparation, if you haven’t. As I always say, you can familiarize yourself with the tests and testing scenario with a book of practice tests (found at any bookstore) and a timer, but you may want to do organized prep. If you’re starting now, the best first tests to plan for are probably the May SAT or April ACT. You don’t have to take both, and both are equally accepted at colleges that use testing. It’s a good idea to try a “diagnostic” practice exam (available for free from many test prep companies) that indicates a personal preference for SAT or ACT, and then focus on preparing for that one. If testing is in your future, it’s a good idea to have one test taken before the summer. If you choose to, you can take another test in early fall if you want to keep aiming for a certain score.
A few reminders: Test optional is very real— non-submitting applicants at some selective colleges make up as much as 50-60% of the applicant pools this year.
Superscoring is also real— most colleges will take your best subscores from different dates to create your best overall score for consideration.
Finally— plan and register in advance. In many regions, seats for the tests have been filling up quickly in the last couple of years. (By the way, for families with younger students, the Digital SAT comes online in spring of 2024, creating a whole new testing reality.)
It’s time to start thinking about the summer ahead! To address one of the most common questions students have— there is no “right” way to spend a summer, or any activity that is necessarily more meaningful to college admission offices. What’s important is to think about doing something with your summer that reflects or deepens your interests. It’s also important to give yourself a little down time and time to think, reflect, and energize for senior year. That’s it. For some students, the most important thing they need to do over the summer is to have a job and save some money— that is a great thing to do, and it shows responsibility and maturity.
If you’re not sure yet what you want to do, this list compiled by Teen Life is as good a place to start researching as any.
Meet your counselor. Make sure you have met your school’s assigned (college) counselor before the summer. Course selection for senior year offers a great opportunity to check in with them. Keep in mind that this person will be asked to write a recommendation letter on your behalf, which provides some larger context for the teacher recommendations you’ll ask for later this spring or when you come back from summer. Help them help you (as an advocate and as a guide) by making yourself familiar now— later on, you may want to provide them with an activities list or “brag sheet” to refer to when they put your recommendation together. When you apply to colleges, it’s usually the counselor’s responsibility to send that document along with the “secondary school report,” which includes the school’s profile (if they have one) and your transcript.
One final note for juniors: find ways to manage college chatter among your friends and in your community. It’s inevitable, but can quickly become unhelpful and distracting from your values and priorities that should be shaping YOUR college journey. Some of the happiest (and most "successful" by any measure) students I've worked with never even shared their application list with their peers at school.
9th and 10th graders
As always, these students should keep up their efforts to “do school” to their best ability! This means learning from experience: how to manage your homework, how to work effectively with teachers, how to engage in the classroom. It also means continuing to explore your interests outside of class.
Soon, you will have the opportunity to make some choices about classes for next year. In tenth grade in particular, this is an exciting time— junior year in many schools opens up a lot more freedom of choice in the curriculum. Be sure you talk to your school counselor about your options and the plan; at this point you can look all the way ahead to senior year and have a vision for your pathway in some of your core subject areas.
Some general advice about course choice: colleges generally prefer that you stay the course in the five core academic areas. These are English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language. You can specialize more in college— all these disciplines are necessary for your educational foundation. It’s good to get advice from your teachers about your next choice in math and science, if you’re not sure. As for language, it’s an area that many students decide to opt out of in the later part of high school. This is an acceptable choice, if you are filling in that opening in your schedule with another academic course that is of interest to you. Keep in mind that most colleges with any selectivity will want to see 3 years of foreign language completed, and that not taking enough in high school could lead to you having to take it in college in order, eventually, to fulfill that requirement. Thinking about math choices is a little more of an individual conversation, but keep in mind that currently, many colleges will want to see a Precal- Calculus pathway for admission or for certain majors, if they are considering that in admission review. Also, keep in mind that most of the very selective colleges will want to see Calculus. Finally, don’t take a course just because you think it “looks good.” Following your authentic interest and curiosity is always the way to go as you make decisions in high school!
As with juniors, it's time to think about how you're going to spend your summer. How can you continue to explore your interests, or explore new interests, in productive ways?