This is part two of a six-part series discussing the college process.
All advice and instruction are provided courtesy of Barbara Gottesman, whose company, College Help! Organization and Advising Services has helped hundreds of high school students in Montclair, Glen Ridge and surrounding towns and counties over the years. She helps navigate the application process, so students can find their place in the college or university that is right for them. It’s important to note that college isn’t for everybody. Barbara is also an excellent asset for students who feel that college is not the right place for them. There is a multitude of great options for students not interested in or ready for college immediately after high school.
And that number does not include Montclair students who attend high schools outside of the township such as Seton Hall Prep, Saint Peter’s Prep, Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Kent Place School, Newark Academy, and boarding schools. Many of these rising college freshmen are competing with the rest of the nation–and the world–to attend the country’s top colleges and universities. And every year, our high schools consistently send their students to top schools, some of which have acceptance rates as low as 5%.
For many students across the United States, the college process is often the most stressful aspect of their high school careers. Whether it’s the ACTs, the SATs, the Common App, the CAAS, the Universal application, a college’s individual application, garnering teacher recommendations, or writing supplemental essays, an enormous amount of time and energy can be devoted to landing at the right college or university. It doesn’t have to be so time-consuming.
Part two will divulge the necessary information needed for high school students entering their junior year. This will put 11th-grade students on the right track before the intensity of junior year hits with full force. At this point in a student’s high school career, Barbara recommends organizing a class schedule to include certain courses that colleges and certain majors might look for. This may include taking classes that might pose a greater challenge, but in the end, the challenge will reward the student when they are sitting in a college classroom; it’s not just to have an “impressive” transcript.
Following the 10th grade PSAT, until October of a student’s junior year, your high schooler should take the time to determine which standardized test best suits their academic skill set; or, just which test they like better! It will make no difference to the college. In order to decide SAT or ACT, Barbara suggests students who are not as academically motivated to seek out a reputable ACT or SAT tutor and take an ACT practice test in their presence. The student will already have had the experience of a PSAT as a sophomore. For the more academically driven, she suggests taking a practice ACT in the comfort of their own home, currently available for about $40.00. This ACT will be scored and sent to the student privately. The student can then decide which test is more palatable or has a significantly different level of achievement. (a table comparing both tests is readily available) Once a student zeroes in on a type of exam, they should aim to take the real test for the first time in the winter of their junior year. Of course, there are exceptions to this and the educational consultant will know how to advise.
On the extracurricular side of the application, when a student is about to enter their junior year, they should take the time to pick a community service project to immerse themselves in or continue one they have been doing seriously. It’s even better to start summer before freshman year. Tutor or mentor a young child, volunteer at a soup kitchen, help an elderly neighbor with yard work or just keep them company once a week, raise money for research to fight a disease or for a domestic violence shelter, help at MESH, Interfaith Hospitality Network, etc. Students should try to find something they are passionate about. For some athletes, it’s volunteering to teach a kid how to play lacrosse who never saw a lacrosse stick. Passion is more important than quantity.
By November of 11th grade, students and their parents should begin touring schools, if applicable. Not all families have to tour at this time; it depends on the student’s maturity or the kind of colleges they may be interested in. This is another area where an outside consultant can come in. Parents can save time and thousands of dollars by not visiting colleges unless it’s essential to maximize their students’ admission chances. The consultant can tell them when and where. It is not necessary for students to visit every school before submitting an application. Demonstrated interest or touring beforehand could be moot.
At this point for high school students, the preparation for college applications can grow chaotic. But it doesn’t have to. If students keep their focus on learning/getting the best grades possible, a community service, and one of the following: employment, activities affiliated with their school or with an organization, hobbies, expanding their horizons over breaks, but always leaving time for relaxation and fun, there should be many choices for college. There are a lot of myths about getting in. Having the facts and making a plan of action will make the process stress free.
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