How to Apply to College, and Other Senior Year Advice from Struggling Seniors

Although the prospects of off periods and graduation can give senior year a relaxing, High School Musical-esque impression of leisure, the last year of high school can become the most stressful one if given ill-planning and poor time management.

The anticipation of the future during the college application process can cause stress among students, especially those are not sure of the best options regarding their future careers. Along with their busy schedules, seniors must find time to research colleges and possible scholarship opportunities, as well as answer essay prompts and study for standardized tests.

“Your teachers are expecting you to focus on their classes whenever you’re doing college stuff at the same time,” Samantha Sandusky said.

To help enjoy senior year, it is beneficial for students to begin the college application process in the summer. Ideally, completing standardized testing during junior year gives seniors time to either improve their scores or focus solely on the actual applying portion. Students can further refine their direction by researching colleges that their interested in, including the requirements of the college, possible programs that relate to their major, and scholarships offered.

“Make sure that you check for all scholarship deadlines because the scholarship deadlines will probably be before the actual college admission deadlines, so make sure you can get the money,” Hannah Engebretson laughed.

By looking creating Common Application and/or ApplyTexas accounts and writing essays in the summer, applicants have an adequate amount of time to elaborate and revise possible ideas. The essay prompts can be very overwhelming, and the most difficult part is starting them.

“Do as much college stuff as you can over the summer. All college essays, do as much of getting ready to apply, if not applying before school starts,” said Madison Galer. “I didn’t and I was warned to do that and I still … procrastinated until three minutes before the early deadline was.”

To refine an essay to its best form, have as many people critique it as possible, whether it be from peers or teachers. Even if the writer does not agree with their suggestions, each reader offers a new point of view of how their words may be interpreted and reveal possible points of weakness in the essay.

“Show your college essays to multiple people and be okay with getting hard feedback,” Engebretson said.

Official transcripts are sent directly to the designated colleges and can be requested on the Timber Creek Keller ISD website in the Counseling section. Transcripts mailed or picked up by the individual or student are considered unofficial. Each transcript costs three dollars.

Many colleges require counselor recommendations. Check Common Application and the college’s website for a full list of specific requirements. Counselor recommendation forms are available by request in the Counseling Office. Once they are filled out, students should turn them in weeks in advance of deadlines to ensure that counselors have time to write an insightful letter and meet with the student if necessary.

Likewise, request teacher recommendations from former or current teachers weeks in advance of deadlines. In order to write accurate and exemplary letters, many teachers will request students to fill out forms describing their accomplishments, aspirations, and so on. Students should keep this process in mind several weeks before the deadline.

“Be friends with your old teachers,” Epperson said. “Whenever you are going back to these teachers, make sure that you tell them how much you appreciated their course, because they’re going to remember that more than they remembered if you got a question right or wrong on a quiz.”

Grades are an essential portion of the college application process. It can be very easy to become consumed in the pursuit of a higher GPA or rank while sacrificing one’s mental health. However, students are more than just a number.

“Don’t stress too much about grades,” Anna Thomas said. “Yes, I want to be number one for pride, but for college, it doesn’t matter. As long as you get good grades, you’ll get accepted.”

As cliche and obvious as it sounds, do not procrastinate. There are many steps one can take to reduce procrastination and adopt efficient studying habits. Something as simple as a change in location can exponentially increase productivity.

“I don’t study well at home because I get really distracted,” Sandusky said. “Studying in public helps me more. I’ll spend like 6 hours at Starbucks on my days off and I’ll knock out all my homework. I’ll take my charger and everything so I don’t have excuses to leave early before all my homework is done.”

Students may discover they are visual, auditory, and/or kinesthetic learners. By discovering which style of learning they prefer, students can choose methods of studying that will optimize the information they retain.

“I do really well when I’m talking the information out with somebody, so I like to have a study partner… who’s doing it with me, or even somebody who doesn’t know the class,” Alaina Richardson said. “I’ll study with my sisters all the time and they have no idea what I’m talking about, but as long as I’m saying it out loud, it helps me. If I can explain it to somebody else, then I understand it.”

In contrast, visual learners may tend to color code notes and draw more diagrams to link ideas.

“Make pretty notes, because then you actually want to look back at them and you also absorb the information more,” Emma Dovers said.

Many practice tests and review courses exist to help students improve their standardized test scores, both online and in person depending on how the student learns best. For students with busy schedules, online resources offer a flexible means of studying on their own time.

Focus on academics from freshmen year. Although it may be difficult to adjust to a new school environment, freshmen year can set the foundation for the rest of your high school career. It is easy to drop in rank, but very difficult to rise. Subsequently, continue to focus on academics and activities in senior year. As underclassmen, many students scoffed at the idea of senioritis, thinking they could evade its sharp hold. However, senioritis is very real and it comes with a thirst for blood.

“Make sure you’re always doing something,” Madison Galer said. “I feel like in senior year, it’s easy to, because you don’t have many classes, to not be involved or do anything, and it can get pretty boring. So, just be involved in something.”

Join clubs and organizations in freshman and sophomore year. During underclassmen years, students have more time to participate in extracurriculars. These extracurriculars can help students discover what they are passionate about and what they do not care for. Furthermore, the people you meet can improve the rest of your high school career.

“If you’re in an organization, stick with it because those are the people that you’ll be friends with all four years of high school,” Erin Obregon said.

Although academics are important, extracurricular activities play a fundamental role in the college application process. These activities reveal not only the applicant’s priorities and character, but also how they were impacted throughout high school.

“Make a college activities resume so that you can see the activities that you’ve done over time and the impact it has had on your life,” Engebretson said. “It makes it easier to structure your short answer questions, and also some colleges require additional resumes.”

Ultimately, the goal of senior year is to enjoy the final year of high school and make lasting memories with peers, many of whom have gone to school together since elementary school. By beginning the college admission process early, having a clear direction, and managing their time wisely, seniors will have more time to enjoy painting their spots and screaming under Friday night lights.

“Take the time to really enjoy [senior year]. You don’t have a whole lot of time, … everything just feels really pressured and really stressed, so it’s important to find those little pockets of time where you can really enjoy the moment and spend time with your friends and get ready to leave next year,” Engebretson said. “I would tell my freshman self not to worry about where I’m going to end up, but be more focused in the journey of how I’m going to get there.”

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