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Prepping for college: Lessons from a high school senior

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Overwhelmed by the college process? You aren’t alone. Photo Credit: US National Archives (https://flic.kr/p/8cKNxs)

Being a high school senior is without a doubt the most fun year of anybody’s high school experience. However, it comes with one major responsibility. Getting ready for college.

Getting ready for college is an experience that will start off pretty steady but will likely get very stressful. But all of the happiness that comes after the stress is a feeling you will never forget the second you open that acceptance letter.

So, how should you start your process of getting ready for college? Frankly, it all begins before senior year, with a high school student’s most important academic year, junior year. The college experience begins earlier than you might think. Most colleges will look at your junior year transcript and judge you as a student based on your grades for that year, with a little help from the first semester of your senior year.

So for you juniors, and sophomores as well, make sure you buckle down now. If you struggled during the first quarter, there is plenty of time to turn your year around and boost that GPA that will carry your weight into the college of your dreams. It is going to be a grind but you will see in the near future that the hard work will pay off.

Junior year is also a great time to get ahead of the curve and figure out what style of college you would like to attend. Whether you like big colleges with top division I sports programs or a small college with fewer people and a smaller campus, thinking about where you can see yourself going is going to help in the future when you go to apply to college.

Once you figure out what style of college you like, start visiting schools that fit your criteria as soon as possible so can understand your options of where you want to go. You may walk onto a campus and know right away that it is the place you want to be. Or you may find yourself not really feeling at home at any of the colleges you visit. But the only way you will find out is if you go and see for yourself. Don’t just rely on the words of your friends, teachers, or college counselors – take the initiative!

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An aerial photo of West Virginia University

Now, over time you will likely begin to realize what you consider your dream job to be. This may change over time, but I think the earlier you figure out what you want to do for a living the better. One thing I’ve learned from people in my life is to figure out what you love to do and follow your passion into college because you know the old saying, “If your job is doing what you love, you will never work a day in your life.”

Take me as an example of this, I love sports and knew right away I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in sports. I have been told I am a pretty decent writer which led me to take a journalism class to give me a feeling of if I wanted to pursue sports journalism as my career. That is why I took this class because I am taking what I love and am running with that idea of pursuing something I’m passionate about.

This next step is going to seem like a pain. But it is so important. And that is to get your letter of recommendations in order from your teachers. I would advise getting two letters from teachers and you will automatically get one from your college counselor. You should ask your teachers at the end of the junior year so that the teachers can work on the letters over the summer.

But you might be wondering who you should ask. My advice for who should ask would be to ask a teacher that you have a good relationship with that you have made throughout your time in high school. A teacher that you know more personally. A teacher that can speak to the things you do well.

For me, I have been a member of the St. Joe golf team for the past three years, and this year, one of the coaches also happened to be my teacher. Because I know him more personally, I asked him to write my letter because he knows more about me than just my academic performance, and can speak to multiple experiences he has had with me over the past few years.

Once you have arrived at this point, after you have decided where you want to apply, after all of your letters of recommendation are sent off, honestly, most of the enjoyable parts about getting ready for college are likely over until you get your acceptance letters. That is unless you enjoy taking the SAT’s and ACT’s.

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Photo credit: University of South Florida

Yes, the next part of getting ready for college, when everyone is upset that summer break is coming to the end, and the time to grind out those impressive scores on your standardized tests has come around. My advice would be to take each at least once, figure out which test suits you better and take that particular test at least one more time after some preparation.

Using my own experience as an example, I took both tests and thought the SAT fit my skills much better. I then spent time receiving tutoring once a week to build up my skills and test-taking abilities in order to prepare for the test again. This time, I had a specific goal in mind, and I worked to achieve that higher score once I was better prepared. In my opinion, this is the most efficient way to achieve a score that will make it easier to attend the school of your choosing.

Once you receive your test scores after about 2 weeks, it is now time to start forming your applications. I highly recommend applying as early action to all of the schools that you are seriously considering attending. Applying for early action shows that you are interested in that school, and shows a level of commitment on your part to those schools specifically. Also, early action gives you a quicker answer than a regular decision application so you can gain a bit more time to a final decision once those answers are received.

You will also need to figure out which application that each school you’re applying to uses. Whether they use the Common App, the Coalition App, or a school-specific application, I would recommend joining a college application workshop if the opportunity is offered at your school because it is a great time to be productive and get a jump start on the formation of your applications.

While completing your applications, one of the most important parts of the process is going to be the college essay. Your essay needs to be something unique, something to set you apart from all of the other applicants to the school. I would suggest writing about something that has made you into the person you are today.

essaycomicstripFor example, in my essay, I wrote about my experience working at a restaurant and explained how that work, along with juggling my academic responsibilities, taught me to balance my life and shaped me into the student I am today.

Once you have completed your application, and finished writing your essays, it is time to send off your forms. Then the waiting game begins.

I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat it, but his part will likely be anxiety-inducing as you wait to hear back from your schools. But, it will all be worth it when those acceptance letters start showing up in your mail.

Yes, this is a stressful process that is going to take a lot of your time and energy. It is going to take a lot of time and energy of your teachers, your college counselors, and all of the people who are going to be prodding you along the way to get your applications done. Definitely try to get ahead of the curve and get things done as soon as you can; it will help immensely when senioritis sets in and you need to meet your deadlines.

I do hope that this article helps you understand the college process. As someone going through it, I can say it is an amazing ride, though definitely stressful at times. To all of the students at St. Joe, good luck and enjoy the rest of your high school career.

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Mike Gourley, Senior

Mike Gourley is a senior and a member of the Multimedia Journalism class.