Throughout a student’s senior year, there are many milestones, deadlines, firsts and lasts. These all come with a mix of anxiety, excitement, and sadness for both the student and their families.
One major event students are currently engaged in is the college application process. Having been through the “application season” as a teacher, principal, and parent, I feel like I understand the process and the excitement and stress that it creates. For those of you unfamiliar with the college application process, I hope to share my insights; for those of you currently in the mix, I hope to commiserate with you!
The college application process typically begins in a student’s junior year. Shortly after they take a national standardized test, like the PSAT, students start to receive mail (and email) from colleges. These marketing pieces provide a broad overview of the school and encourage students to visit and learn more about how the college might match their interests and personality. Students begin to develop a list of features they are looking for in a college (large or small, rural or urban,…) and a list of colleges that might fit their criteria.
In the spring of the junior year and during the summer before their senior year, students start to visit campuses. This provides the student with the chance to tour the campus, look at classrooms and dorms, meet other students and really get “a feel” for the school. In my experience as a parent, there were campuses that felt right immediately and some that we instantly knew were not going to work. Even if a campus wasn’t a good fit, there was always something to take from the tour-I liked their computer support, the semester abroad program was excellent,…-and look for on another campus. We visited small rural schools, large urban schools and a good range in between for campus tours and open houses.
As the campus tours wind down and the senior year begins, it’s time to make some decisions about the actual application process. When my daughter had narrowed down the list of schools to which she wanted to apply, we created a giant chart with the name of the school, it’s application date, the application cost, and a column to mark that the application was submitted.
At this point, the work falls to the student. They need to complete the application. Most schools use the Common App, so most of the information needs to fill in only one time. Students need to ask teachers for recommendations. This can be difficult for the student since they have to determine which teachers know them best and can provide the best reference connected to their intended major. From a teacher’s perspective, I always wanted to know as much information about the student’s plans and goals to be able to craft the best letter possible. Ideally, students provide teachers with adequate time and information to complete the task. Senior level math, science, and English teachers are in high demand, so the earlier they are asked, the more likely the letter will be done on the necessary timeline.
Students work with their English teachers on their college essay and with the guidance office on transcripts. The school counselors are also busy writing letters of recommendations, answering questions, and generally providing support and encouragement during this stressful time (for students and the counselors!).
Finally, when all the pieces of the application are ready comes the fateful moment when the student clicks “Submit” and puts the decision into the hands of a college admissions officer. And then we wait. Admission decisions start to come in mid-December, but several BFA students have heard from their colleges already (and been accepted!).
And of course, once the acceptance letters come in, it’s time to think about Financial Aid! But, we’ll save the FAFSA and loans and grants for another blog!