Back-to-School Check List for Rising Seniors

Senior year of high school is perhaps the most stressful time of a student’s life.  College-bound seniors know that there’s a lot that needs to be done—keeping up grades, retaking standardized tests, writing college application essays and supplemental essays—and not very much time to get all the work done. For many college applicants, their stress is compounded by concerns about potential college rejections, uneasiness about leaving home, worries about their own abilities, and apprehension about upcoming costs.

For high school seniors, the tension and stress at this time of year may feel overwhelming.

T­­o make sure that you get off to good start, we’ve compiled a back-to-school checklist to ensure that your senior year goes smoothly.

1.  Check the admissions testing policies of the colleges to which you are applying.  

Are the colleges test-optional or do they require the SAT or ACT?  Do the colleges you will apply to require the SAT subject tests? Do they require the SAT essay?

2.  Finish testing.

If you plan to retake the SAT, ACT or SAT subject tests, sign up now. If you are applying for September 2020 admission, the fall tests are the last opportunity you have to improve your scores. If your scores are below the average scores for the colleges you want to attend, consider hiring a test prep professional to ensure that you get the score you want. 

3.  Know the Application Submission Deadlines. 

Many colleges have multiple application deadlines, one for early decision (ED), one for early action (EA) applicants, one for regular decision (RD) applicants, and another for rolling admission. Consider the implications of each option–early decision, early action, rolling, regular–and determine which application deadline is best for you.

4.  Write Your Common Application and/or Coalition Application Essay. 

The Common App essay/Coalition App essay is the only opportunity you have to show college admissions officers who you are beyond the pretty numbers on your standardized test profile and transcript. As such, the importance of the application essay cannot be overstated: You need to prove that you are capable of independent thinking, intellectually curious, and empathetic.  If you are applying to an Ivy League school (University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, and Yale University) and or a Seven Sister school (Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College, and Vassar College) writing a superb application essay is crucial. 

5.  Make Sure That Your Extra-Curricular Profile Makes You Look Like a Leader.

Because of the overwhelming number of students applying to college in recent years, college admissions officers are paying more attention to applicants’ extra-curricular lists in an effort to determine who stand out and who doesn’t. Make sure that your extra-curricular list emphasizes leadership, initiative, and focus. 

If you’re concerned about your extra-curricular list and want to make sure it’s outstanding, click below:

6.  Write the College Supplemental Essays.

Many colleges have already posted their 2019-2020 supplemental essay prompts. If the colleges to which you are applying have not yet posted their supplemental essay prompts, check the websites daily for their supplemental essay prompts. As soon as they are posted, start working on the essays. Remember, your goal when writing is to show the colleges how you stand out from your peers. 

Seven Sister schools and Ivy League college supplemental essays must also show evidence of intellectual curiosity. 

7.  Follow up. 

Check that your colleges have received records and recommendation letters from your high school and your SAT or ACT scores from the testing organizations. A week after you submit your application, call the colleges you applied to and confirm that your file is complete.

8.  Confirm Financial Aid Requirements. 

Check with each college for specific financial aid application requirements. Dates and forms may vary. Fill out and submit forms.

Want help managing all the stress of senior year?  Call me!

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.