By Sarah Vincent and Genesis Cabrera-Madrigal--Eagle Staff Writer and Contributor
Between the SATs, ACTs, the Common App, and scholarships, there’s a lot going on during senior year. For juniors going in head-first, the last year of high school can feel like a mad rush to graduation.
As a senior in my second semester, there’s a lot I wish I had known this time last year. Without further ado, here is a comprehensive list of what you need to do and when you need to do it by to make your college dreams a reality.
The CommonApp is a website that combines almost all college applications into one website. The majority of the information that you’d have to fill out over and over again is condensed into one category, and colleges can add their additional questions on a separate form in the website. This is the easiest way to apply to college, and there are really no negatives.
They also have plenty of opportunities for fee waivers for students from low-income families. Talk to your guidance counselor about whether or not you qualify. If you do, it’ll cover all your CommonApp applications.
There’s a service through CommonApp called UStrive that provides you with an online mentor for applying to college. You can choose a mentor based on the college they attended, their degree, or almost anything else that you find important. Use this! Get as many resources to help you as possible.
The FAFSA is the main application for financial aid and opens on October 1. The Franklin Center hosts a ton of FAFSA information sessions for parents and students. Keep in mind, the FAFSA is for your parents to fill out. A few sections are for the student to fill out, but unless you are financially independent of your parents, they’ll be doing most of the form. Do not wait until the last minute to make your parents do it! In fact, start pestering them about it on October 1. Know when your colleges want the FAFSA, and keep in mind that it can take a few days for the FAFSA to be processed and sent to colleges. Also, if you turn in the FAFSA early some schools then offer you more money.
The two additional financial aid applications I had to fill out were the CSS Profile and I had to upload certain documents through IDOCs. Don’t worry about these unless your college asks for them, but always research to see if the colleges you apply to are asking for these or not.
I (Vincent) never took an SAT or ACT and I stand by that decision. Post-pandemic, so few schools are asking for test scores that I only recommend it if you are either an excellent test taker, need something to boost your application, or you have no additional standardized test scores. Standardized tests can be the ASVAB or an AP exam.
You can always retake the SAT or ACT if you want a higher score, but know that it’s not necessary. Stress is a big factor in your performance during the SAT or ACT, so keep in mind that you may not get a better score the second time around.
Now you know what to do your Senior year, but when are you supposed to do all that? Each student’s journey is going to look different, but following the timeline below helped us feel right on time for all the deadlines we encountered senior year.
Summer Before Senior Year:
Make a separate email for your college applications. This includes CommonApp. Trust us, your inbox will be a mess if you don’t.
Visit the schools you know you’ll apply to. Doing so will help you to answer a lot of their prompts and give you a better idea of what kind of school you want to attend.
The CommonApp opens in August. Do your best to fill out at least the CommonApp-provided questions and begin working on your personal statement.
A lot of colleges have additional programs, such as fellowships, honor programs, or study abroad opportunities that students need to apply to before they’re even accepted to the school. Research these deadlines as soon as possible and treat them with the same urgency as you would your college application.
Fall of Senior Year:
Do your FAFSA and any supplemental financial aid applications your schools request. This will require a bit of research on your end, but it’s mostly just the selective schools that ask for more than the FAFSA.
Ask the teachers you know the best and are currently in contact with for a recommendation letter. You should let them know at least a month in advance and alert them of any upcoming deadlines.
Start researching scholarships. All you should really worry about by now is organizing them based on deadline. Using Google Sheets, Calendar, or any other type of organizational app will make your life 100x easier here. We promise.
Bust out those college applications! Try not to wait till the last minute. You never know what you’ll end up needing, and what your schoolwork and other responsibilities will amount up to.
Research, and if applicable, apply for fee waivers! Application fee costs add up quickly, so don't make them a burden if you can.
Winter of Senior Year:
Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships. Skip the 12-hour Christmas movie marathon this winter break. Do the most you can as quickly as possible. This will 100% take up most of your time for the rest of the year.
Check your application portals regularly. Most portals have checklists for all the materials they need to have by a certain date. Get these in! Also, look out for a financial aid checklist. The same rules apply to that as well.
Finish up all college applications. Check over the questions you already answered to see if things have changed. Turning 18, changing jobs, or otherwise changing information on your application should be updated as soon as possible.
Keep your grades up. I know how hard senioritis hits once you’ve finished all your applications, but you’re almost at the finish line.
Spring of Senior Year:
Check your application portals again! Colleges might need last-minute materials, and this is where you’ll get your decision letter.
Get into college! You should be incredibly proud of yourself for getting to this point. You rock!
Compare your financial aid packages. Talk to your admissions counselors about how you can get more aid. Don’t settle. Colleges want you and your money. It’s basically a bidding war for your attendance.
Visit the colleges you’re really considering. This may mean a re-visit. Remember, the school excuses two days as a senior to visit colleges. Use them wisely, but definitely do not attend a college you’ve never seen before.
Finish strong! Keep those grades up. Your college can 100% withdraw your acceptance if your grades drop dramatically or you get in some hefty disciplinary trouble after they’ve accepted you.
Be proud of yourself. Thirteen years of your education are completed, and you’ve just begun the next chapter. If you’ve made it this far, you’re on the right path. We believe in you!