This article appears in College Prep 2018.
Creating a college checklist is vital to keep up with all that needs to be done, especially in the crucial junior and senior years of high school.
To keep your student on track, Rob Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review, answers some all-important questions about this stressful time. Franek is the company’s main authority on higher education and has been a college admissions administrator and test prep teacher. His newest book is “College Admission 101: Simple Answers to Tough Questions About College Admissions and Financial Aid.”
Q: What should students be doing in the 11th and 12th grades to prepare for the college admission process?
A: I always tell students their job is to be awesome academically and take on a challenging workload, do well on standardized tests and research colleges to equip themselves with as much information as possible.
Q: What classes should I take?
A: College admissions officers want to see that you are taking tough classes that will make you college-ready and show your commitment to learning. They will be more understanding of a few Bs in rigorous courses than if you take a bunch of easy classes that don’t look like you worked hard on your academics.
Q: If I didn’t do well with my academics in freshman or sophomore year, am I already doomed?
A: Not doomed at all! This is the time to bring those grades up: A must in your junior year, particularly. An upward trend in your grades will show admissions pros that you’ve matured and can overcome challenges.
But don’t leave improvement up to chance: There are things you can do, and it makes sense to take the initiative as early as possible. If you’re having trouble understanding a subject, meet with your teacher outside of class. Think about getting a tutor (your school may have a free program or you can look at online tutoring for affordable options.) Another option: Study groups with friends are awesome and so effective. Remember, don’t wait until the end of a marking period to ask for help.
Q: Should I take the SAT or the ACT? Do schools prefer one over the other? Is one easier than the other?
A: It’s a myth that colleges prefer one exam over the other. Truth is that since the SAT was redesigned in March 2016, the SAT and the ACT are now even more similar than ever. While some students want to take both, my recommendation is that you take a practice SAT and a practice ACT (Note: You can sign up to do this for free at princetonreview.com) and see if you prefer one over the other or score higher on one over the other. Then focus on preparing for that test. Remember, there are no demerits for taking both exams. Over 460,000 students did just that last year.
Q: More and more schools are saying they are “test-optional.” Can I just skip taking the test?
A: The truth is many schools are test-optional — just over 1,000 in 2018. That said, remember to check your college list carefully to make sure they don’t require score submissions. However, I strongly recommend that you do take the SAT or the ACT test. It can increase your options when it comes to colleges and may be necessary for scholarship applications.