Gear Down for The Holidays Before Making Next Year’s Plan
by Erik R. Slagle
If you have a son or daughter navigating any stage of the college admissions process, you know how stressful this time of year can be. For freshmen, the pressure may not be on yet, but most students at all three other grade levels are feeling it. It’s time to slow down and enjoy a well-earned break, and prepare to move into the new year on the right foot by planning – not stressing – now for what comes later.
SENIORS: For many seniors, they’ve made it through the toughest part of the process – taking tests, writing essays, and completing applications. They may have even heard from a school or two if they applied via Early Action or Early Decision. Next steps will be to start weighing financial aid offers. Others may be thinking about schools with rolling admissions deadlines, starting at a community college, going to trade school or even straight to the job market. Whatever the plan, they should give themselves a short break for the holidays and know their action steps for January - June – leaving them in position to make the best decision possible when Graduation comes.
JUNIORS: Right about now, scores should be coming back from October’s PSAT – arming students with the best information to decide about when to take the SAT or ACT “for real.” Many juniors over the last few years have decided to take the December offering before getting their PSAT results, giving them the experience of sitting for the test in a lower-stress environment. In general, I recommend juniors shoot for a first attempt at the SAT in March or May, and plan for a second in August or October (depending on Early Decision/Early Action plans that come up with a closer inspection of their target schools).
It’s no secret that even the new version of the SAT, which rolled out in 2016, isn’t the best match for every student – and each year many opt to at least try the ACT. If your student is looking to fit the ACT into his or her plans, consider April or June. June is also a good time to think about a Subject Test or two, but it’s a conversation they’ll want to have with their guidance counselor before deciding whether they need them for the types of schools they’re thinking about. This Spring also keep an eye on colleges’ calendars for Spring Saturday events and other opportunities to visit a campus or two.
SOPHOMORES: Whether or not they tried the PSAT as a practice run this Fall, sophomores generally should be concentrating on maintaining strong GPAs through the first half of the school year. In the Spring, they can talk to their guidance counselor about Subject Tests IF they’re really excelling in a science or foreign language. One or two of these may be recommended if they have more competitive colleges on their radar.
In short, everyone can afford to take a holiday break this time of year and enjoy the present – there’s plenty of time ahead to think about what’s coming after high school. By pressing ‘pause’ and writing out a few key action steps to take starting in January, you can cut down on stress and feel more in control of what can quickly become a chaotic whirlwind of deadlines, test dates, extracurricular commitments … you know the rest. But remember that it’s all manageable, and we all deserve a holiday break!