Sophomore & Junior College Prep Checklist

Calling all 10th & 11th graders! Here is your check list and game plan for applying to college. With proper planning you will have acceptance letters that you will make you proud. ***

If you are in 11th grade, hopefully, you have visited a few schools and taken eitherChecklist the SAT or ACT. If not then register now for both the ACT  and SAT.

What to Know and Do

Your grades and course load are the most important measures when colleges evaluate your application. If you are falling behind, work hard, get good grades, and get tutoring (especially in math and science). It could save you $1000s of dollars if you win academic scholarships.

Don't be "Deer in headlights"! Be prepared.

Get a summer job. This can start as early as 14 years old. The more work experience you have, the more you impress the admissions departments. Note that during the school year a part-time job should not compete with your schoolwork.

Get involved – Your resume should show that you have participated in community service and have had some type of leadership role in any activity i.e.; sports, work, scouts, volunteering, or school club. Summer is the perfect time to focus on this.

The quality of your extracurriculars are more important than the quantity. Take your passion or interests and develop it in these three areas:

  • Leadership – You are Captain, Leader, or President of your “passion”.
  • Community Service – Share your talents, give back to the community.
  • Enjoyment – Do it, because you love it (music, sports, robotics). This is what makes you interesting!

Visit colleges – Go on official tours and attend information sessions. Every college visit will help you determine where you want to go. The more schools you visit, the better decision you will make.

Read extensively – or take summer community college classes in subjects that interest you. Take them for non-credit or if your high school allows for credit.

Take both SAT and ACT in January, February or March of junior year. Better to collect your test scores early rather than waiting for the May and June tests.

If applying to highly selective colleges  note that they require the “ACT with Writing” or SAT II Subject Tests. The advantage of ACT vs. SAT,  is that it does not have separate Subject Tests (SAT IIs). If you are submitting SATs, then you need to sit for additional SAT II Subjects tests. The Saturday test offerings are far and few, so it becomes quite complicated taking multiple test requirements.

If you will be submitting SAT scores (not ACT) then think about taking SAT Subject tests in both Sophomore & Junior year, when the material is fresh. Note that AP exams can sometimes substitute for SAT II in rare cases.

Once you have a test score benchmark, you’ll know if you need to study more and what types of schools are in your target. You can retake your preferred test (ACT or SAT) again in June. Do not wait until senior year.

Create a list of colleges. Go to ‘s “Super Match” or “College Search” to help you create your list that include two reaches, six likely s  and two safeties. You will input your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, desired geographic location, size of school, major, etc.

Create your resume. A resume is helpful for many reasons and it is easy to do. This will be helpful when completing college applications, for teachers who write your recommendations and for college and job interviews. Parents can help you with this task by collecting and organizing your information.

Recommendations! At the end of junior year, ask two teachers to write your college recommendations. Many teachers cap the amount of number of recommendations they will write, so ask early!

If your school uses Naviance become familiar with the college “Scattergrams”. The scattergram profiles college’s acceptance rates in that high school based on the students SAT scores and GPA.

***If you do not want to stress out about applying to college, you can postpone doing many of these tasks. However, this may mean that you end up going to less selective colleges, miss out on receiving merit awards, and miss deadlines for big flagship universities. Less selective colleges can be fabulous learning institutions and experiences and can be perfect for many students.  ***

Be a college geek and get it done! 


Your College List Strategy…

Few students will apply to only one school (usually for the purpose of early decision or they have the heart set on their flagship public university), but for the rest September is the time to polish up your final college list and commit to sending 7 to 10 applications.

Smart applicants will cast a wide net of schools that fall into the below categories:

2 Reach Schools

Match Schools

Safety Schools

2 Financial Safeties  

= 10 Applications

Guidelines of  “Reach”, “Match”, “Safety” and “Financial Safety”:

Reach schools– have low acceptance rates, and your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are might be school’s average. The college also has a very low acceptance rate.

Match schools–  means you have a realistic chance of being admitted. For a school to be a match,  your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are above the college’s average and the acceptance rate >30%.

Safety schools–  GPA and SAT/ACT scores are well above the college’s average and the college has a high acceptance rate, >60%. Note that a college hates to be considered a “safety”, so be sure never to mention that you think they are a safety!

Financial Safety– means you apply to schools that you can afford to attend; in-state public college, community college,  or a college which will give you significant scholarship. There are very few opportunities to receive big scholarships. Examples include if you are a recruited athlete, or your SAT/ACTs are outstanding and a less selective college offers “full ride”.

Where to start? You have talked with friends, family, and your guidance counselor. You have attended college fairs and visited a few campuses. Now print a copy of bart “College Comparison Spreadsheet” and start filling it out. Our favorite site for researching a college’s data and fast facts is

Do you want Merit Scholarship offers? Then apply to more “safety” schools and “Early Action” schools. If it is a state university, apply ASAP. Many are rolling admissions so do not wait until the deadline! As the saying goes “the early bird gets the worm, the acceptance, financial aid and the scholarship”! Note that very selective colleges rarely offer merit scholarships, although they will offer financial aid, and that usually means loans.

Applying to several colleges, at about $60 each, is expensive. However, do not limit yourself because of the application fee. Remember you are “casting a wide net” and want to create opportunities to be considered for merit scholarships. If it is too expensive, apply for a fee waiver. Go to  fee waiver application .

Do not let your high school guidance counselor discourage you from applying to your well researched, list of 8+ schools! After you have received several Acceptance Letters, your next hurdle will be comparing tuition, financial aid and maybe merit scholarships.

Many colleges are offering “Priority” applications which often will waive the application fee if you apply by a certain date. Do call your favorite admission office and find out if they are offering “Priority, No Fee” applications. An increase in applications benefits the college’s rankings so many are offering this marketing strategy. Colleges want you to apply to them.

Do you have your List? Now attack those applications!

Don’t be a Ghost Applicant

Who are you?

Admissions officers like your application but still don't know who your are.

Admissions officers like your application but still don’t know who your are.

You have worked hard submitting so many college applications over the past few months. Your essays were crafted with care, you did your best on the SATs and ACTs, and paid a whole bunch of $70 application fees (ouch). Now it’s time to rest, right? Nooooo!

There is more work to do! Admissions officers are reading thousands of applications. And 100s of the candidates could be identical to you; same scores, same course load, same extracurriculars. Who will get the coveted acceptance letter? It will be the student who has expressed a true interest in attending their school. The other kids in the pile of applications never visited campus, never requested additional information or visited the website. This applicant is a phantom, he or she is a GHOST. After all your hard work in submitting your application, do not be a ghost applicant!

Many colleges, especially the smaller liberal arts schools, track the interest that you show. This is called  “demonstrated interest”. By demonstrating interest, you may increase your chances of receiving an acceptance.

Demonstrated Interest could be:

  • Visiting campus and registering with the admissions office
  • Attending college fairs, introducing yourself to the admission officers
  • Sending a question via email to the admission officers
  • “Liking” the college’s Facebook page
  • Responding to emails from the college
  • Checking with admissions office regarding the completeness of your application
  • Logging onto their college portal system (if they have one)
  • Participating in the college’s admission webinars
  • Visit the college again!

Demonstrating interest assists the college in evaluating whether you are a serious applicant verses a ghost applicant. Ghost applicants have the tendency to not attend the college if an offered an acceptance.  Their reasoning maybe that the student thinks of the college as a “safety” school. Offering acceptance letters is a big deal to a college admissions office. It effects their overall admissions statistics which then effects their rankings. Give your application a boost by demonstrating interest!


Timely March Tips regarding Applications

Seniors – You are closing in on making a decision.

You have done the hard work of submitting applications, filing financial aid forms, test taking and visiting campuses. Maybe you have received some acceptances. Now finish strong with these tips:

  • Check in with all the admissions offices that your application is complete: recommendations, SAT scores, and high school transcript.
  • Revisit the colleges where you have been accepted. Try to arrange staying overnight with an acquaintance. This is when you will get a real snapshot of the school. Stay at more than one school so you can make comparisons. Is nightlife important to you? This is how you find out.
  • Attend accepted student programs.
  • Make a list of pros and cons of each school. Use the College Comparison Spreadsheet. Go to home page  >”Freebie Worksheets”.   
  • Read the college campus reviews on Know what culture of the school is. Does it work for you or would you be a fish out of water. Push yourself for growth and self-awareness and be truthful with yourself.
  • Discuss the finances of paying for your education with your parents. Can you afford attend a residential college? Or should you start slow and take a few community colleges first?
  • If you are ready to make a decision, submit your deposit. *  Many schools give priority housing on first come, first serve basis. This could be the difference of living in an awesome location or in a “forced tripled” off in the no man’s land part of campus. Please note that it is unethical to submit more than one deposit, although some schools do allow you to submit a non-binding, refundable deposit. Read the fine print.
  • Local Scholarships, apply to all! Contact your guidance office and reach out to organizations, i.e., church, scouts, etc. to find out if any are offered. Although the award may only be a few hundred dollars, the odds of winning are usually good and they are impressive on your resume as you search for internships later.

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Juniors – Now the fun begins!

  • Visit as many college campuses as you can in the next few months. It is better to see a campus while school is in session and the campus is full of students. Saturday day trips are economical and valuable (see below).
  • If a college is on break when you plan to visit, do so anyway. Never miss an opportunity to see a college campus. Every visit you make will help you in understanding what you want in attending college.
  • Even if you have no intention of attending a college that is within a 1-2 hour drive from home, visiting “local” campuses and going to an information session is a tremendous, low-cost (since there are no hotel rooms involved) opportunity for discovery. Get up early on Saturday morning and make a road trip.
  • Visiting several schools in a few days is exhausting. This is why day trips to nearby schools are excellent opportunities for determining the right school for you.
  •  Start thinking about the summer.  The more planning you, before the start of senior year, the better your application! A few summer jobs, essay writing, visiting more campuses, and studying for the ACTs and SATs. This is the summer to kill it! 

 Sophomores and Freshmen: Enroll for the most challenging classes.

  • Keep up the hard work in your classes. Don’t get lazy! If you are struggling in a class, be sure to seek extra help. Let your teachers know how hard you are working.
  • Do you have any special interests? Figure out ways to expand on them, maybe through volunteering or through a job. Are there any community college non credit classes that interest you? Take them! You learn a lot being on a community college campus. Bill Gates & Jeff Zuckerberg want you to take computer coding classes. Go to to learn more.