“Be ready. Things happen fast when you’re a senior.” This warning to avoid getting behind in school has been told to every incoming twelfth-grade class that I can remember. So here’s your chance to hear it – and prepare – before that day comes. If a student addresses these five things before the start of Senior year, they will have a better chance of finishing strong and an easier time of finding their “right fit” college – and they won’t be playing catch-up in that all-important final year!
1. Compiling Their Resume
Compiling a resume is best done as a student progresses through high school. Adding significant entries soon after events have been completed, or as they are occurring, makes sure that no important events have been overlooked. Editing will be ongoing, of course, especially as more important items and experiences overtake earlier entries. But it’s much better to get to senior year with too much than too little; that way your college-bound kid can edit down to the best possible resume.
College Prep Parents can be a big help to their kid by reminding and encouraging them to compile a resume as they go through school – rather than trying to sit down and compose a resume from memory as they are filling out a college application.
2. Volunteering Their Time
Volunteer service performed by a high school student brings double good news. The first good news is that some individual or group was helped in some way. The second bit of good news is that a teenager volunteered their time and energy to do something for someone else.
Since the most rewarding kinds of volunteering usually involve performing services and building relationships over time, service to others needs to be a part of your student’s lifestyle long before his or her senior year. By starting early in high school, a student who has been involved in meeting real needs will usually look forward to the next opportunity to make a difference.
I tell my students that college admission folks love to see volunteer service on a resume, even if the reason for service was to have something to put on the application. Colleges know that students already in the habit of serving others are the kinds of students they would like to have on their campus.
3. Taking Those Tests
“When should my student take the SAT or ACT?”
Most testing professionals from the college entrance exams will tell you that students are at the peak of their readiness during the spring of their junior year. Most high schools’ curriculum sequences will already have covered what is reflected in the SAT or ACT, and students themselves are usually motivated to jump some of these final hurdles on the way to college.
With practice material so readily available to students online and in the form of the PSAT and other tests, there is no reason to wait – especially to take the tests for the first time. That means practice material and practice tests should be engaged early enough that your student is ready to take “the real thing” during junior year. The fall of the senior year should be reserved for re-testing if the target score has not been reached.
Also, starting the testing regimen before senior year can reduce testing anxiety. When a test-taker knows that they have several more opportunities to test, if needed, they tend to avoid operating out of panic.
4. Planning for Recommendations
Two people need to keep a college recommendation in mind. One is the student who will need a recommendation, but the other is the person who will write it! College-bound kids who know they will want recommendations from teachers, coaches, counselors, church leaders, and others can be proactive in building relationships with their future recommenders.
What’s more, your student can tell these adults that they hope to ask for a recommendation soon. When a student lets an adult know that they may need a recommendation someday, it tells that adult four important things:
- The student is maturely thinking ahead about their future.
- The student realizes the value of the relationship they have with that potential recommender.
- The student can be expected to be conscientious in their involvement with the recommender, knowing that the student has a reputation to maintain.
- The student sees this adult as potentially part of their “college prep team,” whatever their role might be.
5. Previewing the Job World
Job shadowing, part-time work, interning, apprenticing – whatever form it takes, I think high school students need to see what employment looks like in the real world. Seeing how people and ideas mesh to get a job done, apart from school, can give a high school student a greater sense of purpose to all this stuff that they are studying – and help them see the importance of taking college planning seriously.
Being involved in these types of situations early in high school can help a student as they are forming personal goals. I have known some students who thought they were just making a little money, or getting some required service hours, or killing time before their ride came… but they were surprised to learn that they were really learning:
- How to stay engaged mentally while doing tedious and monotonous, yet important, tasks. One high school sophomore I knew manually microfilmed thousands of files for an insurance company over several months.
- How to problem-solve in an atmosphere of urgency. Several students were hired part-time to answer tech support calls for an internet company. Customers called in all stages of concern. Some were frantic, some mildly frustrated, and many embarrassed by a lack of computer knowledge.
- How to exercise precision in producing reports. Student volunteer managers for sports teams compiled statistics for coaches, websites, and newspapers. They experienced being depended upon by a lot of people interested in what they reported.
The opportunities for exploring job-related tasks are limitless for the student who is encouraged to “try it” by a College Prep Parent. And there’s a lot more to gain in this area, like the others I’ve mentioned, if your child starts before their senior year.