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College Prep 101

College Prep 101: All You Need To Know To Get Them Ready For Freshman Year

For many high school students and their parents, planning for college can be the 1000-pound elephant in the room, or as the Plano Senior High School website (http://k-12.pisd.edu/schools/PSHS/COUNSEL/Coladm.htm) notes, “the college admissions process can be a monstrous task without careful planning and attention.”

A good place to start is right in the high school guidance office, where college resources abound. In addition to onsite guidance counselors, many high schools provide online information and links to helpful websites. For instance, the Plano Senior High School website offers a wealth of advice. It states, “The college admissions process begins far ahead of one’s senior year. Depending on which college a student plans to attend, there are several requirements that students should be informed of.” As a general rule of thumb, it suggests that students research specific requirements and expectations for college admission, such as:

• How many and which class credits are needed
• Which state and national exams are required, including SAT & Subject Tests, ACT, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness – End-of-course assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S history, (STARR EOC), and Texas State Initiative (TSI) – An assessment to diagnose students’ basic skills in reading, mathematics, and writing and developmental instruction to strengthen academic skills that need improvement
• Are entrance essays required?
• Does the college or university ask for teacher recommendations?
• What emphasis is put on school involvement and clubs?
• How important is volunteer involvement?
• What are the financial requirements and is financial aid available?
• Important application dates and deadlines

The website also provides a college planning timeline for juniors and seniors with detailed instructions specific to the high school’s protocol.

Professionals and university administrators agree the best way to manage what can be an unruly task is to take a deep breath and start planning early. Sherry Nowak, an Indiana based professional college planning counselor, likes to see students as soon as eighth grade. She strongly encourages incoming high school freshman to make an appointment with their school counselor so they can plot a curriculum plan. That way, prerequisite courses can be scheduled to prepare for subsequent, more difficult classes. “The earlier, the better,” Nowak advises. “I don’t think most people need a private college counselor, but they should have a plan and start early, so there are no opportunities missed along the way.”

Alyssa (the university does not allow her to release her last name), an Admissions Representative, Student Ambassador, and sophomore at the University of Texas, Austin (UT) urges high school students to take challenging classes like honors or APs and to get involved in extracurricular activities. “It’s better to choose one or a few activities and be very involved,” Alyssa advises, than to spread yourself too thin and not gain leadership experience. Her other recommendations to high school students include:

• Students should maintain a school and social time balance. This will prepare them for budgeting time in college.
• Work hard. Universities look for an upward swing in grades from freshman to senior year.
• Consult with a guidance counselor during junior year to discuss potential college and university choices.
• Work very hard junior year. This is the year that really counts!

As far as scholarship applications, Alyssa says all colleges and universities differ. “UT automatically considers students for academic and athletic scholarships once they apply senior year.” Private scholarships, however, may have earlier application deadlines.

If your student needs a step-by-step guide, the SAT website (http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/when-to-take-sat) offers perhaps the most comprehensive and detailed timeline, including actions to take from freshman year on. Students typically take the SAT during junior or senior year in high school. At least half of all students take the SAT twice − in the spring of junior year and in the fall of their senior year, with most seeing improvement in scores the second time around.

The SAT offers Subject Tests™ that are required by some universities. Most students take these tests toward the end of junior year or at the beginning of senior year, but it is advised that tests such as Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, and World History be taken as soon as possible after course completion. Students tend to do better on language tests after at least two years of study.

See the SAT’s Overall High School Timeline here!


Good Life Family asked local high school juniors and seniors for their college prep advice to underclassmen. Here are their thoughts:

Emily Wood
“It’s never too early to start looking at colleges! As a freshman you think college is years away, but next thing you know it’s your junior year and you are taking your ACT/SAT. I recommend you tour the colleges you are most interested in during the summer before your junior year. You can also go online and take virtual tours.”

– Emily Wood, Junior, Plano West Senior High School.


“Looking back over the time I spent applying to college, the one piece of advice I would share is to have all of your applications finished before your senior year begins.  MasonAlthough some colleges do not accept applications until after school starts, you can go ahead and have them completed and ready to go.  While some colleges use the Common Application Form, you will soon discover that every college asks for different information, such as varying essay topics.  It’s much easier to work on it when you’re not spending 8 hours at school each day. I felt like it was advantageous for the universities to receive my applications at the earliest possible date.  And the sooner you apply, the sooner you begin to receive acceptance letters, which is actually pretty nice.”

– Mason Buncher, Senior, Plano West Senior High School. Plans to attend Auburn University or The University of Oklahoma.


  • Use college match websites such as Parchment.com and CollegeBoard.org to your advantage. Setting your preferences will narrow the spectrum of schools that may be an ideal fit for you. These websites can also help you determine where you stand in terms of a fit academically.


  • Make sure to keep a list of your extracurricular activities and resume enhancers; you may forget something that you did your freshman year when the time comes to apply to colleges.
  • Start taking practice tests early for the SAT and ACT so you know where you are, and can set goals for where you want to be when you are a senior.
  • Make sure you take note of admission essay topics as they come to you and seek opportunities to excel through leadership and learning experiences.

– Austin Bennett, Junior, Plano West Senior High School



Start thinking about what they want to do and what kind of colleges they want to go to (big, small, private, public, etc.) Start building your résumé now and recording what you’ve done. It’s hard to remember everything you did as a freshmen when you’re a senior, and colleges like to see a variety of activities. One of the biggest things that has helped me with the college app process is applying early regardless of the deadline. Apply in the fall even if the deadline isn’t until January, that way there isn’t any stress once the deadline comes around.”

– Kayla Mykeloff, Senior, Prince of Peace Christian School & Early Learning Center. Will attend Hillsdale College in the fall (Hillsdale, MI)



“Although the most essential aspect of the whole application process is to deliberately convey your true personality, creativity is essential. While it is imperative that you approach the application process in a fashion that represents your character and passions, creativity allows you to take the process to the next step. Creativity in your application may be the one aspect of your application that separates you from the pack, and the farther your separation, the higher your chances of being individually marveled upon and eventually accepted.”

– Sepand Abootorab, Senior, Prince of Peace Christian School & Early Learning Center. Will attend St. John’s University in the fall (NYC).



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