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Starting the college process

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Photo by Olivia Hardwick.

SILVER SPRING, Md.– As the end of the school year approaches, many high school students are already looking past the summer and making future plans.

Each student’s process varies based on what stage they’re in, but all college-bound high schoolers have the same goal in mind — making the procedure as easy and painless as possible. 

Rising college freshmen

Because seniors must commit to a school by May 1, known nationwide as “Decision Day,” most spend the end of the school year and the summer scrambling to confirm last-minute plans.

Mia Rothberg, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, applied to 13 schools. Like others, she wanted room for rejection and options.

Rothberg was accepted into eight of the 13 colleges, which she viewed as both a pro and a con while making her decision. 

“I applied to a lot of schools because I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a school,” Rothberg explained. “Though I have a lot of options, I [was] kind of at a disadvantage because I [had] so many to choose from.”

Rising seniors

After closing out the school year with AP testing, juniors don’t get much time to enjoy the title of “rising senior” before they jump into even more tests.

Rising seniors spend the summer working to increase their SAT and ACT scores before they have to submit their college applications at the beginning of November.

Many Montgomery County students have taken advantage of the added standardized test opportunities offered at their schools — like the free SAT administered at Blair in April — to get ahead in the process.

“I’ve taken the [SAT] twice now and the ACT once,” Maddy Merrill, a junior at Blair who took the free test in April, said. 

Merrill also advises students taking the SAT or ACT to invest in a tutor.

“[Tutors] help you see trends in the questions and you come to understand what kinds of questions will be on the tests,” she said.

When they’re not engaged in test-taking, rising seniors are visiting schools.

A college fair was held at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in April to help students learn about various schools across the country.

In addition to visiting schools in their own time, juniors at Blair were given the opportunity to take a field trip to the college fair.

Rising juniors 

Sophomores enter the college process by designing their course load for their junior year of high school.

“I’m trying to show that I can take on a challenge,” Camille Wilson, a sophomore at Blair, said when asked about what she wanted her classes to display to colleges.

Wilson’s course load, like those of many of her fellow students, is heavy — she is taking four Advanced Placement (AP) classes and several honors courses.

Many sophomores are also beginning to think about the SATs that they will be taking in the fall of their junior year.

“Leading up to the SAT, I plan on taking a prep course. My goal is to get a high score,” Blair sophomore Amelia Frey said.

Most rising juniors try to get a high SAT score in the fall so they will not have to retake the test in the spring.

At the end of the school year, sophomores also begin to plan campus visits for the summer and their junior year.

Caroline Thorne, a Blair sophomore, is planning on visiting some east coast schools over the summer.

“I think it’s important to start looking early because there are just so many schools out there,” Thorne explained. 

What’s in a good application?

It’s important for all high schoolers to remember that a good college application is composed of several different factors, Karen Foust, retired executive vice president for enrollment of Hendrix College, explains. 

Classes, grades, test scores, extracurriculars and teacher recommendations all go into getting into a school, according to Foust.

“The rigor of your classroom experience and the courses you’ve taken will be looked at. We will look at how many AP classes or honors courses you’ve taken,” Foust said. “We’ll look at the trends in your grades — did you keep your grades pretty steady all the way through [high school] or did you make some major improvement?”

Some schools, however, are doing away with looking at test scores entirely and the schools that are continuing to include them in the student selection process are not weighting them as heavily as they used to.

“The transcript does hold about two thirds of the decision. We look at the rigor and difficulty of the courses that you have taken, but if you took no AP classes and there were no AP classes available at your high school, that’s different than if you took no AP classes and there were lots of AP classes available,” Foust said.

Her general advice for high schoolers? Don’t slack on the college process and work hard in school.

“What you do every day in the classroom is the most important thing that we’re looking at,” Foust said. 

 

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