Note: This post originally ran on Kenton County Public Library’s Blog, written by me.
Okay, I admit it… this title is misleading. My daughter Andi is a senior in high school and I’m not really sure what the best way to prep for senior year is but I can tell you some of the do’s and don’ts we have learned along the way. I will say you should start preparing before freshman year even starts.
- Draft a plan for the next four years that includes what classes your student will take and when. Make sure you cover all of the requirements and then figure out what electives your child might want to take. Andi changed her mind throughout the years on the electives but at least we had a plan and knew exactly what had to be taken to meet her graduation requirements.
- Decide with your child if they will take advanced or college placement classes and do your research. Not all colleges accept AP credits and even some of the credits accepted do not actually give you the general study credit you need. Your teen must pass the AP test, a college exam, at the end of the year to even receive the credits. Although some colleges accept a weighted GPA (a B is an A if it’s an AP course), not all colleges do. Since high school students are taking college level courses in the 10th and 11th grades, they don’t always score as high as they would if it was a regular course. This will impact their GPA. Along with your student, decide if you want to focus on college credits, rigor or GPA.
- Most colleges require students to have two consecutive years of a foreign language in high school. Think about this when scheduling freshman classes and drafting the four year plan. My daughter started taking Spanish as a freshman. She is now taking AP Spanish as a senior. Our hope is that she passes the final exam and that the college of her choice will take that credit since she plans to minor in Spanish.
- Unless you have a huge college fund sitting around, instill in your child that they are their ticket to college. There are a lot of opportunities for scholarships based on grades, ACT tests, community involvement, etc. Make sure they understand that 9th, 10th and 11th grades count. High school can be fun but don’t sacrifice grades for a good time.
- Unless you are looking at an elite school, most colleges require a decent GPA and ACT score. Many do not look at rigor, extracurricular activities or even require an essay. However, scholarships look at all of that. You do not have to be a 4.0 student with a 36 ACT to receive a scholarship. Scholarships are given to cancer survivors, students who volunteer their time to work with the elderly, those who take on a service project, children of alumni who have at least a 2.5 and worked a soup kitchen. Okay, it might not be as specific as that last example but it’s close. Andi has done a lot of volunteering over the years but it was here and there type stuff. Now that we are looking at scholarships, we wish she would have picked at least one agency to really focus on all four years. Take a look at scholarship opportunities when your child is a freshman so they can plan ahead and be sure to meet any requirements. Your school’s guidance counselor should be able to lead you in the right direction.
- Take the ACT more than once and take a prep course. Andi took the pre-ACT as a 10th grader and the real ACT in March of her junior year. This gave us a baseline for a very difficult test. We then enrolled her in Torch Prep (there are several courses out there to choose from), which taught her the strategy behind the ACT. She took the test again in July and received an increase of four points. The course was definitely worth the cost since she will now receive merit scholarships based on her ACT/GPA combined.
- Choosing a college is difficult for the child and the parents. Obviously cost plays a huge part but you still want to choose a place that your child will be comfortable and receive a good education. Go on several college tours, even to schools you didn’t think you would consider just to compare. Consider whether the child will live on campus, off-campus or at home. Make sure the school offers the program of study your student is interested in, even if they do change their mind 10 times. Once you have narrowed down the college choices, have your child shadow a student for the day at the schools they are interested in. Andi will be shadowing a social work student at Northern Kentucky University next month. She will have lunch with that student and professors. I believe this is the best way for her to decide if this is the program for her or not.
- Dig out your and your child’s financial information at the start of their senior year to prepare for FAFSA. This is the financial aid application that everyone is encouraged to file, even if you don’t think you will receive money. This application even determines if they can work on campus. Visit the FAFSA website in advance to make sure you have everything you need. The application process starts Oct. 1 of your child’s senior year and the money is given to first come first served. This includes some student loans. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations so that your application is not delayed.
- Your child will start applying to colleges in the fall of their senior year. Take a look at the common college application and help them get a head start.
- There are a lot of fun things that happen senior year as well – senior photos, prom, senior pranks, college acceptance letters, graduation parties, senior trips and more. My daughter is so focused on grades, college aps and paying for college that I do have to remind her to have a little fun. It think helping our children balance, especially their senior year, is a big part of our job.
And remember, just because you and your child choose one path freshman year, doesn’t mean you have stick with it all four years. Your student will be figuring out what works best for them as they go. It’s not set in stone, just a draft to guide your student through the next four years.
Suggested Resources (click on the link to put on hold):
The Other College Guide: a Roadmap to the Right School For You
Winning Scholarships for College
Paying for College without Going Broke
Kenton County Public Library’s Learning Express – ACT and SAT Prep