Note: This is the third post in our Starting Your College Search series. Read Part 1: Three Ways to Help Parents and Teens Communicate and Part 2: Do A Critical Review of Your 5 Key Application Components.
In this series, I previously addressed learning to communicate well about the college process, and then reviewing your application package to evaluate what needs to be done. Now, this final blog focuses on a very important, part of spring semester – planning your standardized testing and campus visits!
Not everyone enjoys looking ahead and making plans. However, parents and students feel grateful when I encourage them to look ahead and make plans, because the semester goes so quickly. Without the right planning, you can miss opportunities that you need to successfully apply to college.
From the review of your application package (as discussed in Part 2), you might have a few plans already – raise a grade in one of your classes, try out for a new team or event, or create a resume. Add any other goals you have, and then create your plan to be successful in finding the right college. In this blog I will review the two most critical components you need to plan now: standardized testing and college visits.
Planning Your Standardized Testing
First, get out your calendar and plan your standardized testing. Remember, you want to take your test of choice at least twice. So, starting with that goal, here is what needs to be in place:
1. SAT or ACT? If needed, you need time in the near future to take practice tests of SAT and ACT and decide which test you are taking (you can also use PreACT and PSAT to compare). This needs to happen as soon as possible so that you can make the rest of your plan.
2. Prepare. Make time to prepare, and make a plan for that preparation. Whether you are going to self-study or take a class, you must prepare for your test of choice. Most classes run about 8-12 weeks and include taking practice tests, so that represents a good standard for preparation timeline.
3. Choose Test Dates. Many people don’t realize that you can only take these tests on certain dates, but the tests aren’t offered that often. Identify test dates that work for you. Many students have conflicts with some test dates – spring break, sporting event, vacation, exams, etc.
4. Register well in advance. Some test dates and test centers fill up, and also registration deadlines are earlier than you might think. Registering well in advance will allow you to get the most convenient or ideal testing center. If you need to move your registration, you can, but you can’t add in a registration to a test date that is late or full.
Planning Your College Visits
After you have a great plan for standardized testing, move on to make a plan for your college visits.
1. Start near home. Identify 2-3 colleges near you that you could visit but only miss a teacher workday, or a half day of school. Try to see different types of schools, and do these as soon as possible to help inform other visits.
2. Look at your existing travel schedule and breaks. Are there holidays from school that would allow you to see colleges without missing too much school? Using this link, you can find colleges listed by state.
3. Book visits well in advance. In my experience, almost all normal school holidays fill up at some schools – holidays like Presidents Day, spring break, etc. get booked up early with students and parents. You need to register with the admissions office to do an information session and a tour in order to have your name in the register as having been on campus. Check out our guest blog from a former Dean of Admissions to get more advice on college visits.
In conclusion, you should literally be looking at a calendar of the spring semester and plotting out where you will be able to take tests and visit colleges. I push my students to do more visiting and testing than they might do on their own, but when they get to 12th grade, they see why! If you are applying Early Action or Early Decision somewhere, you need to land in the fall of 12th grade with a solid set of test scores and a good idea of what you might want in a college.
Creating a plan for the semester ahead will ensure that you end up with the information you need to find a great college fit for you!
Nicole has dedicated the entirety of her 20 year career to encouraging higher education opportunities. After graduating from Vanderbilt, she worked in her alma mater’s admissions office. The, she completed her PhD in Counseling so she could bring that expertise into college counseling. Nicole partnered with her former Vanderbilt colleague, Fitz Totten, to form Find The Right College and support their mission to make trustworthy advising more accessible.