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The website for parents who…

  • Are feeling overwhelmed
  • Aren’t sure who or what to believe 
  • Want their children to have the most opportunities possible
  • Don’t want to fight with their teen
  • Feel they don’t know enough about applying to college today
  • Want their child to stand out from their peers

Dear Parent:

My name is Danielle Bianchi Golod and if you are anything like the clients I have helped over the past 17 years, you want to do whatever you can to help your child succeed.

Most parents that I speak with are overwhelmed with all of the information, all of the deadlines, and all of the advice on “what they need to do” from friends and family.

Let’s face it, applying to college is far different than it was when we did 20 (or more) years ago.

As parents, we want our children to have every opportunity available to them.  At the same time, we know that some teenagers may not place great importance on preparing for college when that is 2, 3, or even 4 years away.

The best advice I can give any parent is to educate themselves and their children as early as possible about the college admissions process.  This will reduce stress in your home, allow for good decisions, and open the most doors possible.

Where to Begin?

Let’s start off with how you can best prepare yourself and your children to stand out from his or her peers when it is time to apply to college.  We will talk about more advanced topics like test preparation, prospective NCAA athletes, learning disabilities, scholarships, and financial aid at the end.  For now, let’s take a look at each year of high school and how parents and students can get a leg up on the competition…

Step 1 – The College Preparation Timeline

Preparing for 9th Grade

9th grade is a time to explore. It’s a time to get involved with activities in school. Students should join a team, a club, student council; they should discover a passion in art, drama, music, foreign language, or sports. Some students like to just focus on their grades at school (especially because high school courses can be much more demanding than middle school courses), but save time after school for a job or community service. Some students have high aspirations (perhaps because of a family role model) to become a doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, public speaker, teacher, politician, business executive, professional athlete, actor, director, international liaison, or dancer, so they may have already started on a path to reaching that particular goal.

9th Grade Course Selection

Students should take Algebra or Geometry and a foreign language both semesters. They should try to get on the “higher” track in at least 1-2 subjects (Math/Science/Foreign Language/English/History). Colleges pay attention to those students who challenge themselves with harder classes, and some colleges simply count the number of AP courses taken over the high school career.

Students should enjoy freshman year and should develop a passion or two or three. Students should strive for As all four years of high school. GPAs will follow each student like a shadow, and grades are most important in the college admissions equation. It’s ok if students don’t get straight As, but they should always TRY their hardest. This will help them develop a good work ethic in high school, college, and beyond. If they always put their best foot forward, then classmates, teachers, employers, family and friends will take notice and will help them throughout their lives. You and your student will notice that people like to encourage those who are always doing their best. It doesn’t matter what that “best” is, just as long as the student is putting in the effort and making good strides. If they accomplish this, they will be rewarded with great teacher comments, teacher recommendations, school counselor reports, or comments from any athletic/fine arts instructor…all of which are highly important when developing the path out of high school.

Students having trouble in some classes should get some tutoring (talk to your school counselor or older classmates about options for free/hired tutors). Students should join study groups. They should develop good study habits early on so they can get into a great routine throughout high school.

Students should start an activity resume and update it throughout the year. They should add activities, awards, certificates, offices/positions held, and write down how many hours/week and weeks/year they were involved. Then they can transfer this more easily to their college applications and resumes.

If you feel your child might have a learning disability, check with your school counselor about how to acquire accommodations in classes and later for standardized tests like the 10th and 11th grade PSATs, SAT/ACT, SAT Subject tests & APs.

Summer Before 10th Grade

Unfortunately, gone are the days when we JUST relaxed over the summer. College admissions officers will be looking to see how students spent their “free” time. Did they go to camp? Did they join an immersion trip? Find some enrichment program that allowed them to develop a passion or hobby? Did they take a workshop in photography, engineering, music, filmmaking, math, science, writing, foreign language, or art? Did they work at a job that taught them about responsibility and independence? Did they read some interesting books? Did they attend summer school to help a poor grade from 9th grade or to get a head start on some class for 10th grade?

Preparing for 10th Grade

10th grade is a time for students to reflect on their 9th grade year and look forward to the rest of their high school career. Did they get the best grades they could have achieved while also maintaining mental stability? Did they develop relationships with teachers? Did they like joining a club, sport, yearbook, student council, or take an elective they enjoyed in computer science/drama/art/chorus/web design? Students should continue a passion, hobby, interest, or talent. They should continue to take classes that challenge them.

1oth Grade Course Selection

10th grade will be more challenging in terms of academic course load and the ability to prioritize. Students should sit down with their school counselors to make sure they are taking the best college preparatory course load. They should stay involved on campus and in their community so they can add to their resume, but more importantly, so they can get experience working with people and on their own. They can start to realize their preferences which can help them start to develop ideas for a college major they might want to pursue.

If students are struggling with classes, they should check in with teachers, join study groups, or get a tutor. They need to make a change or they will not see a change in their grades.

Students should continue to add to their activity resumes. They should take the 10th grade PSAT in October.

Students will likely be completing 1-2 courses this year that could prepare them for an SAT Subject Test. They need to register in March-April for the May test or in April-May for the June test.

Some of my sophomores have finished or are finishing Algebra II and can think about taking the April or June ACT.

Students should make some good summer plans: work, volunteer, take a workshop, join a camp, find tournaments that could showcase their athletic talent (and offer a chance to meet coaches), continue developing a passion or artistic talent, or shadow someone in a business industry of interest.

Summer Before 11th Grade

Students should again check in with their grades and GPA. Should they take summer school to enhance their GPA or just to give them some experience with a college level course? Local community colleges likely have some courses, but students need to confirm with their school counselors that the course(s)/grade(s) will transfer properly to their high school transcripts (if they are looking for credit).

Students should stay involved in their communities, participate in enrichment programs, enter writing/art contests, enjoy camps, travel and keep a journal, read books, and/or browse college books like the Fiske Guide or the Book of Majors.

Many of my students study over the summer for the 11th grade PSAT administered in October. It’s also wise to start the first SAT/ACT in early-late fall of 11th grade. It is especially important for athletes to start early since college coaches want scores early.

If you feel your child has a learning disability, talk to your school counselor about accommodations in class and for the upcoming standardized tests. The earlier in high school you figure this out, the better.

Preparing for 11th Grade

This is a BIG year as you have heard. Juniors will take their PSATs in October and start their SAT/ACT testing process soon thereafter. Students should research colleges (through books, online, or via virtual/actual campus tours). It is wise to start the standardized testing process in Oct-Dec of junior year so students have sets of scores back in time for potential college visits over spring break. (Then they will also be able to compare their GPAs and test scores to different college statistics).

11th Grade Course Selection

Students should continue to check with their counselors about their college preparatory course selections. They should continue to strive for their best grades possible. This is the last year of grades that count into the overall GPA. Colleges look most closely at junior year grades and courses.

Juniors should register by September for the October PSAT. The PSAT prepares students for the SAT and it is required in order to be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship that can help earn money towards college. The PSAT scores can also help predict potential SAT/ACT scores.

Juniors must register early for any AP tests they might take in May.

Students should attend college fairs near them or any presentations by college reps at their high schools. Students should start meeting people involved in the colleges they love the most. The more networking done, the better. Students should schedule private interviews with reps from colleges on their lists.

Students should hone skills, fill out activity resumes, find leadership positions, work on fine arts portfolios, keep in contact with coaches via email, make visits to college campuses if possible.

Students should prepare (with tutors or practice tests) for the SAT and/or ACT tests. It’s wise to take two of the particular test that suits them most. That way they can likely improve or can have two sets of combined scores that show their best in each section. While not all colleges “superscore,” most look at the best the student has done in any section on either the SAT or ACT.

If testing is NOT your child’s thing, then start looking at the list of colleges that don’t require standardized tests.

If students are in AP/IB courses, they will be taking the AP/IB exams in May. They should make sure they’ve registered and that they’re prepared. If they’re finishing courses that could prepare them for SAT Subject tests, register in March-April for the May tests or in April-May for the June tests.

Juniors should sit down with their counselors and begin planning their senior year courses. While these courses may not be added into the GPA, all colleges ask to see what students have chosen to take and will later look at the grades achieved. The more rigor in the course selection (i.e. strive for AP courses), the better.

Students should check in with final SAT and ACT scores. They should see if they will need to retake any tests in September or October of senior year.

Juniors should complete their college lists.

They can search college websites for the essay prompts on their applications (many come out in March/April).

Juniors should ask their favorite two academic teachers (ideally from junior year) if they would write their teacher recommendations. They can pick a teacher who knows them best or one who could help explain a lower grade.

The family can also think about who might be able to write any outside letters of recommendation.

Confirm summer plans (usually by March).

Summer Before 12th Grade

Students should complete portfolios, audition tapes/DVDs/websites, special materials required for fine arts, music, theater, or sports.

Students should enter contests, shadow someone in an interesting industry, join camps, immersion trips, and enrichment programs. They should register for and take summer school if needed. They should continue a passion, talent, or hobby. They should start writing college essays in June-July. College applications usually come out August 1st, but schools will release their essays in the March/April prior. (I always advise calling schools to confirm whether they will be changing the essay prompts from the prior year).

Students should write their college application essays (especially their personal statement). If they have trouble writing, they should find help. They need their essay to SHOW not TELL the reader who they are.

Students need to register by August if they plan to retake any SAT/ACT/SAT Subject tests in the fall.

If students like their SAT/ACT/Subject test scores, they should start sending them to their list of schools.

Preparing for 12th Grade

Seniors need to meet with their college counselors so they can review their class schedules, grades, scores, and activities.

They should respectfully remind their teachers (and outside recommenders) about letters of recommendation.

If students are struggling with any classes, they should get tutors, meet with teachers, or form study groups.

If they plan to retake any SAT/ACT/SAT Subject tests, then they need to register ASAP (at least one month prior to the test date).

They may need to look at the most expedited way to submit scores to colleges if they want them to arrive in time for early application deadlines.

Students need to register early for any AP tests they might take in May.

Seniors should continue activities on and off campus, find leadership positions, develop talents/passions/hobbies. They should find ways to show their personality, their creativity, and their thoughtfulness.

They should edit or write another draft of their college application essays. They should get some help writing their essay(s) if they have trouble. They need to make sure to SHOW rather than TELL the reader their personality through their story.

Seniors should finish applications early—so they’re not hanging over their heads, so they can be eligible for merit scholarships, and so they can concentrate on their school work and possible standardized tests. They should have goals to finish their applications in August or September for some schools, by October 15th, November 1st, November 15th, and before Thanksgiving.

Seniors should confirm with teachers and counselors that all recommendations, transcripts, and school forms have been submitted. They should confirm with college websites through the “My Status” or “Application Status” links that all requirements are complete. Has the college received/downloaded all scores, the application, the fee, teacher recs and school reports, and the supplements to the application?

Seniors should continue to strive for As.

They should thank teachers and outside recommenders for writing recommendations.

From December – April, seniors should review their “Application Status” on every college website for their responses: Acceptances, Scholarships, Deferrals, Waitlists, and Rejections.

They should finalize university housing at those schools where housing is competitive.

They need to prepare for APs that are administered in May.

They need to submit their commitment (& deposit) to the college/university of their choice before May 1st (National Deposit Deadline).

They need to send final school transcripts (and sometimes AP scores) to their chosen college.

They need to select roommates and review Freshman Orientation guidelines.

Step 2

I promised you wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, right?

Don’t worry.  The answers to all of your questions, especially the one about how you are going to be able to manage all of this, are found here on this site.

I can offer you an easy solution to one of the biggest concerns parents I work with have…and that is how to stay on top of all of the deadlines and due dates.  We can send you text and email reminders of SAT and ACT registration and test dates, when it is time to prepare for summer enrichment programs, college application essays, application resumes, and everything that a prepared parent would want to know about in advance.  You can request your invitation here.

Step 3

Now that you have a good understanding of what is expected each semester of high school.  Let’s start to put some simple plans in place to break from the crowd.

If you are like most parents I have been fortunate enough to work with over the past 17 years, you will have specific questions about some of the topics found below.  What I can assure you is that you can help your child achieve his or her goals and more importantly you can all be proud about what he or she has achieved.

College Application Essays

Test Preparation

Applying to College

Summer Enrichment Programs

Planning for High School

Learning Disabilities

Prospective NCAA Athletes