Next to making new friends and figuring out how to get a locker open, probably the single most intimidating experience for high school students is the college admission process. There are applications, college visits, essays to write, and so many other things in addition to maintaining good grades, keeping up with extracurricular activities, and (hopefully) having a social life. It’s no wonder why many students fret over how all of this can be accomplished in what usually amounts to a little over a year. Luckily, it is simply a matter of keeping track of everything that needs to be done and prioritizing tasks so you finish everything on time.
That’s why I’ll be exploring how it can be done—with the proper planning—in a series of posts. Today, we’ll talk about the first step: the dreaded standardized tests and the role they play in college admission.
One of the first things many students think of when it comes to college admission is the ACT or SAT, often depending on where you live or where you want to go to school. For example, living in Kentucky, myself and all of my classmates were required to take the ACT to get into any colleges in state. However, students wishing to go to an out-of-state school might have to take the SAT (although most colleges now accept both and have no preference!). Students also might need to take SAT Subject Tests.
If you are unsure of which test you will need to take, do some research on the schools you are considering. Their websites will most likely have an admission page where they explain the various requirements, including essays, transcripts, and, of course, test scores. If you don’t know where you want to attend school, or if you have difficulty finding the information from your chosen school(s), ask your high school counselor. (I know from experience that they can be an invaluable tool in helping with the admission process!)
Once you’ve decided which test you need to take, the next step is planning and preparation. Most students take these tests during their junior year. However, some choose to begin taking them late in their sophomore year to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses in different sections. It is advised by most high schools and colleges that every student have taken the ACT or SAT at least once by spring of their junior year. I say “at least once” because many students choose to take the test multiple times so that they can assess where they need the most help each time. And not every time needs to be official; you can use test-prep books or courses and take them on your own. Just make sure you time yourself like it’s the real thing!
In between tests, it is best to use your knowledge of how you did on the previous test to study for the next one. There are an infinite amount of study materials online (many free!), in book stores, and in other places. You may also find help through your teachers. Many teachers will spend time covering information commonly tested on these exams for several weeks leading up to popular test dates, such as March of the students’ junior year. If your teachers don’t cover much, or as much as you need, in class, consider finding ACT and SAT prep books online or asking your high school counselor if there are any test-prep courses offered through colleges, libraries, or other institutions in your area.
Up next, campus visits! Stay tuned . . .