College admissions is an important milestone, and it takes more than just a few months to prepare for it. We spoke with Keith Wilkerson to learn what you can be doing throughout high school to set yourself up for a successful college admissions experience. Keith is the Founder and Lead Teacher for College Thoughts and has over 21 years of experience in the college placement field. He has counseled more than 7,000 families about their educational options. Here’s Keith’s advice on what you should be doing in high school to prepare for college.
What should you be doing in 9th grade to prepare for college?
1. Start Paying Attention to Your GPA Now. Your GPA Is a Four-Year Journey.
Often, students don't take 9th grade seriously because college is so far in the distance, but 9th grade is the year that you set the foundation for your GPA. If your grades are low at the end of your freshman year, you will spend the rest of high school recovering from that slow start. Work hard, do well on your final exams, and create a foundation that you can build on during the rest of your time in high school.
2. Be on the Same Team With Your Teachers.
Students often tell me that they are working to get an A in a challenging class and are surprised when I ask them if their teacher is aware of their goal. Taking the time to have a conversation with your teacher to tell them that you are interested in getting an A in their class and that you would like to know the secrets of success of their former students who have done well puts you and your teacher on the same team. You can't assume that your teacher believes that everyone wants the same outcome from their class because that's just not the case.
What should you be doing in 10th grade to prepare for college?
1. Don't Be TOO Social.
68% of colleges say that reviewing social media accounts is fair game in the application process and 11% of them admit that they have denied a candidate solely on the basis of what they have learned about the candidate online. Instead of thinking that your privacy setting allows you to post whatever you'd like online, you might want to use the "grandmother principle" - don't post anything on social media that you wouldn't want your grandmother to see. It could be the undoing of all of your hard work in school.
2. Start Leadership Now.
Colleges are very interested in seeing leadership in your application, but if you are going to be the captain of a sports team or the leader of a club in your school, you need to start by being an active participant. 10th grade is likely your last opportunity to try a new club or to experiment with a sport before you have to decide where you are going to invest most of your time so that you can be able to lead by the time you reach your senior year. Take a chance on something outside of your comfort zone and you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.
What should you be doing in 11th grade to prepare for college?
1. Maintain Your Relationships.
Your journey to college will require the support of a lot of people. Some will send in transcripts and other documents and others will write letters of recommendation. While you may ask your 10th-grade geometry teacher to write a recommendation for your college applications, it's tough when they haven't heard from you since you completed the class. Update your teachers on your progress. Check in to see how they are doing this year. If you keep the relationships alive, you make it much easier for a teacher to write a stellar recommendation because you are still present in their thinking.
2. Be Consistent.
Students think that being ready for standardized testing is about how much time they spend studying for the test, but that's not the whole truth. If I were to prepare for a marathon and I run for 30-minutes each day while another runner only runs for 3.5 hours on Saturday, we are both running for the same amount of time, but we would have different outcomes. Your brain can only handle so much information in one sitting so it's more important to study often than to study for a long time. The College Board recommends studying for 15 minutes a day - do you think that you could find that much time daily to invest in your own success?
What should you be doing in 12th gGrade to prepare for college?
1. Sharpen Your Writing Skills.
When I got to college, the most surprising thing for me was the amount of writing that was required. Though I did well in my English classes, I wasn’t fully prepared to write at the rate or the caliber that was expected by my professors. During this time, many courses are available online for free, and some teachers are even volunteering to help students build skills while they are out of school. Take advantage and become the best writer that you can be.
2. Ask Current Students Tough Questions.
Current students at the schools that you are considering can give valuable advice about which schools would be the best fit for you. Ask what they appreciate about their school, but also ask what they would change. You should also consider speaking with more than one student per school: if you are interested in studying engineering, like dance, and want to join student government, and like dance, then talk to three separate students, one from each area. And remember that asking your friend or relative that attends a certain school may give you a false positive since they probably want you to join them. An objective opinion always helps to create a better perspective.
Want to learn what students should be doing in middle school to prepare for college? Check out this post.
Keith Wilkerson is the Founder and Lead Teacher for CollegeThoughts, an organization with a student-minded team who is dedicated to demystifying the college application process, making the process more of a personal exploration than a stress-inducing enigma. A 1997 graduate of Princeton University, Keith holds a bachelor's degree in Religion with a certificate of proficiency in African-American Studies. Prior to launching this business, Keith served for 18 years as the Senior Program Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region for A Better Chance, offering middle and high school students opportunities for private education. His responsibilities included overseeing recruitment, placement and support of A Better Chance participants in the Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia as well as assisting in the design and planning of summer programming for A Better Chance Scholars. Keith also has worked with the College Advising Corps, serving as an Advising Manager, supervising and training a talented group of remote college advisers.
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