Tips for successfully navigating your senior year

Futo Wada | Conant Crier

Applying to colleges, keeping up good grades, playing sports, participating in activities while somehow maintaining a decent social life–these are the many expectations of a high school senior. For those who say senior year is going to be easy, they are wrong. If you don’t manage your load properly, senior year can become the hardest of your high school career. As a student who applied to over 20 schools, maintained high grades, and continued participation in five competitive activities, I’m here to quell your fears about your senior year and advise you through this difficult process.

Classes

Everyone knows that the biggest deal of senior year is college. First semester you apply; second semester you make your decision. However, before you can do any of that, you must maintain your grades and a decently rigorous schedule to show your future schools you aren’t just giving up on school.

For those of you who have taken AP and honors classes the first three years of high school, I’d recommend continuing on that path. It’s also important to remain careful that you don’t overload yourself. Taking three to four APs is good, and you can take even more if you have the time and ability to do so.

If you aren’t into the AP scene, that’s totally okay. Take classes you enjoy and continue to excel in them. Don’t take two or three study halls unless they are absolutely necessary to your success senior year.

Now that you’ve selected your schedule for next year, the most important part is keeping up strong academics. While many believe colleges don’t really care about your first semester senior year grades, they do. The only time your first semester grades may slide is applying early decision or action, but for those regular decision schools, grades most certainly will matter.

The strategy I have found most successful in keeping my grades up all four years is managing time effectively. First, I try to finish as much of my homework during my lunch. If I still have some left, I complete it once I get home or wake up early the next morning. An app I’ve found useful in helping me see how many assignments I have is My Homework. The Reminders app on iPhone is pretty great, too.

Additionally, I know it seems like a great idea to skip as much school as you want first semester because you can only miss five days during the second. This, however, is not recommended because then you’ll have to take the tests you miss in Test-Make-Up, where you’ll have less time and less knowledge on the subject if you wait too long. In fact, I’ve always gotten lower grades there than when I take the test in class. The best plan is to just get that test or quiz out of the way on the day of.

College

Here we are. Perhaps the greatest stress for every senior: the application process. Don’t worry. We’ll begin from the very top. Let’s start with the common application.

The Common App

The Common App is just one big application that many colleges use. I say mostly because not every school uses the Common App. Make sure you research your schools’ application processes on their admissions page to find out. For example, UIUC does not use common app, while UIC does.

So how does it work? The Common app opens August 1 every year. The first thing to do is create your account. I recommend using an email different from your D211 email because your D211 account will shut down at the end of the year. When I applied, I created a new gmail specifically for college applications.

Once your account has been created, you will see the general application. This includes your activities, grades, recommendation letters, information such as name and school, and the one common app essay (you pick one of seven prompts). Fill all of that out as soon as possible so you can focus your time on each school’s supplement. You can go back and edit any information you added up until the moment you submit your application. For the essay portion, you only have to write one 650 word essay, but more on that later.

After the initial application is completed, you can go on the “College Search” tab and add colleges you wish to send the application to. You can add up to 20. All colleges will have an additional application attached to the common app called the “Common App Supplement.” There, you pick your major, apply for merit scholarships, and write additional essays if the college requires it.

Once everything is complete, you pay the application fee and submit each university app separately. I recommend submitting two or three days before the deadline because there may be technical issues on the day of. You don’t want to be counted as a late applicant because then your chances of admission drop.

Choosing colleges

There are hundreds of colleges in this country and even more overseas, so choosing just a few to apply to is difficult. Here, I’ll break down the process you should take when picking your top choices.

First, eliminate any school you would not go to. This is usually a given, but some people, like me, don’t follow that advice. Trust me, if you are 100 percent certain you will not attend, there is no point in applying and wasting time and money on the school.

Next, you should break down schools as “reach,” “target,” and “safety.” Reach schools are those that are difficult for you to get into, target schools are those where you have a decent chance, and safeties are schools where you feel confident about getting into. The ratio for how you should apply goes like this: if you’re applying to 10 schools, I suggest two safeties, five target and three reach. Whichever ratio you choose, make sure you have more targets than anything else.

Researching every single schools is very, very important. You should know the average GPA, ACT/SAT, and SAT subject (if required) requirements of the schools you plan on applying to. This way, you will know which schools fall into which category. If a school is too out of reach for you, such as accepting students with an ACT of 34 when you have a 23, it may not be the best idea to apply. In some cases, you can make up deficiencies with other parts of your application, but some schools have a preliminary round of cuts they make based on scores alone. Thus, fill your common app with more target schools than reach.

Once you have your schools in mind, make a chart of the schools and their deadlines. Add the deadlines to your calendar so you are notified a few days before. This way you will not fall behind on the applying process. I recommend applying to 10-15 schools. Even 15 is a rather high number, but if you are certain you can do it, then go ahead. Anything above that is too much, as you won’t be going to those schools anyway. I applied to 21, and I honestly wouldn’t do it again if given the the option.

Writing essays

The essay is a crucial component of your application. Each college wants to see your personality, which they can only see through your essay. The most important piece of advice I can give to you is remain true to who you are. Do not tailor yourself to fit a specific school because they do see through it. And even if they don’t, you may arrive on the campus the following fall and realize it isn’t the place for you.

Based on the prompts you have, write about your stories and experiences. Convey emotion, but don’t go too overboard. Colleges don’t like drama, but they like someone who is confident enough to show who they really are.

Once your essays are written, it’s important that they go through multiple rounds of editing. The first round is the 24-hour cycle. Finish your essay and set it aside for a full day and then come back to it to make initial edits.

Start the second round of editing once you can’t think of any changes. Now, you should hand the essay off to trusted adults or friends that know you. An English teacher is a good choice. Give them a few days to look over it and make edits accordingly. Make sure that you understand what you’re editing. If you prefer to keep a sentence but they don’t, keep the sentence as long as it makes sense. Everyone thinks differently, so don’t lose the central point of your essay as you edit. Also, don’t have too many people look at your essay because that’s when you start receiving too much conflicting advice. Your essay is yours, so ensure it stays that way.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

You have submitted your applications. The process is over, right? Well, you’re not totally done yet. Now it is time to worry about how you will go about paying for college. This may seem like an added stress, but if you know where to look, it is much easier

First comes financial aid. Starting Oct. 1, the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) comes out. Apply as soon as possible because schools give out aid on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA is usually something your parents should fill out, or at least help you complete. In addition to the FAFSA, some universities require a CSS Aid profile through the College Board. Research your university requirements and complete them before the set deadline. And remember, even if you believe you won’t qualify for aid, apply anyway. The FAFSA is free.

Second, let’s discuss scholarships. You should look up and apply to as many as possible. Places like scholarships.com help you find them for free. Apply for corporate scholarships because they typically give a lot of money to winners. Also search for scholarships in your major. You can even find specific ones if you’re a minority, a woman, too tall or too short, left handed, or have a unique condition (blindness, deafness, etc.).

Scholarships are also available through the Army, Navy, Air Force, and other branches of the military. These are full tuition scholarships, but they require physical tests and service obligations at the end of your college career. I wouldn’t apply to these unless you’re willing to commit to the military after college.

Next, find merit scholarships to the specific colleges you are applying to. Some schools automatically consider you for scholarships, but some require an extra application. Make sure you know each school’s requirements and follow them.

Finally, find local scholarships like the ones CHS offers on Conant U. If you match the criteria, I strongly suggest applying because the applicant pool is much smaller. Scholarships are even offered through clubs like HOSA and BPA if you compete at the state levels. The Conant student services department also lists many available scholarships for your reference, and you should review the options to see what might apply to you.

As you enter your final year of high school, everything that you have to get done in a very short amount of time may seem very daunting. However, it is important that you enjoy your senior year. For many, this is the last year you’ll be with your friends and living with your family. Remember to lean on them for support and ask your counselor and other trusted adults for advice. You’re just beginning your path towards your future, so look ahead with confidence, and you’ll be fine.

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