Most high schools will soon release grade point averages and an official rank in class for juniors.
Your rank in class and your weighted grade point average will give you an accurate assessment of how you compare to peers at your high school. Understanding this is important when researching colleges and refining your college list.
• College list. Use the GPA and the rank in class as well as the most recent standardized test scores to determine whether the current colleges on your list should be considered: reach, target or safety.
There is no right number of colleges to apply to, but students should make sure they are being realistic as they categorize each college. Use a college guidebook and look at the acceptance rate, the middle 50 percent range of the test scores of accepted students as well as the GPA listed.
The GPA is the least reliable measure because high schools across the country vary so dramatically in their course offerings. At some schools, Advanced Placement courses have a maximum 6-point value (A) and a school just down the street could offer a 5 for an A in the identical course.
By now you know that nothing is more important than the rigor of a student’s curriculum and their performance. Colleges want to see students taking the most challenging courses where they can be successful. So all the accolades, fabulous community service commitment, soccer trophies, etc., are more often tie-breakers than major acceptance factors. Keep this in mind as your students register for courses for their senior year.
• Campus visits. Start making arrangements now to visit the colleges that you’re certain will stay on the list. Focus your travel on reach and target schools, so you can decide if they are truly worthy of applying. If possible, make maximum use of teacher workdays and spring break for traveling to see colleges that are further away. Group colleges by location and be realistic, especially if you’ll be dragging younger siblings, about everyone’s campus visit tolerance.
• Test prep. Juniors have received their results from the October PSAT and many schools now offer either the ACT or the PLAN. Compare the scores using a concordance chart and select a test, but just one. I do not recommend prepping for both ACT and SAT. Identify need areas and get organized about test-prep plans; purchasing test-prep books, doing an online program, attending a class or hiring tutors. Look at the upcoming test dates for the SAT (March 9, May 4 and June 1) and the ACT (Feb. 9, April 13 and June 8) and decide which give you the most test-prep advantage.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissions strategies.com.