BY ALEXANDRA SANSONE
As a high school senior finally finished with the stressful college application process, I find myself wishing that my past self knew what I know today. I wonder if I had the information I do now, would I have acted differently? There is no way for me to know, but underclassmen are able to learn from what I perceive to be my mistakes. So, compiled in a list are the 10 things I wish I knew as a high school freshman.
1. Attend college tours or informational sessions sooner rather than later
I didn’t take my first college tour until spring break of my junior year and I wish I had done it sooner. Colleges provide both in-person and online tours, webinars, and other informational sessions. These are a complimentary service offered by the school and oftentimes you receive free merchandise in addition to tips and tricks, pamphlets and advice. It’s important to take advantage of the free tours early because they fill up and you can get a better idea of where you want to attend or if attending a college or university is the right thing for you. Once you have an idea of what kind of school you want to attend, you can adjust your high school schedule accordingly rather than touring junior year when you have only about a year left to alter your courses and activities. If you decide you want to attend a school that requires certain accolades, including grade point average (GPA), test scores, language requirements and extracurricular activities, you can make sure you have enough time to actually meet those requirements.
To book a tour, you can visit the institution’s web-page or find it by searching “[institution’s name] college tours.”
2. Fill out a resume as you go
Find a resume template online, start one through your Naviance account or contact Broward Adviser for Continued Education (BRACE) Mrs. Siwek at email@example.com for one and start filling it out. Fill in the blanks with your accomplishments and update it as you progress in your high school career. This will help you keep track of everything and by the time you need to submit a resume to teachers for a letter of recommendation, you will already have one ready to go.
3. Fill out the Common Application as you go
The Common Application is one of the most common and efficient ways to apply to college. Create a Common Application account and fill out the profile information when you have downtime. Doing it in smaller bits over a longer period of time will be significantly less stressful than trying to get it all done the fall of your senior year. All of your information will be saved, and as you earn awards, take new classes or move houses you can update it in realtime. This also allows you to see which colleges you are interested in require a separate application, as not all institutions are on the Common Application.
4. Take the SAT/ACT as early as possible
Start taking the SAT and ACT exams as early as you can. Now, that doesn’t mean taking it as a freshman or sophomore, unless you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t leave it to the summer after your junior year either. Look up the testing dates and plan accordingly. One of the last things you want is to still be testing for your desired score a few weeks before your application deadline. Take it from someone who put it off and is doing exactly that—it’s not fun.
Also, don’t limit yourself to one test. Take both and continue studying for and taking whichever you feel most comfortable with. Make sure you use test fee waivers if you are eligible. If you are not eligible for a waiver and cannot afford to take both tests numerous times to determine which you can score higher on, scour Groupon for deals on diagnostic tests at test prep centers to determine which test you should study for and eventually take.
5. Study for the SAT/ACT
Make sure you allow time to study for the test. It sounds silly, but it is very easy for time to get the best of you. Before you know it, it will be the night before the exam and you will have barely looked at any study materials. Free resources are available online. Khan Academy is available through Clever and has a full SAT prep course through College Board, complete with practice questions and full-length tests that quiz you on the areas you are struggling in. Allowing for 15 minutes of practice a day on math or reading has been known to increase scores.
College Panda has been especially helpful to me. College Panda is a line of test prep books that are available for purchase on Amazon. College Panda also has a blog that provides test-taking strategies specific to the SAT/ACT and provides other free resources. Be sure to take advantage of the free resources on a consistent basis. If you find yourself in need of a test prep book, look around and read multiple reviews. They can be pricey and different books work for different students, so make sure you do your research and pick the right one.
6. Dual enrollment, AICE and AP classes are all weighted the same
CCHS provides multiple college-level courses: dual enrollment, Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) and Advanced Placement (AP). This is typically common knowledge, but what is important to keep in mind is that some dual enrollment and Cambridge AICE classes can be considered easier or more accessible to you depending on what your needs are. Also, be aware that you have the ability to not only dual enroll with Broward College (see your guidance counselor for paperwork) but also with the University of Florida Online. You can look at their courses here. Because every student is different, do some research and ask knowledgeable upperclassmen to determine which type you should take– just be sure to read all of the courses’ syllabi.
If you are trying to figure out how your AP scores will transfer to college for credit, check out College Board’s AP Credit Policy Search.
7. Class rank isn’t important
Don’t get caught up in trying to increase your class ranking. It may seem important right now, but in the long run, it won’t be a huge deal to many people besides your family members. That being said, those who are able to stay at the top of their class deserve recognition, as it’s no easy feat. But, don’t worry so much that you miss out on your high school experience and burn yourself out before even getting to college.
8. Try out different classes/programs
Research different free programs to partake in. This will allow you to explore your interests before paying for courses in college and are a fun way to learn and make friends and connections that you could use later on in life. I have participated in a variety of programs, like Miami Montage and Cappies, and doing so has helped me to eliminate career choices I was previously considering before realizing that they weren’t for me.
9. Apply for scholarships now
Check with the school that you want to attend to see if they offer any merit-based scholarships. If they do, see if you meet the criteria and apply. Keep track of the Bright Futures Scholarship requirements if you plan on attending or even just applying to a school in Florida. Look for scholarships that aren’t exclusive to seniors and apply now. The worst the organization can say is no, and even if you don’t meet the requirements exactly, you may still be the most qualified person applying.
10. Don’t just focus on the academic parts of school
And finally, make sure that you still have fun and enjoy the non-academic side of high school. Take part in spirit weeks and hang out with your friends. As cheesy as it sounds, you will never get these four years back and if you play your cards right, they can be some of the best of your life.
Photo by Sydney Katz