Planning for College: First and Last Steps

College Prep Guide | How to Prepare for College Academically?

These first few months of the school year are busy, busy, busy! For those entering their freshman year/Grade 9 it can be a new start to their learning while for those entering their senior year, it can very much feel like the beginning of the end. Whether you are in Grade 9, 10, 11 or 12, there is lots to be doing to help you prepare for college and in this article, I’m going to give you some pointers to help keep you on track.

Grade 9 and 10/ Freshman and Sophomore.

Since colleges look at everything you have done from Grade 9 onwards, it is important to make sure that what you do during this year counts.

Get Planning

If you don’t already have one, get a planner, it is the single best way to help you organise yourself and your work. There are lots of different ones available, but I recommend ones that break the year into weeks with a monthly overview. Other features I like in a planner are, a yearly planner – great for seeing how long until the next holiday, pages for notes about anything, a plastic cover to keep your planner looking great. Another thing I like to recommend to students is that they are creative with their planner, doodle little drawings to illustrate your life, or if you don’t feel your drawing is good enough you can buy planner stickers to use. Having a planner is one thing, but the key is to use it every day. Use it to see what is coming up in the week to come and what deadlines you need to make. Make a short note about what you learnt in school each day but also use it to record the fun things, birthdays, meet ups with friends and so on.

Understand your goal

Procrastination is probably the biggest single challenge faced by the students I work with, and it’s a challenge that you will face as the pressures of deadlines build over the next few years. The key to managing procrastination is to have a good understanding of what it is, be able to recognise when you are procrastinating and then put measures in place to motivate yourself to do what is needed. There are lots of suggestions about what you can do to manage yourself, but I think the single most important thing is to see the bigger picture, there is a reason why you want to put in the effort to do well at school, keep an eye on the prize.

Get involved

Grades 9 and 10 are wonderful times to challenge yourself in all sorts of ways. Don’t be the student that sits through class without contributing in one way or another. Ask questions or try to answer a question asked by your teacher. Being actively engaged in the lesson not only helps you to remember what you are being taught but you will also show the teacher that you are an eager student and will help boost your academic reputation.

These grades also offer the opportunity to try out new things. Join with other people who share your interests and have common values. Clubs are a common way of doing this and if you can’t find a club that explores your interests then maybe now is the time to start one. Don’t just stick to the interests that you already have experience in, try exploring some new areas, you might just find a new passion.

Explore your future

Having some idea of what you want to do as a future job can act as a great incentive when the motivation to pursue your studies is hard to find. For some, there will be a specific career that they aspire to, perhaps a doctor or investment banker. Others may have a broad idea of what they want to do, something in engineering or using English. If you fall into one of these groups you should spend some time exploring just what the opportunities in those areas are and what it takes to get into them. If you want to be a doctor, then find out about different medical specialisms, an engineer, which of the many fields of engineering appeals to you most?

If you have no idea of what you want to be, or too many ideas, then you need to start thinking about your interests. What careers link to your favourite subject at school or perhaps there is a career that links to a particular interest.

Keep up with the real world

Students are encouraged by parents and teachers to remain focused on their studies, but it is also important to lift your head out of your textbooks and look at what is going on in the world around you. Being able to apply what you are learning to events in the wider canvas of current affairs is a critical skill and come the time to apply to college it can help make your application stand out. Popular news websites like the BBCThe Atlantic, and The Guardian are great sources of quality reporting on world issues, while podcasts like The Daily or Mid-Atlantic provide similar coverage in audio form.

Grade 11/Junior Year.

Students in Grade 11 are starting the final full year of school before they start to put together their college applications, that makes this an important year. Here are some things to keep you on track.

Keep on with the good work

You will hopefully have done well in your grades at the end of Grade 10 and will continue to do the same during Grade 11. Even if your Grade 10 results are not everything that you would wish, it’s still not too late to get back on track. Employ the study skills that you know work for you, such as keeping track of deadlines, rewriting notes from class and having a study plan. If you put the time and effort in, you can achieve great results this year.

Plan ahead

The next twelve months or so are going to be busy but before throwing yourself into researching colleges, taking on new extracurricular challenges and the like take a little time to do some preparation.

One thing you need to start doing is recording what you are doing, it makes it so much easier when it comes to writing essays and activity lists if you can go back and remind yourself what you did and when. How you choose to do this is up to you, but increasingly students are building personal websites where they place examples of work that demonstrate the different elements of what will become their application portfolio. Setting this up now will not only save time later when you are in the full throws of preparing your application but also keep everything in the one place.


The situation regarding the future of standardised tests in the college application process remains uncertain, some colleges have already said that they will be test optional for the 2022/23 application round while others have dropped them from their process altogether. As I write this the majority of colleges are still to announce their plans.

If you decide that you are going to sit either the SAT or ACT then Grade 11 is a good time to do so. If you have not already done so, start preparing for the tests now. Do a diagnostic test to see what areas you need to concentrate on in your preparation and then work to become familiar with the concepts covered by the tests. When you feel confident in your knowledge, start doing full practice tests. Try to replicate the test conditions as much as possible, so timing, breaks and the like. Doing more full practice tests will improve your prospects of doing well in the test itself. Don’t forget to register to sit the test well in advance as testing venues can become fully booked.

Grade 12/Senior Year

So you have made it into the home stretch of your college application. In just a few month’s time, you will see the outcome of your hard work, but for now, there are a few weeks of continued effort before your cross the application finish line.

Complete the paperwork

Okay, these days it’s not paperwork, but you know what I mean. At this point you will hopefully be well on the way to completing your personal application essay, if you have not already done so, share it with people who know you well and will give you an honest opinion about it and whether it reflects who you are.

You should also have set up an account with the Common App, and any other application portal that you will be using, the Coalition App or the University of California application. Add the colleges you intend to apply to, it will help you keep on track with deadlines and supplemental essays.

You should also be working on the other important elements that make up your application, the Activities, and Additional Information sections together with the supplemental questions and essays that are specific to each college on your list.

Continue to refine your college list

Over the previous months you will have gathered lots of information about different colleges now is the time to review what you have learnt, identify any gaps and decide on your final college list.

First of all make sure you have fully researched the colleges, if you have not already done so, go over the college website, looking at the course offerings, housing options and what the student experience is like. Many colleges are still offering information sessions, so join one if you have not already done so. Alongside the research, reflect on what you want from your college experience and the type of environment that you will thrive in. Use all this to help you come up with your final college list.


These are going to be coming at you fast and furious over the next few months, not only do you have the demands of your schoolwork but you also have to juggle the college deadlines.

Make sure you are familiar with the different admission plans, Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Regular Decision (RD) and the like. Each plan will have different rules about what you can and can’t do, together with set deadlines for when applications are due. Most early applications will need to be with the college by the 1st November, although there are some that will have a 15th October deadline. Applications for the University of California open on 1st November and close on the 30th November. Regular decision applications have deadlines around the 1st January. If you are intending to apply for scholarships or arts programmes, there may be earlier deadlines, so check them out.

If you might qualify for state aid to help pay for your college education, then your family should complete the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) form when it becomes available on 1st October.

Continue the good work

Now is not the time to ease back on all of the other work you have on. Use your planning skills to prioritise the pressures of school and maintaining progress on the extracurricular activities that you have going on. Ideally you will want to share completed research papers or project work in your application so try to make sure that these are completed prior to submitting them to colleges.

Colleges that you apply to in the RD round will have access to your grades for the first part of Grade 12 so you need to keep your standards up so that they are reflected in your transcript from school.

And finally….

The process of preparing and applying to college can be daunting, especially if you are in Grade 12 at this time when everything feels as if it is coming to a head. If you are feeling it is getting too much then make some time to look after yourself, take an evening off to watch some television or read a book for your own enjoyment. Use all the planning tools to help yourself be as efficient as possible. Most importantly remember that it is not the end of the world, the pressure you may be feeling will pass and you will still have a great future ahead of yourself.

Working with study abroad consultants, overseas education consultants, or, as more commonly known, college counselors, can help you plan ahead and make those high school years count. Ivy Central offers exceptional focus to help you prepare for college admissions throughout the high-schooling years. Start today!

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