Abridged College Admissions Roadmap
As college applications are a long and complex process, formulating a plan of action can be daunting and downright frustrating. For the student who may need some guidance, we hope that this brief roadmap will help.
Before high school/year 9
Yes, it may be beneficial to students to have them start thinking about college even before high school. Thus, students set clear goals, take responsibility to achieve them, and consequently simplify the planning process and make high school easier. Throughout their years leading up to high school, students should try to establish interests. Regardless of whether these interests are in basketball, music, reading, or science, students should identify these interests as soon as possible and commit to them.
9th grade/year 10
Make a four-year plan for high school as soon as possible and start finding ways to spend your summers. Sign up for clubs and go to summer camps or programs related to your academics or interests, volunteer for a charity, or enter competitions. Additionally, if you want to take a more aggressive approach to your admissions strategy, use the summer before your sophomore year to visit colleges and prepare for any entrance exams that you may have to take, like the SAT or the ACT. At the very least, students should devote time during this year to making sure their academic foundations are strong enough for the rigors of IB or AP as well as SAT or ACT – it will be too late to fix them if students wait too long!
10th grade/year 11
Focus on your studies and continue to be active in your clubs. Some schools may administer the PSAT this year, so you can use this opportunity to start studying for standardized tests, especially during the winter. Try your best to improve your grades. Furthermore, keep in mind that selective summer programs have deadlines in the winter and spring, so keep an eye out for our article on summer programs and apply to them early. In addition to these summer programs, also make sure that you make plans to study for standardized tests if you still need to. You should also think very critically about your course selections for the following year. For students in American schools, that means taking on AP courses, and for students in IB schools, that means critically choosing your six IB subjects for the next two years. You can check out our articles on how to select AP and IB courses.
Lastly, in the summer after this year, do whatever college visits you can and attend summer programs or camps.
11th grade/year 12
Academically speaking, this is the most important year in your application because it’s the most recent full year of grades that colleges will receive. For IB students, this is when you’ll start your IBDP – the mock exams you take at the end of the year will determine your IB predicted grades, which are they key data point colleges will be evaluating (especially in the US where schools make final admissions decisions before seeing final IB results). Additionally, try your best to get leadership positions in your organizations. Because of the commitments and deadlines that you’ll face this year, it might be hard to have as much sleep and fun as in earlier years, so don’t forget to take care of your health.
Students should aim to have SAT or ACT done early so they can focus on IB mock and AP exams. However, few students are truly ready to achieve their target score before August of 11th grade/year 12. As such, most students should plan to take the SAT in August, October, and/or December or the ACT in September, October, and/or December. Ideally these standardized tests will be done before the start of Spring term.
Also, towards the end of this year, think about what kinds of colleges interest you. Large research universities or small liberal arts colleges? East coast or west coast or somewhere in between? What sort of campus culture do you find attractive – modern and liberal or more traditional? Will you also apply to HK or UK schools? There are many factors to begin considering! By the end of the summer before your last year of high school, you should have a finalized list of colleges and universities to which you will apply.
12th grade/year 13
Start writing the application essays in the summer by looking at previous years’ prompts. This will ease some of the pressure during the school year, as you need to make sure that you keep your grades up as you’re also applying to colleges. Pace yourself with essay writing; you don’t want to rush towards the end. To help with time management, set up a calendar and have someone you trust hold you accountable. In the meantime, try to keep your grades up and don’t neglect your extracurricular interests as well. You might have to retake the SAT or ACT in the fall, though hopefully this won't be necessary if you spent the summer before 11th grade/year 12 studying.
US applications occur in waves. Some may have rolling admissions, but most have clear deadlines. First there are Early Decision and Early Application deadlines as early as October. Next there are University of California deadlines in late November. Finally there are ED2 deadlines and regular deadlines, usually in January or February. You’ll hear back from universities in December if you’re applying early, or as late as March if you applied through regular decision. In May at the latest, you’ll have to accept a school’s offer!
This is only meant to be a brief overview. There are many more deadlines and timings to consider when moving forward with college planning. However, we hope that this outline is a good starting point for you. That being said, application strategies differ from student to student, so call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit www.thedragonprep.com to see how we can help you with your university admissions strategy!