High School Seniors Still Have Time to Make That College Decision:

Practical steps to get you on your way

It’s your dirty little secret. Fall of your senior year of high school, and–gasp!–you don’t really know where you’re headed after graduation. Not only that, you’re not even sure what steps you need to take to get there. In our highly competitive, hyper-anxious and tightly curated world, it’s hard to admit ambivalence, uncertainty, or even a little apathy about college. Don’t worry. You’re not alone, and you’re not too late. Here are some practical steps to get you on your way.

Make a List and Visit Colleges

No idea where to begin? Think about what you might like to do and then, if possible, visit a few schools.

“The most important element – where I always like to start – is with some foundational career counseling. Having an idea of one or two majors/programs will help the student feel a meaningful connection to the process and narrow down the options,” says Terrie Shipley, an independent education consultant in Tulsa.

Shipley recommends visiting a couple of different schools, a large public school and a small private school, for example.

“While on campus, I encourage students to jot down some of the notes about how they felt,” Shipley adds. “Emotions play an important role in distinguishing one type of campus environment from another.”

Take the ACT or SAT

The vast majority of schools require an ACT or SAT score as part of the application process. According to academic and test prep tutor Andrea Koenig, who works with students in Tulsa, both tests are accepted by almost all U.S. colleges and universities, but “the ACT has gained significant market share in college admissions.”

Koenig recommends that students take practice tests in both formats to determine which is more comfortable and likely to yield a better result.

“Students oftentimes like to take the ACT or SAT early in the prep process just to get a baseline and see where they are,” Koenig notes. “That’s fine with me. I don’t recommend testing too many times. It’s always best to prep well first and then just test a few times. A few selective schools will want to see every set of test scores, but these schools are in the minority. Many schools super-score: students are able to pick their best sub-scores from several tests and make one whole to submit.”

Koenig offers advice for students preparing for the Sept. 14 ACT.

“Identify weak areas and begin to prep on a daily basis. Thirty to 60 minutes a day would be helpful, with one full test in one sitting with time per week. Many of the math and grammar skills tested by the ACT and the SAT can be learned. Time management can be improved with practice.”

Koenig suggests using something other than phones, which aren’t allowed on test day, for keeping time. Familiarizing yourself with test rules about calculators and making sure you know how to use the devices allowed is also a good idea.

Finally, Koenig suggests students appreciate the bigger picture.

“I always encourage students to look beyond the test prep process to consider the skills and knowledge they are acquiring as valuable to their futures,” she says.


Familiarize yourself with application and financial aid deadlines. Most schools have deadlines in January to apply for admission for the following fall. Request transcripts and letters of recommendation early in the semester. If you’re counting on financial aid, start with the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Fall is still a good time to beef up your resume, too. Shipley suggests activities that speak to a career interest.

“It could be shadowing a professional in a field, or joining a related club at school, or something of the student’s own design” she says.

Think About Your Future

What do you want to do with your life? There is no simple answer to that question, but it’s helpful to give it some thought. Thinking about your interests and what you enjoy can help you determine what you want to study, which, in turn, helps you choose a course of study.

“I don’t think I can overemphasize how important some initial career counseling can be to kicking off the education planning process,” Shipley says. “If I could change one thing about the traditional schooling system, it would be to embed this element as a high school requirement.”

For families who can’t afford to work with a career coach, Shipley recommends online sources such as www.mynextmove.org and www.owlguru.com.

“Students shouldn’t face the pressure of selecting a job for the rest of her life, and college isn’t just a means to a professional end, but it would be helpful to have an idea of a couple paths to begin exploring as soon as possible,” she adds.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, decisions about life after high school can seem overwhelming to parents and students alike. However, it’s good to keep a healthy perspective.

“As big as the decision seems, it’s not life or death, and you will get through this,” Shipley says. “Take a deep breath and gain some perspective by talking with someone — the school’s college counselor, a trusted teacher, an outside expert – and just starting the process. Break the whole overwhelming thing into baby steps. For example, rather than stress about the perfect, polished essay, just start with a brief, bullet-point outline of what the main thesis and supporting claims and evidence would be. Boom! You’ve now got structure, and it’s downhill from there. Run it by someone, and once you get the green light, begin the rough draft. Another example would be to go ahead and create a Common App account or a login for whatever specific school you want to apply to. A lot of fear is of not knowing, which comes from not starting.”

Categories: Education: Middle and High School