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Building Blocks of the College Application Process

Adam R. Goldberg


This timeline will help direct the student and his or her family through the college application process.


Grade 9

• Carefully select a balanced course-load that allows for a challenge, but also encourages some healthy discovery. You may want to consider a couple of interesting electives in addition to the core English, Math, Science and History curriculum. This is also when you should consider personal preferences for learning a particular foreign language. Learning style may dictate the pace at which you pursue (or choose not to pursue) such a study.

• Proactively introduce yourself to your guidance counselor and any other resource staff. They can be of great help to you in both designing your curriculum and working through challenges.

• If applicable, make the necessary adjustments to your IEP and/or 504 Plan at an early stage in order to minimize frustration at later, more critical junctures.

• Begin family discussions about college; remember to talk through your assumptions about college before drawing your own conclusions. Some things you hear from friends may not be true.

• Try several different extracurricular activities so that later you can focus on the couple or few that mean most to you.

• Discuss with a counselor all of the different types of standardized tests, including the following: PSAT/NMSQT, SAT I, SAT II, ACT and AP. Draft a working timeline for these tests, running from ninth to twelfth grade - this may change, but will at least provide you with a guide.

• Take the SAT II for specific subject areas, if applicable—for instance, Biology.

Grade 10

• Some will choose to take the PSAT/NMSQT this year, although it is offered the following year as well.

• Continue to take applicable SAT II's - for instance, Chemistry or Math IC or Writing.

• Focus in on your favorite extracurricular activities and pursue them passionately. Depth in two or three is better than breadth across many.

• Walk through several local college campuses, simply to get a feel for the environments and types of students attending. It is not advisable to schedule formal interviews at this point - simply walk through and speak to students informally. Remember, you may not ever be interested in that college in particular, but it will give you a feel for what you like and dislike.

• Keep a balanced transcript by following through in the same foreign language and continuing in a logical progression of core courses. Laboratory sciences are important for many at this phase.

• Nurture relationships with teachers since you will eventually have to approach some for a college recommendation. Similarly, never burn bridges with teachers - it can haunt you in the end!

• Keep grades and test scores to yourself. They are nobody's business but your own and such discussions can only lead to anxiety and self-doubt.


Grade 11

• Take the PSAT/NMSQT if you have not already done so. This is when most take the exam. Note that it is primarily for practice and only bears significance for those in contention for academic citation: national merit scholarships for the highest achievers in the nation.

• Take the SAT I following the PSAT/NMSQT. You can retake the SAT I later if you are seeking improvement, or opt to take the ACT, a competing test that is configured a bit differently.

• Take applicable SAT II's—Spanish, French, Physics, Math IIC, US History

• Take applicable AP exams for potential college credit.

• Begin to buckle down in the more challenging areas of your academics. From this point on it is optimal to show improvement in the transcript. Get help if you need it! Teachers and counselors are there for you, whether you believe it or not.

• Continue even deeper into focused extracurricular activities. Perhaps you will choose to audition for a role in the play, run for office, compose music or begin to compile an art portfolio.

• Develop an initial list of colleges based on counselor recommendations, family discussions and personal research, and plan visits/interviews.

• Call or send an email for information from all colleges of interest

• Practice by engaging in mock interviews with parents and counselors.

• Approach two or three teachers for recommendations before the summer vacation. The popular teachers are inundated with requests by senior year.

• Begin to build a one or two-page resume if your awards, honors or list of activities is extensive.


Grade 12

• Begin to brainstorm topics for your personal statement or main essay that will be the backbone of your college applications.

• Review the Common Application online or in hard copy and begin to think through responses to other questions. Also, validate which colleges are on the Common Application. Some require supplements in addition to the core questions and forms.

• Obtain any applications for colleges not covered by the Common Application.

• Take all remaining standardized tests.

• Write thank-you notes to teachers who wrote recommendations for you.

• Develop any supplemental pieces to your applications - i.e. formal art portfolios, music recordings, etc.

• Decide whether or not you want to apply early to a college or colleges. There are several application options depending on the school and its admissions philosophy - Early Decision, Early Decision 2, Early Action, Rolling Admission, etc.

• Finalize visitations and interviews. Write thank-you notes in the follow-up.

• Send post-cards to validate the receipt of all materials after submitting your applications.

• Focus on celebrating acceptance rather than mourning rejections and/or deferrals.

• Make decisions based on your own preferences and comforts! Revisit campuses and speak with students and professors if you need further validation.

• Continue to put your full effort into schoolwork and extracurricular activities after acceptance into college.


Adam R. Goldberg is an educational consultant with Leslie S. Goldberg & Associates, LLC in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.


For more information go to A Guide to the College Process: Getting In and Staying In

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