College Application Planning Tips for High School Seniors

Don’t get 'senioritis' now, Spicoli!

College Planning Tips For High School Seniors

At the start of your senior year, you should already be well into the swing of college applications. We’ll cover the non-application topics like grades and leisure time later. For now, let’s break down the application, piece by piece:


Hopefully you’ve maintained a rockstar GPA from freshman through junior years. Because all you can do now is make sure your official transcript is included in your application package. Moving on…


We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again ‘til our faces are blue: activities are really, really important. You can’t try and kickstart some monumental activity now; admissions committees are wise to that. What you can do, however, is organize your activity history in a concise and meaningful way.

Ideally, all of this information will fit nicely onto a single page in Microsoft Word—without tiny fonts or fudged margins! Resist the urge to go all Melville with your descriptions. Keep everything brief and to-the-point. Convey what the activity entailed, how long you’ve been doing it, the average hours per week/month, and any special achievements. That’s it. If you need a lot more space to really address what a certain activity means to you, then you should probably write an essay about it! Need some essay inspiration? Check out our Essay Analyses.


It’s the bottom of the ninth here, so your standardized testing at-bat opportunities are limited.

You can take the SAT and/or ACT in October, but if you take it anytime after that, your score will most likely have to be reported directly to the schools, which isn’t ideal if you unintentionally botch a section or two. By the end of October, you’ll want to have your SAT/ACT superscore lined up and ready to go. You’ll also want to have at least two solid SAT II scores, meaning 700+ for those applying to top-tier schools.

AP Tests
Your AP scores from last May should have arrived a long time ago (obviously), and we recommend reporting scores from all AP tests you’ve taken. Not taking an AP test or reporting a score needlessly raises AdCom eyebrows.

Finally, international students can take the TOEFL one more time in September or October, if necessary.


You should start drafting your personal statement in September, at the very latest. Allow us to repeat ourselves because this is a crucial piece of advice. You should start drafting your personal statement in September, at the very latest.

Writing is a process that benefits from time and reflection… and rewriting. Lots of rewriting. Rushing to complete an essay at the last minute and submitting a working draft is not recommended for obvious reasons, not least of which is maintaining sound mental health. Also, you’re going to want to have your personal statement locked down as early as possible so that you can devote meaningful time to application supplements, some of which are quite lengthy (check out UChicago and Columbia’s apps for prime examples). Finally, you shouldn’t write your essays in a vacuum. The opinions of others are invaluable—parents, teachers, mentors, friends, and even your friendly neighborhood admissions professionals (cough, cough).


If you followed the advice from our junior year planning tips, then by now you’ve locked down three potential recommenders. If not, what are you waiting for?! For those who have, now begins a twofold process of gentle reminders and abundant gratitude.

You should lay out all the instructions for submission in the most straightforward way possible and not just assume that your recommenders can figure it out (old folks with technology, I’ll tell ya…). During the process, gently remind them of impending deadlines. When it’s all over, express your undying thanks for their help in the life-altering admissions process. For those of you raised with texting/Facebook/Snapchat as the sole methods of communication, this means penning a heartfelt handwritten letter. Kids with their technology, I’ll tell ya…


Some schools try to interview as many applicants as possible. Others don’t care much about interviewing at all. No matter, you should be prepared to be interviewed at least once. What constitutes a good interview? Dialogue. It’s a bad thing when an interviewer has to probe you with question after question because you’re only giving one-word answers. A great interview is a conversation between two intelligent adults—you being one of those adults, obviously.

Whew. That’s a lot of info to process. So here’s some more! Good thing this stuff is less consequential than your applications…


Don’t get senioritis now, Spicoli! Your grades still matter, especially because most schools request a mid-year report and some even request a final transcript after you’re accepted. We’ve never personally heard of a student getting his or her admission rescinded based on a bad end-of-year report, but do you really want to test fate and find out? The point is that you should keep your grades up, not because Big Brother is watching you, but because you’re a studious individual who cares about education.


While the above advice about grades still holds true, once you finish and submit all of your applications… you should let loose and party and like totally forget all of your responsibilities because wahoo you’re done done donezo done!!!

Obviously we’re kidding, but you should definitely celebrate and reward yourself for completing your applications, since it’s truly a gargantuan, once-in-a-lifetime feat. Seriously, go have some fun. You deserve it.

One final piece of advice: once your applications are in, STOP WORRYING ABOUT THEM. Except for acing your interview, there’s nothing else you can do to influence admission decisions. Don’t compulsively check your application status online. Don’t troll the toxic college admissions message boards, asking a bunch of knuckleheads to “chance” you. Don’t call or email admissions offices, and definitely don’t allow your parents to do the same, no matter how pushy they are.

So go ahead… Relax! (Easier said than done, we know.)

Not quite to senior year yet? Check out the rest of our College Application Planning Tips Series for high school students.

Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!

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