By Lee Binz
Senior year is complicated, but not difficult! Let’s do a quick checkup to make sure you are prepared for the tasks of senior year. Remember, the goal of senior year is completing college applications. The difficulty is that applying to college is a “process” and not a “moment.” Applications are not difficult, but they are very time consuming. Letters of recommendation are not hard; they just take time to acquire. The whole process takes a lot of time to complete. Each university will have a unique process, unique forms, and unique requirements. It’s complicated but not difficult.
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Do a quick review today, using this simple checklist, to make sure you aren’t missing any key pieces.
1. Start Early Senior Year
First of all, you really want to apply early and often. What that means is you need to hit the ground running. Begin filling out your college applications on the very first day of senior year. It takes time and effort, so you don’t want to get into a time crunch. If your child is going to be doing dual enrollment, it can help to start college applications in the summer. If they will be taking college classes full time, they won’t have the energy to complete applications as well. For dual enrollment, it can help to begin applications before fall classes of senior year. Colleges may provide admission and scholarships on a “first come, first served” basis, so applying early is very important.
2. Write Application Essays
College applications require multiple self-reflective, technically perfect essays, written by the student. Homeschool parents understand that “technically perfect” is difficult. It takes lots of time, editing, and rewriting. Other people need to read it and give feedback or suggestions. For teens, “self-reflective” is equally difficult. It often takes a long time to even consider what a self-reflective essay might be. Make sure you plan for plenty of time for the “considering” stage of writing. If you do begin filling out those applications on the first day of senior year, you can put your other English curriculum aside for awhile. Decide that you are doing a unit study on essay writing during September.
3. Complete Complicated Forms
Colleges can also have some pretty complex application forms. Those forms have lots of questions. Applications will require letters of recommendation about your student. It’s difficult to decide who should write those recommendations. The recommender must have plenty of time to actually write the recommendation. Once written, allow some time for it to be mailed to the college.
4. Meet Inflexible Deadlines
College applications have firm deadlines with strange expectations. They may be a lot of fine print. It some ways it feels similar to April 15th and filling out your federal tax forms. Firm deadlines, high expectations, lots of fine print, words you don’t understand, and if you mess up, there’s a huge financial consequence in the end. Oh Joy! Plan ahead and spend time on it, making sure that you start the first day of senior year. Even if it’s due in the last week of November, you’ll still need plenty of time to getting it ready.
5. Complete Official Transcript
Senior year is the absolutely critical time for you to complete your high school records. You will need to turn in your official homeschool transcript when you turn in your application. To do that, you include the classes that your child is currently taking so if they’re going to be taking Pre-Calculus this year, then you put Pre-Calculus on the transcript. But instead of a final grade, you can say To Be Determined (TBD) or In Progress/In Process (IP) to show that they are currently taking that class and they will be finished in June. But you want to have your transcript ready to go with their application early in the fall during senior year.
6. Write Course Descriptions
Most colleges will ask for additional material beyond the transcript. Create a reading list that includes book read for school and pleasure. I strongly suggest that parents write course descriptions. These are most important for very selective colleges, when the student has a strong college preference, or if good scholarships are critical. However, all applications may be strengthened by course descriptions, so I always recommend preparing them “just in case.” Include a paragraph of what you did, a list of what you used, and an explanation of how you graded.
7. Complete Homeschool Records
Additional homeschool records may be required. A university may request a reading list. They could ask for samples of work from any class, and sometimes request those samples in the student’s handwriting. They may request an activity and award list, or resume. Some applications may ask for a statement from the homeschool parent, or require a counselor letter that is completed by the parent. It’s sometimes helpful to write a cover letter as an introduction to your transcript. Since there are a variety of things that may be asked, planning ahead will give you the time you need to complete anything that is required.
8. Provide or Repeat Tests
The second priority during senior year is to shore up any shortcomings from junior year tests. Repeat the SAT or ACT if the scores were poor and could be improved, or if the test was missed. If you need to take those tests in senior year, register for the first testing opportunity so the results are promptly available. If subject tests are needed, you want to find out right away and register for those tests as well.
9. Fill Educational Gaps
Look over a list of recommended courses, and try to discover any major educational gaps. It can happen! In my own home, I completely forgot to teach my older son economics, because my younger son was always studying it for fun. Small gaps, like a semester economics course, or a year of art can be quickly filled when discovered early. Major gaps, like foreign language, may need to be filled with community college. For example, foreign languages may be required by a favorite college. Taking foreign language at a community college for one year can provide two or three high school foreign language credits, to fill that gap. Community college is not something that I normally recommend, but it can help fill major gaps discovered during senior year.
10. Carefully Watch Calendar
Watch deadlines and details and mark them on your calendar. Colleges can have some pretty unusual requirements and can ask for some pretty strange things. Be sure that you give them everything that they need and want. If they ask for a lab write up from your high school biology class, submit that. If they want a transcript in a signed envelope, do it that way. Find the details they want and give the details they want.
11. Complete the FAFSA
The FAFSA is used to determine how much money parents can afford to pay for college. Complete the FAFSA in October of senior year. The FAFSA will allow colleges to make decisions about your scholarships. Financial aid is first-come, first-served. Believe me, you want to be first!
12. Expect Waves of Scholarships
Expect three waves of scholarships. When you apply for college, you’re given some immediate scholarships that are based on SAT, ACT and GPA. The second wave of scholarships is based on the FAFSA and financial need. That third wave of scholarships is based on merit or other factors. The third wave of scholarships may not arrive until May or June, and may even arrive during summer. For that reason, the most difficult time for the parents is that time between March and June. That is when parents know where the child wants to attend, but they have absolutely no clue on how to pay for it. It can be a very challenging and stressful time. I encourage you to be patient until you get that final wave of scholarships somewhere in between March and June.
13. Anticipate Dramatic Changes
It’s important to remember that you’re going to have dramatic changes over the four years of high school. Maturity just kind of happens. The changes that you’ve seen in your child between the time they were a newborn and when they were four years old is the same kind of dramatic changes that will occur between freshman year and senior year. Don’t be afraid that your child can’t possibly ever mature enough to graduate, or that they’ll never go off on their own. Huge changes take place between freshman year and senior year so don’t give up hope. Expect dramatic changes so that you’re prepared for anything.
14. Always Be Prepared
Instead, be prepared because teenagers do change their minds and they may go back and forth between, “I’m going to college,” and, “I’m never going to college. What a stupid idea.” Situations can change. You want to plan ahead as much as you can possibly can so that if your situation changes either for better or for worse, you’ll be prepared because you’ve been planning ahead. Be prepared in case your teenager balks at tasks required during senior year. Senior year is very close to adulthood, and sometimes adults don’t want to do what their mothers tell them to do. Be prepared when teenagers make those adult decisions as they are becoming adults. Also avoid fear that immobilizes you. The way to do that is to focus on that one, single goal that you have for each year of high school.
15. Find Success Fast
The best success comes to those who work the process early. Hit the ground running. The first day of senior year is the day you get to start working on those applications so that you get them turned in as soon as possible. I understand that in reality, not everyone will plan ahead. If you don’t have a clue about college admissions, and you are in the midst of senior year, it’s very difficult to quickly regroup in order to experience success. I have an emergency plan for families who haven't started preparing for the admission process prior to senior year. Here is a quick checklist just for those panicky parents.
Senior Year Last-minute 12-Step Emergency Panic Plan
1. Drop all school and activities and work on college applications
2. Watch “Super Scholarships for Humble Homeschoolers” (if you have time)
3. Go to a college fair and visit your four closest colleges or top choices
4. Register for the SAT or ACT (if not already taken) and put it on the calendar
5. Determine if you have all the classes required by colleges
6. Drop unnecessary classes and replace with missing college preparation classes
7. Take the SAT or ACT (if not taken junior year)
8. Apply to 2 public and 2 private universities
9. Write applications as required
10. Complete your course descriptions and homeschool transcript
11. Turn in application as soon as possible, transcript and test scores can follow
12. Return to your regular homeschooling and start planning your graduation party!
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.