Starting with the article How Colleges Evaluate Students, we can see that three of the top four factors in college admission decisions relate to the level of difficulty of your coursework and your grades in those courses. Therefore, it would be wise to spend most of your time and effort maximizing these factors. To do this, you need to get the overall picture of the courses you will take not only during freshman year, but for all your high school years. This will show you not only where you are but where you are going. Fortunately, your college counselor can help you do just that.
Before you go marching into your college counselor's office requesting a course plan for the next four years of high school, you will need to spend some time preparing. Having a course plan is more than just getting a print out. You want to have a discussion about how to attack the next four years. Below you will find detailed steps to get you started so that you will have a productive discussion and an understanding of how you will accomplish your goals.
Before Meeting With Your College Counselor
The discussion you want to have regarding your course plan should be centered around increasing the 'strength of your curriculum'. This is the second most important factor admission offices evaluate. This most likely will mean the inclusion of college prep courses (i.e., honors, accelerated, AP®, etc.) although dual enrollment at a college/university and other advanced work may apply. You also have to be careful not to over-extend yourself to the point that your grades suffer as your 'grades in all courses' (e.g., your GPA) is the fourth most important admission factor. You need to find a balance.
You should start by analyzing, identifying, and documenting your academic self. Review your academic experience in middle/junior high school using your memories, feelings, and better yet your report cards across your core subjects. Your core subjects being English, Foreign Language, Math, Science, Social Studies. You want to be able to answer the following questions to the best of your ability:
- What subjects are your strongest? Why?
- What subjects are your weakest? Why?
- What subjects are you genuinely interested in regardless of your grades? Why?
Feel free to take this a step further and rank the subjects from strongest to weakest (scale of 1-10, with 1 being the best). Next, put an asterisk next to the subjects that you have a genuine interest in studying. The reason for this exercise is so that when you meet with your college counselor, you can focus on pushing towards college prep courses in the subjects where you have academic success and hopefully a genuine interest.
Next you will want to analyze yourself as a student in three key areas. Those three areas are: study habits, reading comfort level, and time management. While there are many areas successful students do well, these are the three key areas you want to focus on at the beginning of high school. Improving in these areas will not only help you during the intense coursework involved in college prep courses, but also help you improve your grades in your weaker subjects. Your college counselor can use this information in two ways. First, they can give you tips and strategies for improving these three areas. Second, they can warn you about courses where you may run into significant difficulty if you are lacking in any of these three areas. It is important that you be honest with yourself as you answer these questions:
- Study habits:
- How would you rate your study habits?
- Do you have a defined plan when studying?
- Do you study every day or wait until the last minute?
- Do you take notes and are they organized?
- Reading comfort level:
- How would you rate your reading comfort level?
- Does it feel like reading takes more time than it should?
- Does reading feel like a chore?
- Do you get easily distracted when reading?
- Do you have to re-read passages over and over again?
- Do you read recreationally?
- Time management skills:
- How would you rate your time management skills?
- Do you use a calendar or other system for keeping track of responsibilities?
- Do you often feel rushed or unprepared?
- Does it feel like homework, projects, and tests seem to creep up on you out of nowhere?
Having an understanding of where you are as a student prior to meeting with your college counselor will pay big dividends during your discussion. Your counselor will have a deeper understanding of your needs and can provide better solutions to help you get to your end goal. Also, they will appreciate that you took the time and effort to prepare for your meeting.
Once you have a meeting date and time setup with your college counselor, feel free to send them an email detailing what you would like to accomplish. A discussion of this nature goes smoother and quicker when they have time to prepare. Simply let them know that you are looking to understand how courses for your next four years will likely play out. Tell them that you are putting together your thoughts on subjects you do well in and are interested in studying as well as weak areas where you need guidance. Request that they review your middle/junior high school transcripts and quickly document their thoughts on which subjects you appear to be strongest.
Discussion With Your College Counselor
With both of you prepared for the discussion, let your counselor lead. Be sure to let them know what your thoughts are based on your analysis of yourself and be open-minded to their directions. Remember that the overall point of this meeting is to put you into the best position when it comes time for college admission offices to evaluate you. If you are not currently on path to take college prep courses by your senior year, your only option will most likely require summer school. Ideally summer school is best taken sooner (meaning prior to sophomore or junior year) than later (prior to senior year) since it is a shortened semester and your summers will become more time constrained as you go through high school. Double-check that the classes you need will be offered during the summer.
This is the just first step in the college preparation process. However, you are not finished. You should review this four-year course plan with your counselor at the beginning of every semester to make adjustments and to aid you in selecting courses for your upcoming years.