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Top Tips for Preparing for The College Application Process

Posted by Olivia Civiletti on August 23, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Olivia Civiletti

sanford_school_class_2019Senior year of high school can sometimes feel like the perfect storm. It is the moment in which all that the students have worked for the past three years is put to the test. College admissions anxiety can often cloud the eyes of many 12th graders as well as the sadness that comes with leaving the comfort and security of all that they have known. Though the latter cannot be avoided, there are many strategies that revolve around early preparation and anticipation that can be put towards preventing the former. Here are a few simple steps that, when taken in sophomore or junior year, can help ease the stress of the college application process:

Keep the grades up!

Though it seems like an obvious bit of advice, with all of the chaos of senior year, it can become a component that is easy to forget. Grades and the difficulty of courses are the first things a college-application reader looks at so it is at the top of the students’ priority list.

Prepare for standardized testing

Though some colleges are test-optional, it is a good idea to get a prep book or take a preparatory course and register for either the ACT or SAT. Most colleges still require an ACT or SAT score report, and, even if they do not, a good score can only help an application.

Narrow down the list of colleges

Students should start thinking about what region or climate they would like to inhabit for four years. What size college do they want? Small (Fewer than 5,000 students), medium (between 5,000 and 12,000 students), or large (more than 12,000 students)? How far do they want to be away from home? This all will help them compose the list of universities they want to visit.

Start thinking about which teachers to ask to write their college recommendations

Most schools ask for at least one teacher recommendation, though students should ask at least two different teachers for recommendations as colleges can demand as many as five. When it comes to asking for recommendations there are a few things that students should keep in mind:

  • Students should pick a teacher from the humanities department and a teacher from the math-science department to write their recommendations as it is a myth that the humanities teachers write better-written recommendations.
  • They should choose teachers they had during their junior year or sophomore year, not freshman.
  • It is a good idea to choose a teacher in whose class the student struggled as opposed to one which was very easy, so the teacher can discuss the student’s determination and work ethic.
  • Students should request these recommendations by the end of their junior year.


Though it may seem far away, it is never too early to start thinking about good essay topics. These essays do not have to be about some tragic or life-changing event. It can be about a simple occurrence that gave something a new meaning, an instance in which the student learned something about his or herself, an experience which reveals his or her true character, or a moment in which the student failed or truly struggled. Having topics ready to go will make the process much easier when it comes time to start writing their essay. It is a good idea to have some ideas ready come fall of senior year so the students can run their rough drafts by teachers to see if they are headed in the right direction.

The college application process does not have to be overwhelming. With a few easy tools for preparation, it can feel relatively painless and leave more time for grieving about leaving the school that you love.

Sanford Prepares Students for College

At Sanford School, our two college counselors help our students through the college admission process early. We encourage students to select schools that match their learning styles and standards, value what they value, and offer opportunities and programs that fit with their interests and ambitions. Find out more about our College Counseling Process here.
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Olivia Civiletti is a member of Sanford School's Class of 2017. She currently attends Johns Hopkins University.

See also:  College Application Process Advice for Students and Families

Topics: College Guidance