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6 Steps to Help Your Rising Senior Prepare to Apply to College

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It’s no secret that COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s high school experience. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen exams cancelled, school and college campuses shut down, and the rest of the semester disappear. 

COVID-19 may have changed a lot, but it hasn’t changed the timeline your student needs to follow to transition from high school to college. 

In this blog, we’ll talk about how to prep for college during the pandemic and how to kickstart this preparation process with our 6 steps to help your rising senior prepare to apply to college. Successfully transitioning to college all depends on the preparation your student puts into practice now. Let’s begin with how to start your teenager’s college engine.

Rising Seniors, Start Your Engines

Have you ever noticed that race cars start their engines long before the green flag is waved to begin the race? Rising seniors should take the same approach when applying for college. 

The main difficulty of life transitions, like that from high school to college, is they come packed with emotions. And emotions are especially heightened during the teen years! 

Anticipate Your Teenager’s Feelings

Here are some emotions your rising senior might be feeling as they near the end of their high school experience:

  • Fear of the future
  • Overwhelm with the work of applying to college
  • Confusion about what to major in and where to start
  • Worry that they don’t have the test score or grades to be admitted to their favorite university and that they might let you down.
  • Procrastination because they feel they have plenty of time to write the essays and polish their resume.

There’s nothing wrong having these kinds of emotions unless they block your teenager from moving forward. 

At Bright Futures Consulting, we believe in accepting yourself – including your feelings. Your teenager’s feelings are real and should be honored. So honor their feelings while nudging them to take the appropriate steps forward. 

Bright Futures educational counselors work with families to guide their students through both the feelings and the steps needed to position them for college

Be Ready for Resistance

Most students don’t feel like applying to college during the summer after 11th grade and might resist because they don’t feel ready. We’ve been doing this work for over 40 years. We know the amount of work involved and the timeline to follow to achieve the best results. 

Students who are just finishing their junior year must begin the application process NOW – not later when they feel like it. It’s time to start that college engine to help your rising senior prepare their path to college.

6 Steps to Help Your Rising Senior Prepare to Apply to College

When your student becomes a rising senior, there are an overwhelming number of to-dos to get your student to the finish line (getting college acceptances). Parents, use these first 6 steps to help your rising senior prepare to apply to college and fire up your college-bound teenager’s college engine.

1. Allow and Honor Your Student’s Feelings

Life transitions are difficult. They’re emotional and are met with resistance. The first step to preparing for college is winning the emotional battle. You can do this by…

  • Starting early. Start preparing students for college during sophomore year to build their mindset and encourage them to lean into this next phase of their life.
  • Discussing feelings about adulthood. Have conversations with your teen about their feelings towards growing up and building a life of their own. Talk about their hopes and dreams.
  • Asking about stress levels. Seniors have a lot on their plate aside from academics. They’re focusing on applying for colleges, experiencing their “lasts” or coping with not getting to experience them at all. Check-in with your teenager about their stress levels.
  • Going through emotions with them. Share how you feel about this transition too. They’ll be glad to know you can empathize.

2. Prep Before The Prep

It’s no secret that test prep can be boring. When it’s not the real deal, adrenaline isn’t pumping. But preparation is still necessary to win the actual race. 

Did you know your teenager needs to prepare for taking the SAT and also prepare to prepare for it?

  • Sophomore Year – students should be preparing to schedule those tests and building in enough study time. 
  • Junior Year – since you’ve already laid out a plan to study and take the test, there’s less stress and more focus on the material itself. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, testing has become optional because so many tests have been cancelled this spring; however, testing companies are starting to administer the exam online (like the ACT).

Ask Your Teenager to Prepare for Test Prep

Test prep is extremely boring. Plus, students have been tested a lot and are frankly sick and tired of it. Strong testers find prep boring because they know 99% of the answers and are only studying for that last 1%. On the other hand, test prep produces anxiety and fear for struggling students.

Whichever place your college-bound student is coming from, approach the situation with compassion, education, and encouragement. Help them understand why it’s important to start preparing now.

When to Take Tests

Your student should take their tests before the rest of their peers are taking them. I recommend that high school students take the test 3 times:

  • In June after sophomore year. The first test will reduce test anxiety and get a strong baseline score. Students either get an awesome score and use that to get into their top schools or learn what they need to study more.
  • Towards the end of the summer. The second time, students know what to expect. They can also find comfort in knowing that this isn’t the last time they can take the test. This reduces their anxiety and stress. 
  • During fall of junior year. By the third test, your teenager will be really ready. In fact, most scores tend to go up in the fall. 

If your student only takes the test once during their senior year, they can be overwhelmed with pressure and anxiety. Help them avoid this by testing earlier rather than later. 

To stay in the loop about testing resources and college admission news, subscribe to the Bright Futures Consulting Insider’s List.

3. Visit Colleges

Our normal recommendation is to put your boots to campus grounds. It may not be possible right now given the COVID-19 pandemic; however, virtual college tours are more developed now than ever before. The College Tour Checklist

  • Virtual tours. Why not “visit” one campus per week? Travel across the world from the comfort of your kitchen table. Dig in and learn about the academic programs and offerings. Here is a (not so beautiful, but very helpful) Searchable Google Spreadsheet with direct links to colleges’ virtual tours and information sessions. 
  • In-person visits. When it’s safe to do so, visit campuses in-person. Be sure to check out the…
    • Classrooms
    • Labs
    • Gyms
    • Residence halls
    • And food!

My favorite tip for campus visits is to skim through the student newspaper to get a sense of what’s going on. Take notes during the information session and spend at least 5 minutes writing a quick reflection afterwards- what you like, don’t like, or want to learn more about. 

Do the research during sophomore and junior years. Then, visit campuses during junior and senior year.

Why It’s Important To Visit

There are several reasons why it’s important to visit the campus with your student.

It’s where they’ll spend a majority of their time. College is more than just the programs or the accolades. It’s about finding a sense of belonging. As your student transitions into adulthood, they need to feel like they belong to their campus. When you visit campus, ask current students… “What distinguishes this program from the others?” or “How soon did you get your hands dirty doing something related to your major?” 

Answer supplemental questions clearly. Common Application, Coalition Application, and Apply Texas have generic essay prompts, but many colleges add supplemental questions. One we often see is, “Why are you applying to our college, and why did you choose your major?”. Your teenager can answer the supplemental prompt by reflecting on their experience during their campus visit.

Assess the safety and your comfort level on campus tours. Go with your teenager on their campus visits. If you don’t feel safe with leaving your child and they still want to attend, you are not obligated to agree or to pay for it. You need to be able to trust your child to the university before they apply. 

4. Write Those Essays

When preparing for college essays, don’t dwell too much about the prompt. One question that will always come up is, “Tell me about yourself”. Here are some ways your student can prepare for that question…

  • Keep a journal or sticky notes by their bed. Our best ideas can happen just before we fall asleep. Encourage your teenager to keep something by their bed to jot down ideas. 
  • Take the Birkman Assessment. When a student takes the Birkman, they will learn all about their strengths. Your teenager can take one strength from their Strengths page and share examples/stories about it. When students have self-awareness, their essays are much more unique, authentic, and compelling.
  • Reflect on how COVID-19 has impacted your student.  There is talk from some colleges about adding the question, “How the Coronavirus pandemic impacted you?”. Have students reflect on that now. Encourage them to make note of what they’ve been doing more and less of during their time at home.

5. Build a Resume

When we start working with our freshman and sophomores, we use a framework to begin building their resume. This framework includes everything that they will be asked to list on their college applications, like:

  • Awards, honors, and achievements
  • Activities, hobbies, and interests 
  • Summer programs and employment 

We use a resume as a record of what a student’s goals are and how they have accomplished them. 

“Begin with the end in mind” – Stephen Covey

To prepare your teenager for resume-building, ask them…

  • What are some awards you want to earn? 
  • What are some curiosities that you have about clubs?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • What do you want to read?

Have them put together their dream resume. By junior year, they can polish this resume using this framework. 

6. Find a Friend

Finally, preparing for college is always easier when your teenager is not in it alone. Have your student find someone they can confide in who can provide encouragement and accountability. Sometimes, the confidant can be a parent or family member, but it’s often your student’s peer.

In the era of social distancing, virtual check-ins and study sessions are ideal! Have your teenager use screen-sharing to work through problems or share information from college websites. 

For the complete and comprehensive guide to help your rising senior prepare to apply to college, schedule a complimentary consultation.

Starting Your Engine 

Starting your engine begins with preparing before you really need to prepare. If your student is in that pre-preparation stage, then schedule a complimentary consultation today with a Bright Futures Expert. Our proven approach will help your student be ready ahead of time so there will be less stress and more success.


For more details on these steps including real success stories, tune into episode #4 of Self-Accepted: Guiding Families Through College Admissions & Transitions.

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