Getting Your Senior Student Ready for Competition

very fall, the college application process is an exciting and challenging time for high school seniors. But truly, planning should begin much sooner.

I started Quametric because I saw a gap in holistic college planning from start to finish. I ran a test preparation nonprofit for almost five years, and I did a great deal of private college advising. Yet I wanted to create a test prep and college advisory business that allowed students to think about their big-picture motivations.

My goal was to create an entire plan for a student with his or her total post-secondary goals in mind. I revamped my curriculum, and I now teach intensive ACT and SAT prep while incorporating information for students on attaining their college admission goals and thinking about beginning career prep.

Here is a timeline to follow beginning in ninth grade to make the college application process much simpler.

Grade 9

• Create a broad “Research List” of colleges a student is interested in learning more about. This can include as many as 30. Starting with an ambitious list now can motivate a student. From personal experience, after earning a 3.3 in my first semester of ninth grade, I decided I wanted to attend an Ivy League university after making a college list – and brought my second semester GPA up to 3.9.


• Students should focus their extracurricular energies around activities they love. It’s OK to try new things, but begin narrowing your energies. Colleges want a diverse class of “focused” students.

• Start a resume categorizing your activities and achievements. Add to it throughout a student’s high school career.

• Plan a summer with tailored activities like volunteering, camps, jobs and internships.

Grade 10

• Start visiting, doing research and going to college information sessions. Add and delete from your Research List based upon fit.

• Delve deeply academically and in the activities that interest you. Keep updating your high school resume. Plan your summer of interesting activities by spring.

• A student should have taken both a practice SAT and practice ACT by late spring. This gives a sense of which test she performs better on and should focus on.

Grade 11

• This one’s the most important. Colleges expect to see the strongest academic year and a challenging curriculum. Colleges also love an upward trend in grades and increasing academic maturity.

• Students should become superstars in their extracurricular activities and show leadership.

• Plan for the mid-October PSAT, which is given at a student’s school and qualifies students for the National Merit Scholarship Program and National Achievement Scholarship Program (for African-American students). These scholarships range from $2,500 to school-based full-tuition scholarships.

• Aim to take one official SAT or ACT by December. Consider a test prep course. Practice scores tell a student where to focus. Public school 11th graders in Michigan take a mandatory SAT in April. Students should have two full official exams completed by end of junior year.

Summer between Grades 11 and 12

• Students should reach out to two teachers with whom they have a great relationship to write references. (Academic teachers from the 11th grade work best.) Send teachers a resume with a full list of accomplishments and activities.

• Visit colleges that are of most importance. Begin writing the specific essays for those colleges soon after your visit dates.

• Begin filling out the Common App in early August once it opens for the school year. Begin your essays with outline planning, and make sure to write compelling narratives, proofread by someone you trust.

Grade 12

• Complete all applications for colleges with rolling admission, including most state colleges, by Nov. 1 for priority consideration.

• FAFSA now opens Oct. 1. Begin filling it out right away.

• It’s ideal to complete all standardized re-testing in October of the senior year or before, but colleges generally accept tests taken through December of senior year.

• Remember, most college applications are due by January.

• Dedicate January-June to scholarship essays and submissions. Seek out those resources close to you first, such as your church and your parents’ employers.

Brandon Celestin is former director of the ACES Program and the current CEO of Quametric, Inc., in Troy, which offers test prep in both SAT and ACT. More at

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