It’s finally here—your senior year of high school as a homeschool student! While it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of finishing school strong and enjoying fun senior-year activities, it’s also crunch time for creating your high school transcript and starting the college application process.
During my own senior year of high school at home, I wasn’t sure where to begin. There was so much to do to prepare for life after high school. So to help you avoid the same confusion I experienced, we’ve put together a handy checklist to ensure you remain on track and firmly college-bound during your senior year of homeschooling.
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Here’s the list of 8 tips:
1. Narrow down your list of colleges
Pick three tiers: your ideal schools, middle-of-the-road versions, and a few lower caliber options just in case. Researching and refining this list is important between your junior and senior year—or at least early on during your senior year. Colleges have varying requirements for applications, so it’s a good idea to create an electronic folder for each, particularly your top picks. Don’t forget to consider the cost of a college, too, and make an informed decision about how much student loan debt you’re willing to take on.
Another tip: think well beyond college. In selecting an institution to attend, consider your ultimate career and life goals. Your senior year of high school is a great time to dream and plan. You don’t need to have everything figured out, but a general sense of direction is a wise idea.
2. Give your references plenty of time to write recommendation letters
Recommendation letters are crucial for helping colleges see the whole picture of a student’s skills and abilities—beyond just academics. Choose a teacher or boss with whom you have a current or very recent relationship. You can also ask a coach, a minister, or the head of a nonprofit where you volunteer.
You can add even more credibility to an application by asking the person recommending you to send it directly to the academic institution. That way, the application office knows that you haven’t actually seen it.
Finally, be sure to follow up with those who write your recommendation letters with a thank you note.
3. Make sure your senior year of classes looks great on (transcript!) paper
For this tip, be sure to consider two factors: the type of courses taken (for example, honors and AP courses) and how well you perform in them. Be sure to round out your high school years with a mix of high-quality English, math, science, and liberal arts coursework. Explore options for taking dual enrollment courses at a local community college, too. Or, if you already have a firm sense of your college major, pick high school electives that complement your chosen path.
While wisely picking a solid load of senior-year classes is important, don’t stress out about it. Courses are just one piece of the puzzle, and other elements—extra-curricular activities, scores on standardized tests, the strength of your essay, quality of recommendation letters, GPA, and others—carry a hefty amount of weight, too. And don’t forget about a slick, professional overall appearance for your transcript!
4. Speaking of which, begin creating your transcript right now
Already started your high school transcript? Great! You’re ahead of the game. If you haven’t begun crafting your transcript yet, don’t waste any more time. As a rising senior, you can fill in details from your last three years of high school and add in data from your senior year as you go along.
5. If you need to improve a standardized test score, register now
You’ve probably already taken your standardized tests, but if not, now is the time to register! If you want to boost a previous score to improve your attractiveness to colleges even more, now’s also the time to think about registering.
Because most colleges have an applications deadline of January or February, aim to take or re-take the SAT or ACT during the first semester of your senior year.
6. Shore up your college finances
By the time your senior year rolls around, it might be too late to take advantage of some of the best financial tools to help you in your college journey. But if you don’t already have assistance lined up, now is the time to continue researching and pursuing financial aid, scholarships, and student loans. Keep in mind that scholarships often have fall and spring deadlines.
7. Brush up on your essay writing skills
Begin working on your college application essay. If you’re not naturally bent toward writing, churning up ideas can be a chore. Some leads to get your creative juices flowing: write about a key experience for you during high school or a time when you learned a valuable lesson; take a stand on a controversial issue (tread carefully on this one!); or retell a story that showcases some of your talents and abilities. Don’t be over-the-top—you don’t have to have experience as a class president to write an effective essay.
For length guidelines, aim to keep the essay between 500 and 700 words, but be sure to double check guidelines from each college. Structurally, have a clear introduction, several body paragraphs, and then a conclusion that ties all the components together.
It’s OK to get feedback from a parent or editor on the content of the essay, but the words should always be yours. Admissions offices are always on the lookout for essays that appear to be written by someone else. And don’t forget to spellcheck and proof read.
Don’t try to be Hemingway. Just try to tell a genuine story in your own words!
8. Stay focused on your academics
Most colleges run admissions December and January, though you might be able to submit for early admissions at some point. It’s easy to get preoccupied with the excitement of attending college, but don’t let it distract from your studies. Work hard and finish strong!