Life after high school: I’m not a senior – what should I be doing? |

Life after high school: I’m not a senior – what should I be doing?

Whew! We made it out of November, which can be a very critical month in terms of the senior college process.

If the seniors planned right, they should be preparing for midterms and then looking forward to a relaxing holiday break. But just because the seniors are in a lull doesn’t mean the other grades aren’t feeling like they should be doing something toward college planning.

Lucky for the freshmen, sophomores and especially juniors, there are steps they can take to help prepare for when it is their turn on the college Merry-Go-Round.

Let’s break it down by grade level:

Freshmen and sophomores

Listen up underclassmen and take some notes. These first two years, you may not realize it, but you are building a foundation with your grades. Hopefully, you are also seeing an actual transcript of progress (this can be very illuminating for students!) and are continuing to get involved in activities that interest you.

During this time, it is good for you to try new things. Exploration is important and will help you narrow down and hone in on your interests and talents, which in turn helps to develop you as a whole student.

Your extracurricular activities do not have to be school-related and can range from community service, volunteer work, athletics, arts or music, and can be internationally focused (i.e., language programs, service trips, etc.).

It’s a good idea to log the hours per week and weeks per year you participate in their chosen activities (during the school year and in summers too).

Write a short paragraph and highlight any leadership positions. Someone to check in with is your school counselor. Being proactive can go a long way in building a relationship with a very important person in your college process.

Do an academic check and see how you are standing. Do you need to push yourself a bit harder? Do you feel overwhelmed? Get some guidance!


This is the last year you can have a major impact on your class performance. In this year, you can fine tune your time management, dive deeper into your curriculum, get to know your junior teachers (guess who is writing those one or two letters of recommendation!) and, of course, focus on the two to three activities you love, and take on more roles (leadership or other).

Once the second semester of the junior year starts, the fun begins with testing. Generally, one SAT and/or one ACT (both with writing) should be considered.

Many students don’t really know which test they prefer, until they have experienced one of each. Also, you need to plan for Subject Tests for any colleges where you might apply.

For those taking AP classes, or taking mock IB exams, May is a test heavy month. Plan your standardized (ACT/SAT) around your AP tests so you don’t experience testing burnout.

Remember, you have a few chances in the fall of the senior year to take another SAT and/or ACT. Don’t forget to throw in some SAT or ACT preparation (there are a lot of free and reduced cost resources out there!).

Hopefully, you are checking in with your school counselor as well. He or she will direct you on your high schools college planning timeline, direct you on how to get letters of recommendation, and help you start crafting your list.

If you can get to a few college fairs and meet with some college representatives during this year, even better.

No matter which grade you are in, you can take steps to prepare for that rush in the fall of your senior year.

With good planning and some preparation, you will feel more confident when it’s time to get down to the business of applications. Congratulations on the close of the first semester. Now get busy!

Katy Watts is the college counselor at Tahoe Expedition Academy. She holds a Masters in Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential and is entering her 14th year as a school counselor. She may be reached for comment at

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