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Parent of a high school sophomore or junior? There are two things you should do today to help your child begin the college search
What one thing your child should do today (Grades 9, 10, 11, 12)
Written by Jack Delehey on August 19th, 2022
Welp, It’s that time of year. The time of year when students go back to school…and it seems this word “college” affects all high schoolers…not just seniors, but 11th, 10th, and 9th graders.

But have no fear. You, as a subscriber to this newsletter, do not have to fear the phrase “college planning” can tackle it head-on. In the notes below, I am going to answer the following question for students in each of the four grades of high school:

What ONE THING should my high schooler do today to progress their college planning, given their grade (9, 10, 11, or 12)?

And sure, there’s obviously more a senior should ultimately do than a freshman. I think we all understand that. But on the theme of simplicity, there is always the most important thing any student can do. And that’s what I am going to share with you today, starting with the most pertinent (HS seniors) and moving back, ending with HS freshman.
12th graders (or about-to-be-12th graders)
  • Fill out your Common App. At this stage, this is the single most important task for you. Have you ever wondered where, exactly, you actually press that “Submit” button on your applications? It’s on the Common App. So without it, you’re not applying to college. Create a profile and fill out the Common App. And if you’re unsure what the Common App is, I strongly encourage you to review the Application guide for 1st year students. Do this today.
11th graders (or about-to-be-11th graders)
  • Get that school list out of your head and into some written form. Yes, in my program, I give my families a 12-years-perfected college tracker, complete with color coordination, conditional formatting, multiple tabs etc…but it doesn’t have to be this robust of a system. I’ve seen everything from families that embrace sticky notes on the refrigerator to old-school pen and paper lists…The important thing here is to actually be able to see the schools you may possibly consider. This visual queue will help you get the ball rolling and increase your desire to add more schools to your growing list. PRO TIP: Share this list with your parents! Make it a communal effort! Did Mom hear from a friend about a school that may interest you? Make sure Mom knows to add it to the list (Google sheets w/ family sharing is great for this). Once the effort becomes communal, allowing the entire family to offer insight, it becomes much, much more fun. It doesn’t have to be a personal slog…keep it fun!
10th graders (or about-to-be-10th graders)
  • Think about your “different > difficult” project. In my program, I have each of my 10th graders take a step back and think about a future scenario during senior year of HS. A bleary-eyed college admissions officer is about to pick up their application! They’ve already reviewed 37 applications on the day, and theirs is the last of the day. They are exhausted. They move your application in front of them…and open the first page. Given this example, I think we’d all agree, it’s really important that your application stand out from the pack. A boring, typical application, given the state of the admissions officer, is headed right for the reject pile. Luckily, we don’t stop the teachings there. We embrace this fact of life and lean into it by acknowledging the following: in college admissions, oftentimes doing something different or unique is more beneficial to your application than doing something that is difficult (like taking that 9th AP class when you’re already taking 8).
  • ​In my program, this “different > difficult” exercise is lengthy, but powerful. Here’s the gist, so you can go back and do this today:
  • What activities/interests do you have outside of school? List at least 6.
  • ​Now completely forget the question above. New question. What things, if you heard a typical 16, 17, 18 year old accomplished, would you say “Wow, that’s pretty impressive”? List at least 6.
  • ​Now find the overlap: Is there anything you are passionate about that you can work on for the next years of your life…that also may end up looking impressive with a college admissions rep? Something that perhaps isn’t difficult…but is certainly unique & interesting? And perhaps could you present this in a way where that bleary-eyed admissions officer will perk up and say “WOW, that’s cool!”
  • Some of my past students’ examples include: a multi-year fantasy football strategy blog with consistent postings, composing music & presenting to a competition (she won by the way), creating beautiful pieces of art & applying for them to be shown in popular local gallery (they were accepted).
  • ​The point is, each of these tasks helped a student express a passion of theirs. Some of them weren’t even that difficult. Others a student was actually doing anyway (and didn’t even realize it could help with college admissions!).
Think about your different > difficult project today…something you can work on, in small increments, over the next 2+ years! Want motivation to do so? Here’s a screenshot from one of my 10th graders who just finished his last week. Does this sound like someone who is excited about his project for the next 2 years or what?
9th graders (or about-to-be-9th graders)
  • Grades, grades, grades. This one is easy. The single most important factor in college admissions is your high school grades. That’s all you should focus on. Don’t think about anything else at this point (well, besides also having fun & enjoying your new high school experience). If your parents are interested, I recommend they read this book. But you don’t have to. Just focus on your grades.
BONUS 13th graders (aka about to go off to College).
  • This book changed my life. Yes, there are some outdated chapters these days. After all, it was written in 2005 when suggestions like “Use a filing cabinet” still made sense. But the general themes still absolutely have a profound effect on my students in 2022. How do I know? Because in my program I send each of my college-bound students this book to their dorm as a little welcome-to-college gift. And they tell me how much it helps them kick off their college career in a confident manner.
To your college planning success,

P.S. - If you found this helpful and would like to chat about your particular situation, I’m always here (and chatting with me is always free!).

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO.  It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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