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By Brian Witte / Varsity Tutors
September 9, 2015

As your last summer of high school draws to a close, you may be preparing for the year-long transformation from high school student to college student. Ensuring a smooth transition requires ample attention, planning, and dedication. Referring to this guide throughout your senior year can help you maximize your chances of success.

The importance of your senior year

The fall of your senior year is one of the most important periods in your academic career. Though all four years of high school will count on your college applications, these few months will play a significant role in determining your story. Did you finish on an upward trajectory, with strong grades and impressive extracurricular involvement? Or did you limp out of high school as a mere survivor?

An upward trajectory makes a compelling case to college admissions officers. This is especially true if you must offset lower grades from your freshman or sophomore years. A strong finish demonstrates that a student can work hard to overcome initial setbacks. Some students who coast by on talent or aptitude hit a wall when they finally reach college. If academic success has always come easily to them, these students may not have a wealth of experience to draw from when they stumble into a difficult class. Students who have learned to work hard in high school, by way of contrast, have already learned how to persevere. If you are hoping to reach a higher caliber of school than your GPA alone will allow, it is absolutely essential to have an excellent senior year.

Students who have maintained high grades throughout the entirety of their high school careers have their own set of unique challenges. Consistency, rather than improvement, is the key in this instance. Even if academics come easily to you, senior year will have a whole new set of hurdles for you to overcome – college applications, SAT and/or ACT exams, AP tests, and a swirl of social and extracurricular obligations. As tempting as it might be to finally relax after three years of solid performance, colleges and universities will be looking for signs that you are still in top form.

Avoid overcommitting

Once you realize just how important your senior year is, you may be tempted to participate in as many activities and events as possible. Do your best to avoid this resume-boosting temptation. Instead, remember that it is much more impressive to do one or two things well, rather than five or six adequately.

Remember, too, that the college application process is a major commitment. From preparing for the ACT or SAT, to researching colleges, to writing essays, you will be devoting much of your time to this endeavor.

Purchase a calendar

You will have multiple long-term projects during your senior year. Different colleges will have different application dates, and your schoolwork will still require your attention. Early in your senior year, buy a large wall-mounted, multi-month calendar. Mark important academic and extracurricular dates. Any calendar is superior to no calendar, but viewing multiple months at once can help you see how time is passing. With a typical month-to-month calendar, it is all too easy to forget important dates that are several weeks away.

To use such a calendar correctly, remember the following: the calendar app on your smartphone is perfect for routine homework assignments and recurring meetings. Your multi-month calendar is perfect for large projects like drafts of your admissions essay.

Break large projects into their components

You may be (understandably) intimidated by the scope of your senior year projects. How will you ever learn everything that you will need to know for the ACT or SAT? How will you manage to write multiple personal statements, each insightful and unique?

Simple! Break each large project into smaller pieces. If you plan to apply to Harvard University, set due dates for each application component. Begin with the easy tasks, like the demographic information on the Common Application. Make a list of the application essays that you will need to write, including revision time. Aim for a deadline in October, as an early due date will allow you to ask parents and teachers for feedback.

Use a similar strategy for test preparation. Take a practice exam to determine your weakest subjects, and then divide your remaining weeks with these areas in mind. (Make a note to review your strengths too!) Not only will you accomplish more, but you will have the satisfaction of seeing your ACT/SAT progress.

Finally, do not become so lost in senior year demands that you neglect your friends and family. Soon, you and your friends will be in college, likely in many different states. Making a plan will help you avoid perpetual crisis mode, and it will give you the time to enjoy your final months of high school.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

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