Senior Year: The Final Year
Staying on Top of College Applications
As soon as 11th grade is finished, you only have 6 months (or less) before college applications are due! The spring of your senior year will be fairly relaxed but you can expect the incoming senior summer and fall semesters to be jam-packed. It’s important to have a plan and stay on top of everything that needs to be completed for your college applications.
It’s normal to quickly feel overwhelmed, behind, and unprepared.
But all you need is a plan!
Our 12th grade checklist below details what you should accomplish during your final year of high school and when you should accomplish it. We’ve also included the MEK Review courses that will best help you accomplish these goals. This will help you create a plan and stay on track.
A Note About This Checklist
Hopefully, you’ve read our…
If you haven’t, we encourage you to check them out.
If you have, you already know that these checklists are designed for top achievers — students who are interested in applying to Ivy League or top 10 colleges. This final checklist for 12th grade is based on the idea that you’ve completed your 9, 10, and 11th grade checklist items such as earning top SAT/ACT scores, acing SAT Subject and AP tests, participating in meaningful extracurricular activities, and approaching your teachers and guidance counselors for letters of recommendation.
If you are a current or incoming 12th grader, and you haven’t accomplished any of the items from the 9, 10, and 11th checklist (especially the 11th), make a list of what you need to catch up on and design a plan to accomplish the items that are feasible.
For instance, if you haven’t finalized your SAT or ACT scores, this has to become your #1 priority.
However, at this point, you also need to think about what’s reasonably possible. If you haven’t taken any SAT Subject tests, it is not feasible that you can take 5 of them during your senior year. You have too much else to do. On the other hand, preparing and taking 1 or 2 over the summer is likely possible.
If you have a 3.0 GPA, you can’t turn that into a 4.0. There’s not enough time. Instead, start thinking realistically about which colleges you should apply to. Ivy League or top 10 schools may be out of reach, but with a strong senior year, strong recommendations, and solid test scores, you still have a chance at good universities.
We highly recommend that if you are behind on the checklist, you seek out help by contacting MEK Review and scheduling a meeting with our expert academic counselors, who can help you create a realistic college list and tell you how best to boost your admission chances.
With that said, let’s go to the final checklist!
12th Grade Checklist: Summer – 2 months
Remember, college applications are due in December, while Early Decision and Early Action applications are due as early as October. For those reasons, it’s essential that you start your college application process in the summer.
1. Complete summer internships or extracurricular activities
As we advised in our 11th grade checklist, you should apply to internships that reflect your academic interests during the summer of your senior year. They look great on a college application and are another way to showcase your talent and dedication to a certain subject or field.
If you don’t complete an internship, you can also utilize the summer to delve deeper into an extracurricular activity.
Furthermore, while a traveling volleyball team or band camp is great, give priority to the activities that reflect the main parts of your college application. For instance, if you are being recruited by a Division 1 collegiate volleyball team or planning to be a music major at the Manhattan School of Music, then volleyball or band camp is a great way to spend your summer. However, if you are not planning on playing sports or music in college, consider activities that reflect what you do want to do in college.
Do you want to go pre-med? Consider participating in EMT programs or volunteering at a hospital. Interested in graphic design? There are entry-level internships designed for high schoolers! Not sure what you want to major in, but know you want to make a difference in the world? Think about a cause or organization that really speaks to your values and volunteer.
Another option is to apply for summer jobs to get hands-on work experience.
2. Begin your college applications
Most colleges take the Common Application, an online platform that allows you to conveniently submit one application to multiple schools. The Coalition Application is another online app portal that is gaining in popularity with colleges (never heard of it? Check out our blog on Coalition App FAQs).
Other schools such as MIT, Georgetown and Berkeley have their own unique application that must be completed.
With your college list (that you ideally have created in the spring of 11th grade), create a chart of which applications your prospective colleges accept. If all of them accept the Common App, great! This will save your time and effort. If one or more require their own application to be submitted, it’s all the more important that you start early.
How do you begin your college applications?
No matter the application, it will ask you for preliminary information. Always be as accurate as possible because even seemingly simple questions such as school name or ethnicity can affect admission decisions.
Here are typical first steps for starting your application:
- First create an account (make your username and password something easy to remember and try and use the same for all online application portals)
- Fill out profile information such as name, contact information, demographic and geographical information
- Fill out household information such as parent and sibling information
- Fill out educational background information such as school name, GPA, and class rank
- If you haven’t already, start sending your SAT, ACT, SAT Subject, AP, and IB official test scores to your prospective colleges. Make sure you check if the college offers Score Choice or Superscoring, or requires you to send all scores.
3. Build up your resume
Some colleges require you to send a resume; some specifically ask that you do not. Either way, it’s a good idea to create a resume for a few reasons:
- Fulfill Requirements: As said, some colleges require or “strongly recommend” (e.g. require) you to upload a resume.
- Be Prepared: On the Common App and other applications, there is a section where you have to fill out your activities, grades, and honors courses, so by having a resume, you’ll have all the information ready to go.
- Qualify for Scholarships: You often need resumes when applying to additional scholarships.
- Great for Interviews: It will come in handy if you have an interview with a college – a common practice for more competitive schools.
Writing a resume will also give you time to reflect critically on your most important accomplishments and any areas of weakness that you may want to enhance over the summer.
Start writing your resume and begin filling out the “activities” and “additional information” sections of the Common App.
We strongly recommend you take advantage of our Roadmap to College programs, which guides students through one-on-one meetings with our expert College Counselors to help craft an impressive resume.
4. Reach out to non-academic recommenders
We advise that you ask teachers and guidance counselors in the second semester of 11th grade for letters of recommendation. However, if one or more of your prospective colleges allows or requests a letter from someone outside of the classroom or counselor’s office, the summer is a great time to ask a coach, employer, director, or manager that you’ve worked for or under.
Remember, the best people to ask are those who you’ve made a big impression on or have a personal relationship with, rather than someone who is impressive or successful but is only an acquaintance. These letters of recommendation are opportunities for a college to learn more about your character, leadership abilities, and strengths, and someone who barely knows you will not be able to write about these traits.
Whoever you choose to ask, give them plenty of time, tell them exactly how to submit their recommendation, and inform them of any other requirements.
Remember that you cannot control, edit, or tell a recommender what to write. It goes straight to the college. Plus, it won’t help. Students who write their own letter of recommendations and have their mentor just sign it actually write weaker, less compelling letters than their mentor would have written on his or her own.
Also keep in mind that it’s inappropriate to pick a family member to write a letter of recommendation. Admission officers will see it as impartial, subjective, and irrelevant — not the result you want!
5. Revise college list
During 11th grade, we suggested coming up with a solid college list with a mixture of schools that are respectively easy, moderate, and difficult for you to earn admission too.
During the summer of your 12th grade year, you should do a final revision of your college list, in which you decide the the schools you will be applying to: Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision.
Regular Decision are applications that are submitted before the final college application deadline (usually in January but specific dates can vary based on the school). This is the application most students submit, and if you do, your application will be considered within a large pool of other applicants. You will receive your acceptance or rejection letter by April and must accept or decline the invitation by May 1.
With regular decision, you can apply to as many colleges as you want, and you are under no obligation to attend any of the schools.
Early Action is an option to submit your application by an earlier deadline, usually by November 1st or 15th. Your application will be compared to a smaller group of applicants (others who submitted early) and this could increase your chances of acceptance. It is also a chance to show a college that you are highly interested in attending their campus, which does affect your admission chances (it’s called student’s demonstrated interest).
Early Action is also non-binding, meaning you can apply to as many school as you want under Early Action and you are under no obligation to attend.
Another advantage is that Early Action decisions are usually released in mid-December, so you will know if you’ve been accepted or rejected much earlier than Regular Decision and can correspondingly celebrate and relax or refocus and try again. Either way, it can cut down on the stress of not knowing.
Overall, you should apply Early Action to your top choice schools and those schools which are the most competitive.
Restrictive Early Action
REA is the same as Early Action with one notable difference: You sign an agreement that you will apply to only that one school during the early rounds.
You are still not obligated to attend if accepted, but it’s a bigger commitment that Early Action. If you are rejected from the school in mid-December, you will have to apply to the rest of your schools through Regular Decision.
On the other hand, it’s an even more emphatic way to stress to a school that they are your top choice.
Early Decision, like Early Action, is an application submitted in November with decisions usually released mid-December. However, unlike EA or REA, it is binding. This means you sign an agreement stating that if accepted to the Early Decision school, you will attend. You cannot compare financial aid packages, and if accepted in mid-December, you cannot apply to other schools during Regular Decision. You are obligated to attend your Early Decision college.
This is clearly a much bigger commitment. However, it’s also is the biggest way to show a school that they are your #1 choice, which statistically increases admission chances.
You should apply Early Decision only to your dream school — the school that is by far your top choice.
6. Brush up on any weak academic areas
Contrary to popular belief, your grades do matter in the 12th grade!
Although your transcript will likely only feature 9-11th grade and the first marking period of 12th grade, colleges seek to see consistency of effort throughout all four years of high school.
Even after your acceptance, colleges will sometimes require you to send your final grades and an explanation if there has been any significant drops. In extreme cases, they can even rescind their acceptance letter.
7. Begin College Essay applications
Don’t procrastinate on your college essay applications! They are a big struggle for many students, and can make or break your admission chances, especially for highly competitive colleges.
Start with the Common App essay, as you likely will have multiple schools for which you can use this essay.
Check out our free resources to get started:
- Blog: Why Your College Application Essay is So Important
- Blog: Brainstorming the Perfect Topic
- Blog: Top 5 Dos and Don’t for College Application Essay
- Video: The Art of Choosing a Topic
- Video: How to Craft an Engaging Introduction
- Video: Perfecting Your Language, Tone, Voice, and Grammar
For the best results, take advantage of our Application Essay Writing program that guides you step-by-step through writing Common App and supplemental essays with the help of an expert essay coach and college counselor.
12th Grade Checklist: Fall – 4 months
As you can see, it’s going to be a very busy summer, and the next 4 months are going to be just as busy.
The key is to stay organized, on schedule, and focused. Plus, don’t be afraid to ask for help and plenty of it. You’re not alone in thinking college applications are stressful. Pretty much every senior is with you.
1. Finish internships and work experience
By the first semester of 12th grade, most of your internships will be wrapping up. While you can continue to intern or work during the school year, make sure it doesn’t interfere with school or deadlines.
Overall, make sure you’ve added any new distinctions or experiences to your applications (and resume!).
2. Complete all Supplemental Essays
In addition to the Common Application essay prompts, many colleges ask for supplemental essays. These essays generally have a shorter word count and ask more school-specific questions.
- Why do you wish to attend our school?
- In the age of social media, what does engaging with integrity look like to you?
- What’s your favorite book, movie, or painting, and why?
- What’s so odd about odd numbers?
These questions range from fairly common to the creative and bizarre. However, no matter the question, you must give a thoughtful, compelling response.
In fact, colleges often pay more attention to your supplemental essay responses.
Plan your essays early and get expert guidance from our Application Essay Writing program.
3. Complete and submit all applications
Make sure you apply to all Early Action, Early Decision, and Regular Decision schools by their deadlines.
4. Maintain a high GPA
One of the key reasons to work hard during the summer is so that your grades don’t slip as you finalize your college applications. Remember: grades are the #1 factor for college admissions!
12th Grade Checklist: Spring – 5 months
You’ve completed your college applications. Your 40 months is up! No matter the results, you’ve worked really hard. Now is the time to kick back and wait for your results. If you applied Early Action or Early Decision, you may already have great news!
2. Visit schools
While it’s important to visit school campuses before submitting applications, there is also a lot of value in visiting or revisiting a campus after you’ve been accepted.
Unless you applied Early Decision, you usually have until May 1 to decide which college you want to attend.
There are many things to consider: financial aid packages, location, school reputation, and school’s facilities, campus life, dorms, and staff. By visiting a school, you can get a better idea of which school is really the right fit for you.
Many of our students made their final decision because they visited a school and fell in love with its attitude, community, or values.
3. Start planning for college
Once, you’ve made your final decision, it’s time for more fun decisions.
- Where will you live?
- What do you need to bring?
- What courses do you want or have to take freshmen year?
4. Don’t let your grades slip
Even though you’ve been accepted, don’t forget that some colleges will request a final transcript, and there can be repercussions if your grades take a major dip. Don’t let senioritis trip you up at the finish line!
5. Celebrate – again!
Before you can blink, it will be time to cross the graduation stage!
Next Steps of Success
Your senior year will probably be one of the most stressful, fun, and rewarding years of high school.
Set yourself up for success by completing all these items in 12th grade. And let MEK Review help you every step of the way.
We can’t wait to hear from you!