The end of the school year is prime time for both reflecting on what has happened and planning for what’s to come. Now that your child has wrapped up (or is soon to wrap up) their junior year, it’s especially important to use this time wisely. If your child is planning to attend a four-year college after high school, they’ll be busier than ever over the next six months.

We’ve put together some thoughts on what you should be doing now and over the next month or so to help your rising high school senior navigate what’s to come.

1. Reflect

The first step is to encourage your teenager to reflect on what they have accomplished over the last few years. Ask them about their proudest moments or achievements and also their disappointments. In addition, it’s a good time to get them think about how they look on paper: how are their grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, etc. Be honest, but also nonjudgmental.

Also, ask them about their college plans in depth - what schools do they see themselves at and why? While hopefully, this isn’t the first time you are having these conversations, now is the time to really go in depth about what they want from their college education and experience apart from attending any one specific school.

2. Evaluate

The next step is to sit with your teenager and evaluate the list of schools they are considering (they should have one by now). Your job is to act as a reality check; are the schools they are considering within their reach? For this, you’ll want to compare your child to the average admitted applicant profile. If their GPA and test scores aren’t within range (meaning at or above the average scores of admitted applicants), it’s your responsibility to make sure they broaden their college search. Applying to one or two “reach” schools may be okay, but they’ll need to balance the scales with a few schools that they are very likely to get into.

Likewise, you’ll want to bring a dose of financial reality to the table as well. A college counselor can help you determine a rough estimate about your eligibility for financial aid, but regardless, the time has come to have a frank conversation about what you are able to contribute to their educational expenses, especially if resources are limited.

3. Troubleshoot/Strategize

Once you’ve finished evaluating your teen’s college list, you should work together to address any disconnects between their “profile” and the schools that they are considering. Unfortunately at this point, there’s not much they can do about their GPA, especially if they are planning to apply early action or early decision. In that case, the GPA they have now will be the GPA the school receives.

On the bright side, though, higher standardized test scores can be used to offset a lower GPA. Plus, test scores are something that can be raised in a (relatively) short amount of time. Most colleges simply use an applicant’s highest score, so there’s little downside to retaking the SAT or ACT again in the fall after putting doing some prep over the summer. In addition, your teen can also work to make their essays really strong and choose their recommendations carefully. Last, they can use the summer to take their involvement in extracurricular activities to the next level.

Overcoming shortcomings by strengthening other parts of the application can help boost your teen’s chances of admission to schools that currently might be a bit out of reach. They can also help you earn merit-based financial aid (scholarships!). However, these opportunities are becoming more and more limited each day, so it’s important to encourage them to get moving!

4. Plan

Since the next few months are going to be hectic, now is a good time to start planning. Here’s a timeline for rising seniors that will help you monitor what they should be doing each month. Remember, the earlier they get started planning, the less stressful and chaotic the process will be for everyone. The things that they should focus on now are:

  1. Get that college list pretty settled. Chances are for most teens, that list isn’t terribly fleshed out yet so now is the time to really get that list fleshed out and, hopefully, finalized.
  2. Get started on the application, whether it’s the Common App or the Coalition application. And of course, start working on those essays. The applications will also require some information gathering, such as where family members attended school.
  3. Start asking teachers for recommendations now. It’s better to ask before fall, when teachers are swamped with both requests and general back-to-school craziness!
  4. Figure out some kind of summer plan, be it a part time job or a few days a week volunteering opportunity. Then, work on putting together an extracurricular resume for your application.
  5. Get started on test prep now, if raising scores is a goal. Testive can help with that. We offer expertly guided test prep that we guarantee will raise scores along with free software for everyone. Ready to discuss Testive prep? Book a call with one of our advisors today to discuss how test prep can fit into your busy teen’s schedule, as well as which of our plans would be the best fit for your student.