In the previous chapter of the Ultimate College Prep Guide, we talked about the college essay and tackled both the Common App personal statement and the supplementary application essays. We focused on how the personal statement should be personal and focused on what makes your student stand out, while the supplemental essays should be school-specific.
In this chapter, we’ll talk about all the other, more discretionary things that can make your student’s application even stronger.
These include the SAT Subject Tests, college interviews, extracurricular activities, and the mid-year update. While some of these are longer-term commitments, others can be added during the college application process to help ensure your student stands out.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this chapter:
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour tests that focus on specific subjects like chemistry or English and give your student a chance to demonstrate deeper knowledge and mastery of particular subjects.
Most colleges don’t require these tests as part of your student’s application, but most will recommend it as a supplement. Make sure to look up the testing requirements for any school your student is applying for to determine whether they are required to take it.
Taking the SAT Subject Tests is a great way for your student to prove their proficiency in certain subjects and show their commitment to success. We recommend identifying two or three subjects that your student thinks they can excel in and taking the time to study for an take these exams. There is a total of 20 subjects to choose from.
How to Prepare for the SAT Subject Tests
While the Subject Tests aren’t required like the SAT, your student should take these tests just as seriously. Work with your student to set up a study plan to make sure they’re prepared for test day.
- Find study materials. The Subject Tests are designed to mirror material that your student would learn in their classroom. However, it’s possible that they may not have covered a specific topic before their test date. By doing practice questions and practice exams, your student will get an idea of the type of questions and subjects that will be covered.
- Develop a study plan, and stick to it! Just like with the SAT, developing a scheduled study plan will help keep your student on track and make sure they’re confident come test day. Even just setting aside 20 minutes a day to study new material or do a few practice questions will help set them up for success.
- Focus on exam topics your student is least familiar with. Class textbooks are a great way to get a handle on subjects that haven’t been covered in class yet. Your student may even be able to ask their teacher questions about specific topics if they mention that they need to prepare for the SAT Subject Tests.
During the college application process, your student has the option to have an interview with an admissions representative or alumnus as part of the application. While few colleges actually require an interview, many will offer (and recommend!) evaluative or informational interviews to interested students.
The interview is a great opportunity for your student to get their questions about the school answered, while also showing a bit of their personality that may be hard to show on paper. While the interview may not be required, if your student does decide to set up an interview, they need to take it seriously. They should set aside some time to prepare before the interview, so they go in ready to put their best foot forward.
How to Prepare for a College Interview
Going into a college interview unprepared is like going into a presentation without a presentation — they’re doomed. Follow these steps to make sure your student makes the best impression:
- Do your research. There are tons of sources out that provide potential questions they might get asked during the interview. Make sure your student reviews these and is comfortable answering these questions in relation to that college.
- Prepare questions. At the end of the interview, the interviewer will likely ask “Do you have any questions?”. This is your student’s question to get any questions they have about the college or college experience answered. Make sure they prepare at least a few questions and don’t go in empty-handed.
- Practice! Your student may think they’ve got their answers down pat, but the experience of actually answering a question out loud versus in their head is very different. Have them practice with you to make sure they’re confident with their answers.
- Be yourself. Your student wants to show who they are as a person during the interview because going to college is all about finding the “best fit.” Of course, they should be sure to remain professional. Dress smart and remember to smile!
- Follow up with a “Thank You” email. The interviewer has taken time out of their busy schedule to meet and chat with your student. Your student should show their appreciation by sending a simple “Thank You” email expressing their gratitude. They may not get a response, but this appreciation will not be forgotten!
Admissions officers are looking for students who pursue their passions. Often, students will join countless activities outside of school because “it will look good on their college apps,” but in reality admissions officers would rather see students making a long-term commitment and showing deep involvement in a few activities to show true interest and engagement.
Extracurricular activities can come in many forms including: student government, sports, part-time jobs, music and the arts, or volunteering and community service. Regardless of what your student chooses, being able to participate in extracurriculars while also maintaining good grades shows to admissions officers:
- Time-management skills
- Ability to prioritize
- Leadership qualities
When students are involved in just a few activities, it means they also will likely have time to pursue leadership positions within those groups. Holding a leadership position shows more than just passion — it shows a drive to make a change and take on new challenges. Students who make an effort to have an impact in their extracurriculars aren’t satisfied with just passively standing by, they want to make an impact in everything they do.
Choosing Your Extracurriculars
When your student is deciding on which extracurriculars to pursue, there’s nothing wrong with trying out a couple different ones to see which really sparks their interest. Ultimately your student should settle on no more than two or three activities with which they can deeply engage.
When making that final decision, we recommend keeping a few things in mind:
- Choose activities your student is truly passionate about. This may not necessarily be the activities that line up closest with their professional aspirations, but that’s okay. Getting involved in something completely separate from their academic interests gives students a chance to pursue other interests and become more well-rounded.
- Find a balance. Pursuing extracurriculars should complement you student’s studies, but should not take up so much of their time that they cannot handle both. Doing too much can cause your student to burn out. Make sure you help them find a balance where they feel challenged, but not pushed past their limits.
- For professionally-related interests, use internships as a trial run. Internships are a great way for your student to learn more about their professional interests and goals. By gaining work experience in the field they’re interested in, they can figure out if that is a field they’re truly passionate about and learn about a potential future career.
To give your student a little inspiration in case they’re having trouble deciding, we’ve compiled an Ultimate List of Extracurricular Activities to get them started.
The Mid-Year Report
The Mid-Year Report (MYR) is often sent to colleges after first semester/trimester grades are available as a supplement to the original college application and shows the student’s continued work and updated achievements. These reports are especially important for students who applied early or received deferred decisions because the information in the report may help improve their chances.
Not every college requires an MYR, but we highly recommend sending one to show the college that your student is still very interested in them. The MYR also shows that your student is continuing to focus on their academics and extracurriculars throughout their senior year. By updating colleges on any additional achievements, scores or distinctions that your student has achieved since their application was submitted, they can make the best case for why they are a great fit for that school.
What to Include in Your Mid-Year Update
- Class Rank
If your student would like to include anything else in the MYR, they should reach out their counselor to pass on the relevant information. We highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity and including things like:
- Any recent accomplishments. This can include things like being appointed to leadership positions, breaking records in sports, raising money for a good cause, or moving forward in science competitions. Anything that shows your student pursuing their interests is worth mentioning.
- Additional portfolio work. If your student is creatively inclined and has added any recent work to their portfolio make sure to include that. Make sure this work is professional quality and will really show off your student’s talents.
While we recommend including anything that may improve your student’s application, it is possible to include too much. You don’t want to overwhelm the admissions committee with too much new information that it becomes a lot more work for them. Select the information you want to include carefully and be considerate of the reviewer’s time.
Show off Your Strengths
Applying to college is a stressful time for both you and your student. You want to be sure they’re putting their best foot forward to maximize their chances of getting into their dream school. Whether it’s through SAT Subjects Tests, college interviews, extracurriculars, or the MYR (or all of them!) there are so many ways outside of grades that your student can show off why they’re a great candidate.
In the next chapter, we’ll break down the best way to help your student decide which colleges to apply for. We’ll provide examples of factors to consider including type of college, GPA and test score ranges, and financial situation. By curating a list of colleges that fit your criteria and interest your student, you can make sure you’re spending your time and money applying to the right places.