NYTimesBlog February 7, 2013

The Choice on India Ink
Guidance on American college applications for readers in India from The Times’s admissions blog.

Timely advice from experts for students who want to stay on track during the college admissions process.
All Counselor’s Calendars »
This week, The Choice published our monthly Counselor’s Calendar, intended to keep students on track during the college admissions process.

We’ve asked Mindy H. Rose, the associate director of college counseling at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, for this month’s admissions advice for juniors.

Meghan Ryan, the director of college counseling at The Williams School in New London, Conn., offers this month’s college checklist for seniors.

What follows are excerpts that are most relevant for international students. — Tanya Abrams

Juniors: College Checklist for February

You’ve made it to the critical midwinter transition in your college search, a time when academic and personal maturity has set you up to dig into research and self-assessment in earnest.

Here’s where it gets good. In February, it’s about transitioning your college preparation from abstract planning to tangible tasks.

Express, and Assess, Yourself

You’ve likely made headway in identifying the essential questions that drive your educational priorities and practicalities: What kind of learner are you? What kind of people, activities, communities and settings bring out the best and the worst in you? What role will money play in your search? Where might you be able to get in?

Taking stock helps frame your hopes for college and yields purposeful answers about who you are and what you value. Pay attention to the patterns of your life. Write down your discoveries. Don’t be afraid to allow your vision to shift as you evolve and you better understand yourself against the backdrop of admissions.

Experiment with expressing yourself on paper by beginning an extracurricular resume and noting vignettes from your life that reflect the values you’ve identified. These will become the basis of your future applications.

Put Your Research Skills to Work

Think about it: You have a wealth of relevant experience from your academic life to apply to investigating colleges. Frame the process as a long-term research project, one where you’ll focus on questions that matter most to you.

Consider the strategies that have worked best in your classes and put them to work here, using guidebooks, college Web sites, current college students and recent graduates as your primary sources.

Just as you would for any term paper, be sure you trust the source, and don’t limit your research to superficial glances. Look hard beyond institutional marketing and into the depths of college Web sites to course catalogs, faculty members’ biographies and student media. Read the National Survey of Student Engagement, even though it’s denser than its ranking counterparts. Compare and contrast the outcomes of net price calculators, even when it’s more fun to imagine college paying for itself.

As you go, keep track of the specific professors, classes and programs that interest you. You’ll thank yourself for recording these observations when you use them later to craft meaningful application essays and supplements. The patterns you find will also help you draw thoughtful conclusions about the colleges and yourself.

Visit a Range of Colleges

Whether close to home or further afield, seek out campuses of different sizes, styles and settings, and reflect on how you react to the differences in environs.

Ask yourself: Do I feel as if I belong here? Assess which institutional elements are more and less negotiable to you. Be sure to step off the official tour and into the student union for conversation with passers-by, take in an event and look over bulletin boards and newspapers for signs of authentic student life.

Leave time to soak it in. Take notes and pictures to recall your findings.

Ditch ‘College Chatter’ for Productive Communication Habits

While college chatter among friends is inevitable and sometimes helpful, find ways to manage it early. Too much can cloud your vision and become distracting. Focus your energy instead on the way colleges communicate with you. Develop a filing system to manage the many e-mail communications from colleges appealing to you, since these will play a role in demonstrating interest to them later on.

Tend to the relationships that will support your applications to college. Reach out to your college counselor so she or he can guide you appropriately and advocate for you knowledgeably. Make yourself known to your teachers so that they can write substantive recommendations. Periodically share the evolution of your thoughts with your parents so they can trust you’re making good progress and support your goals.

Keep Testing in Check

If you have not yet taken your first SAT or ACT tests, consider registering now for the March or April exams. Unless the Preliminary SAT exam was a breeze for you, you might try both tests to see which one suits you more.

Save SAT Subject Tests, if needed, for the late spring so that you can benefit from a full year of course content before taking them. But be aware; registration deadlines can whoosh by you if you’re not paying attention!

Never allow standardized tests to distract from the priority of your classes. You should absolutely familiarize yourself with the tests through whatever methodology works best for you; test prep books, online tutorials, tutors and formal classes are all fine. But you should never allow standardized test prep to take over your life. Maintain a measured attitude toward standardized testing as the buzz around them ramps up. If you anticipate testing will be an obstacle to your candidacy, consider investigating schools where testing is optional or flexible.

Yes, it’s February, and the college search process is gaining steam as passive exploration morphs into active assessment and research. You’re primed and ready to manage the building momentum, and, as you do, you’ll see your distinct college vision taking shape. Keep working at it in manageable bites and, before you know it, you’ll have arrived at your future alma mater. Off you go!

— Mindy H. Rose

Seniors: College Checklist for February

By now you’re either in or you’re waiting.

If you’ve been admitted already, congratulations! Make sure that if you were admitted under an early decision plan, you have sent your deposit to secure your spot and notified the other colleges to which you have applied to withdraw your applications.

If you’re waiting for your decisions, it may feel like an excruciatingly long wait. While you can’t accelerate the process or decide where to go until they decide if you’re in, you can take some steps to show that you’re proactive, and to empower yourself along the way.

Finish Financial Aid Forms

If you are seeking financial aid, make sure you are in the process of completing any financial aid forms required by your prospective schools. Many deadlines are in February.

To learn more about financial aid, visit the Choice blog’s six-part Q. and A. about the Fafsa, in which the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz answered readers’ questions in the blog’s virtual Guidance Office.

Research Scholarships

It literally pays to be vigilant about researching and applying for scholarships. Check your schools’ listings, which come trickling in throughout the winter and spring. If your school uses the college counseling software program Naviance, use it to search for scholarships.

If you have applied to universities that offer merit scholarships and the deadlines haven’t yet passed, get on it!

If you are unsure of how and where to find scholarship information, ask your guidance or college counselor.

Stay in Touch

Universities are businesses, and they want to admit students who are likely to matriculate. Admissions officers are betting that these are the students who have visited campus, interviewed when possible and been in contact with admissions.

E-mail your regional admissions representatives at each of the colleges that have yet to issue you a decision. (If you’re not sure who you should be e-mailing, most colleges’ admissions Web sites list their staff members by region.)

Demonstrating interest can tip the scales toward admission if you are a borderline candidate. Wish the admissions officers a happy new year, tell them your midyear grades were sent, and ask them if there is anything (else) you can do to bolster your candidacy. Be sure to update them on any new academic accolades.

If financial aid is not a factor, and you have a top-choice school, consider writing to the admissions representative at this school to let him or her know that you will matriculate if admitted. (Only do this if you intend to follow through; sacrificing your integrity to get ahead will only set you back.)

Thank Your Advocates

If you haven’t already, thank your college counselor and your teachers for writing your letters of recommendation, and for supporting you throughout this process.

Maintain Your Momentum

Stay engaged in the classroom and keep up your grades. All colleges require final transcripts to be sent after graduation. If you are wait-listed, good grades can make a compelling case to get you off the wait list.

If your grades took a nose-dive first semester (maybe you had appendicitis and were forced to miss a week of school) work your tail off this month, then ask your counselor to send positive comments along with a current grade from the teachers whose classes you struggled in first semester.

Keep perspective. Far more important than where you go to school is what you do while you’re there, and most anyone will tell you that there is more than one school at which you can thrive.

While the admissions process is not one you can control, your college experience will be what you make of it; you are responsible for what you do during your time in college.

Regardless of the outcomes of your college decisions — whether you are elated or crestfallen — it may help to invoke the message in William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

— Meghan Ryan

This post was prepared in consultation with the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a membership organization.

For more… go to original source article.