Conquering the 4 Year Process of College Applications!


*Thank you to Matthew Fuentes for this guest post about the college application process! 

Fall has settled in, and we find ourselves back into the daily routine of school life. For our high school students, it also means the college application season!

In the highly competitive world of college admissions, parents and students often find
themselves lost in the maze of paperwork and seemingly endless amounts of information.

As I often tell my tutoring clients and their parents, just a little preparation and information gathering can take you a long way! As the student navigates through the four years of high school, careful planning can make for strong options later on.

Conquering the 4 Year Process of College Applications! Charleston MomsFollowing year-by-year guidelines can give students a true roadmap to success:

Freshman Year

  • Get involved! It doesn’t matter if you are into sports, academics, technology, student council, or any type of school activity. What matters is that you are INVOLVED in something. Getting involved within your high school not only allows you the opportunity to meet new people and establish rapport with teachers, but it begins to build up your resume of being an active participant in school. This will greatly improve your future college application, as colleges want to see well-rounded students who are a part of their school community.
  • Get to know your teachers! Creating a network of teachers who not only know your name but look out for you, is vital to solidifying a foundation of mentors who will eventually be writing your college recommendations. Having a four-year relationship with these educators allows them to create a narrative that will have college admissions seeing the entirety of the student and not just a quick snapshot. Get out there and introduce yourself!

Sophomore Year

  • Evaluate your class schedule. I meet with many high school students who look forward to sophomore and junior year where they can adjust their schedules and take classes that interest them. Though I have nothing against students taking classes that they enjoy, they need to avoid taking classes that will look weak on their transcripts. It is imperative to keep your schedule strong with classes that hold weight on college applications. College admissions counselors will easily flag a transcript that lacks a rigorous curriculum. This will make your GPA seem inflated and not a true representation of your academic prowess.
  • Stay involved! Continue with your activities from freshman year. Assess if you would like to do more or switch things up based on your interests. But, above all, stay involved and continue creating a diverse portfolio of school involvement. As I said before, it does not matter what you do, it only matters that you do something!
  • Consider a summer job. It does not have to be an internship, rather it is the ability for you to show that you were able to maintain a commitment and exhibit your maturity. It will also show your discipline and time management. So go out there, get a job, make some money, and keep strengthening that future college application.
  • Take an SAT or ACT test. Though the PSAT is often the normal route for students to take, taking an actual SAT or ACT can give you the experience of sitting for a real test. It will also give you a score on which you can base future tests. Unless you are truly thinking about a national merit scholarship, the PSAT is an okay indicator for your future test scores; however, it cannot be used for college applications. Why not take a test that can actually be used for college? You control who can see the scores, so you have nothing to lose.

Junior Year

  • Make a college interest list. As you begin your junior year, it is time to see what types of schools interest you. Start by asking yourself a few questions: Do I want to go away or stay home? Do I want a school in an urban environment or rural? Do I need to look into cheaper schools or state school options? Is there a specific area of study that only certain schools offer? By asking yourself these questions and being honest in all answers, you can then begin to build a solid list of potential schools.
  • Take your SAT or ACT tests. This is the time to get those scores in and up! On average, a student will score his or her highest score the third time they take either test. This goes back to my point about getting a test under your belt sophomore year. Think of getting a tutor or taking a class to get a good feel for each test.
  • Keep those classes strong. Do not fall into the trap of taking easy classes to keep your GPA up. Show that you are taking rigorous classes and are willing to put in the work throughout your entire high school career.
  • Take a leadership role within your current activities. Be it a captain, president, treasurer, or secretary, get yourself a title and run with it!
  • Think about getting a summer internship. Getting an internship will not only allow you to look into a future career but will show your ability to work within an actual corporate structure. An internship at this age on your college application will put you above other applicants who may have the same GPA and test scores. Get out there and pound the pavement!
  • Visit schools! Based on the school list you created, visit some campuses! The last thing you want to do is rush visits your senior year and be forced to make a hasty decision. Leisurely plan a trip to see some schools and have an open mind. Doing this early also allows you to revise your list as your senior year begins.

Senior Year

  • Clean up those social media accounts! Go through all of your Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or other platforms you use, and make sure everything looks appropriate. The last thing you want is for someone to get a wrong impression of you because of a picture or something you said. Review everything and delete anything you feel is remotely inappropriate.
  • Ask for recommendations. Remember freshman year when you started to get to know your teachers? Well, those educators who have now known you for four years can write you a glowing recommendation for the schools to which you are applying. These teachers will have seen you grow and mature both personally and academically. They know the real you and can provide colleges a true representation of your character and strengths.
  • Create a calendar that outlines all dates and deadlines for applications and scholarship opportunities. Get working on your applications and essays early. Have everything stamped and enveloped ahead of time!
  • Apply! Time to apply and get into the school of your dreams!

Follow this timeline, and I am sure the normally stressful college application process will go smoothly. you will find yourself with a multitude of amazing choices to begin your college career.

About the Author

Matthew Fuentes is the founder of Take Aim Tutoring. He has tutored hundreds of students
across the county and the world over the past 10 years for both the SAT and ACT tests. He is currently creating an online SAT curriculum that will allow students everywhere to benefit from his strategies. He tutors clients online and privately. He lives in Charleston, SC, with his wife and two children. He can be reached at [email protected] or on his website


  1. This is amazing! My daughter is literally only 1 and I found this so helpful and wish someone had outlined this for me when I was in high school! Fresh and sophomore years were seen as the “doesn’t matter just get A’s” years for me and this list is so much better!

  2. Thank you Susannah! I find my of my parents are totally unprepared and are honestly scared of their students applying for colleges. By starting the process freshman year, it makes it manageable and opens avenues to better schools.

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