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Rising Seniors College Admissions Checklist: 5 Focus Areas to Start Working on Now

Posted by Kimberly Hewitt on Saturday, August 10, 2019


After three grueling years of academics, senior year has finally arrived!  Of course, there's important work still to be done.  Now is time for rising seniors to roll up their sleeves and lay the foundation for a successful college application season.  In this post, we’ll run through a checklist of five college admissions priorities for rising seniors to work on starting now.  Specifically, we’ll discuss how to:

  1. Finalize your college list—the single most important factor upon which nearly all of your other decisions over the next four months will depend

  2. Identify and achieve your target SAT/ACT score before application deadlines

  3. Begin essays and applications

  4. Identify financial aid and scholarships

  5. Determine whether you need to take SAT Subject Tests


The checklist includes links to many of our other resources, including our College Essay Planning Formula, which many of our students have used as the basis for highly successful college application essays.  Let’s get to work!


170617 Rising Seniors College Admissions Checklist.png



1. First Things First: Finalize Your College List


All roads lead from where you would like to apply!  The colleges on your list will determine:


  • The target score you should aim for the on the SAT/ACT based on college norms and institutional scholarship requirements

  • The latest you can test (and other application/scholarship deadlines)

  • Whether you will need to take the SAT/ACT essay

  • Whether you need to take SAT Subject Tests

  • Whether you will need to prepare for interviews

  • ...and more


You can find an entire blog post with our five-step framework for Developing Your College List, but here’s the basic assignment:


  • Start defining which criteria are most important to you in a college—factors like location, size, academic programs, campus environment, extracurriculars, and more.

  • Begin researching institutions to add to your list of potential colleges.

  • By spring of your junior year, finalize your list of 6 – 10 colleges, making sure that your list includes a balanced mix of “reach,” “match,” and “likely” schools (determined by comparing your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and coursework rigor compare against the norms for a given college).


Get professional guidance in developing your college list and determining majors through one of our college admissions consulting programs: Start by signing up for a 1-hour consultation with our college counselor.



2. Achieve Your Target Scores on the SAT/ACT


Determine the Latest You Can Test


Where you are applying impacts the score you should aim for on the SAT or ACT in order to be a competitive candidate (check out The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook to view SAT/ACT score norms for 49 popular colleges nationwide), as well as the latest date you can take (or retake) the SAT/ACT.  If your college application deadlines are in December or earlier, you have a limited amount of time to take the SAT or ACT.  Scores from the August SAT date, September ACT date, and October SAT/ACT test dates will be released in time for nearly all applications; November test date scores will be released in time for many applications; and December test date scores will be released in time for some applications.  Check each college’s website for specific deadlines.  Here is information about registering and preparing for the fall 2018 SAT/ACT dates:


SAT - Fall 2019


Official SAT

SAT Registration Deadlines

Frontier Tutoring

SAT Prep Class Starts

August 24, 2019

Regular: July 26

Late Online: August 6

Class started August 4;
SAT Individual Prep is available

October 5, 2019

Regular: September 6

Late Online: September 17

August 25

November 2, 2019

Regular: October 3

Late Online: October 15

September 21

December 7, 2019

Regular: November 8

Late Online: November 19

October 27



ACT - Fall 2019


Official ACT Date

ACT Registration Deadlines

Frontier Tutoring

ACT Prep Class Starts

September 14, 2019

Regular: August 16

Late Online: August 30

Class started August 10;

ACT Individual Prep is available

October 26, 2019

Regular: September 30

Late Online: October 4

September 14

December 14, 2019

Regular: November 8

Late Online: November 22

November 9



Prepare to Achieve Your Target Score


Here's a summary of the 3 Steps to SAT & ACT Success:


Step 1: Determine whether to focus on the SAT or ACT

All four-year colleges accept either the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. That means you should determine which test better suits your strengths, then focus exclusively on preparing for that test.  How do you do that?  Take a free practice SAT/ACT to establish your baseline and learn which test better suits your strengths.


Step 2: Set your target score

Determine the score you would like to reach based on your college admissions and scholarship goals. View average SAT/ACT scores of admitted students at a sample of nationwide colleges by downloading The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook.


Step 3: Select your study strategy

Evaluate your baseline score and target score in the context of your strengths and learning style preferences. Determine whether you should go pro with an expert test prep program, study on your own, or try both. 


170806 Ultimate Guide HS Rendered


For a complete orientation on everything you need to know about the SAT and ACT, check out free e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT & ACT Prep Strategy


No matter what, Step 1 is to take a practice SAT and ACT.


Your first priority is to determine your baseline performance on the SAT and ACT. Taking a free practice SAT and ACT with Frontier Tutoring is the fastest, easiest way to see where you stand.  After taking a full-length practice exam released by the test maker, you’ll get a custom score report with a roadmap to score improvement and expert guidance on choosing the right test for you.  We’ll then discuss your goals to help you determine your target SAT/ACT score and the best way to prepare.


Have you already taken practice/official SAT/ACT tests?


If, within the last 6 months, I have taken a practice or official…

Then I should take a…


Practice SAT


Practice ACT



We’re happy to answer questions about your SAT/ACT plans.  Give us a call or sign up for North to My Future, your free, individualized college admissions and testing strategy session.



3. Begin Essays & Applications




You know that you’ll need to write a number of essays for your college applications. The real question is how to craft effective messaging that will demonstrate your talent and character to maximize your chances of admission.  Your college list (see Checklist Item 1 above) will inform which types of applications you will need to use and, beyond that, what types of and how many application essays you may need to write.


Start planning and drafting your essays as soon as possible!  Most competitive colleges require applicants to submit a personal statement/essay, plus any number of supplemental essays. In fact, 1/3 of college-bound seniors apply to 7+ colleges, potentially requiring dozens of unique essays.1 


Most competitive colleges require applicants to submit a personal statement/essay, plus any number of supplemental essays. In fact, 1/3 of college-bound seniors apply to 7+ colleges, potentially requiring dozens of unique essays. (1NACAC, 2015).


How should you get started?  In our college essay blog post—The College Essay Approach Sam L. Used to Get Into Georgetownwe walk through the following considerations regarding planning and developing your college essays:


  • What kinds of essays you will need to write

  • The Frontier Tutoring essay planning formula for strategizing your topic and planning your structure, regardless of the prompt

  • Keys to success for college application essay writing

  • When you should start planning and writing

  • Examples of actual essays—from first draft to final—that Anja L. and Sam L. two Frontier Tutoring college admissions consulting students, used to get admitted to Middlebury College (17% acceptance rate) and  Georgetown (11.7% Early Action acceptance rate)


Learn about our premium College Admissions Consulting plans, where you can work with our certificated college counselor to plan and polish your college application essays.  Get started by scheduling a 1-hour consultation



4. Explore Scholarships


161123 Frontier 49 Preview



Want to know what you're aiming for? Download The Frontier 49 (2019/20 edition now available) to view GPA and SAT/ACT requirements for sample merit-based scholarships.  You can also learn the average GPA and SAT/ACT score of admitted applicants at the 49 most popular colleges where Alaska students apply.


Once you have finalized your college list, you should take some time to review the financial aid that may be available at each institution—and particularly merit-based scholarships, which you may earn based on your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, or other similar criteria.  If you need to raise your SAT/ACT scores to qualify for one of these scholarships, now is the time to establish your new target score and begin preparing accordingly.


If you intend to go to college in Alaska, you should be familiar with the Alaska Performance Scholarship, which provides up to $19,020 in scholarship funding over four years depending on your GPA and SAT/ACT scores.


But did you know that many out-of-state institutions offer similar merit-based scholarships?  For example, at Colorado State University, students who have a GPA of 3.5 and an ACT score of 28 can earn over $36,000 in scholarship funding over four years.  For other examples, check out The Frontier 49 College Admissions Factbook, which previews some in-state and out-of-state scholarships based on your GPA and/or SAT/ACT scores


A quick note about your GPA: For many merit-based scholarships (including the Alaska Performance Scholarship), determination of eligibility is made based on your entire high school transcript—so depending on the terms of the specific scholarship, you may still have up to two semesters to boost your GPA for scholarship qualification if needed (and conversely, if you have already achieved the required GPA, work hard during senior year to maintain it!).  Learn more about your high school GPA—and how much you may still be able to improve it during senior year—by reading our post, Four Facts About Your High School GPA for College Admissions.


Finally, speaking of financial aid and scholarships, note that the  FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) will begin accepting applications on October 1, 2019.



5. Determine Whether You Need to Take SAT Subject Tests


If you’re interested in applying to certain competitive colleges, you will need to submit scores from (usually) two SAT Subject Tests in addition to the SAT/ACT.  Popular colleges where Alaska students apply that require SAT Subject Tests include CalTech and MIT.  Colleges that recommend or “strongly recommend” SAT Subject Tests include  or recommend SAT Subject Tests include Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.


Step 1 is to determine whether any of the colleges on your preliminary college list require or recommend SAT Subject Tests.  If they do, read our more comprehensive guidance: Six Things to Know About SAT Subject Tests.  Note that while you can take up to 3 SAT Subject Tests on any given test date, you cannot take any SAT Subject Tests on the date you take the regular SAT.


Need help preparing for your SAT Subject Tests?  Consider our SAT Subject Test Prep programs, which include 6 hours of one-on-one instruction, where we will orient you to the format and strategy of each test, as well as review the key content you may have forgotten since you last took the corresponding class



What About the Rest of Senior Year?


Above we discussed five priorities for rising seniors to think about before senior year starts, as well as the early part of senior year.  What should 12th grade families be thinking about during the remainder of the year?  Download our Senior Year College Admissions Timeline for a month-by-month overview of your college admissions priorities.


190810 Download 12th Grade College Admissions Timeline


Getting to Work


Between finalizing your college list, determining your SAT/ACT, planning and drafting essays, and figuring out financial aid, there’s a lot to think about over the next few months—but if you start now, you can complete every step methodically and minimize stress.


Ensure you're putting your best foot forward throughout the college admissions process. Get professional guidance on finalizing your college list, planning and editing your essays, and maximizing financial aid and scholarship options with one of our premium college admissions consulting plans.  We'll work with you to develop a comprehensive strategy that allows you to most effectively demonstrate your unique background, personal qualities, and goals throughout your application materials.  Get started by scheduling a 1-hour consultation


The college admissions experts at Frontier Tutoring are also here to help.  Get expert guidance with North to My Future, your free, individualized college admissions strategy session for students in Anchorage.  We’ll sit down with you for 45 minutes and discuss how your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and entire profile compare relative to the norms for the colleges and scholarships you’re considering.  We’ll also develop an action plan of specific priorities for you between now and when it’s time to apply.  If our premium college admissions consultingSAT/ACT prep, or academic tutoring programs are appropriate, we will also provide recommendations on how you can best use these professional resources.


We wish you success in this final stage of your high school career!


Sign Up for My FREE College Planning Meeting



If you have already completed North to My Futuresign up for a 1-hour initial consultation, where I will meet with you and and your parents to begin analyzing your college admissions profile and college list.



Summary of Resources in This Post


Free Programs

North to My Future - Free College Admissions Strategy Session

Free Practice SAT/ACT


Blog Posts, E-Books, and Tools

The Ultimate Guide to Designing Your SAT & ACT Prep Strategy

When to Prepare for and Take the SAT/ACT

Six Things to Know About SAT Subject Tests

Four Facts About Your High School GPA for College Admissions

A Four-Fold Framework for Developing Your College List


Paid Programs

SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Test Prep

Academic Tutoring

College Admissions Consulting (One-on-One Programs)

College Boot Camp 2017 (College Application Workshop for Rising Seniors)



1NACAC, 2015


Topics: Financial Aid & Scholarships, ACT, SAT, College Admissions: Explore Early, College Admissions: Excel Academically, College Admissions: Build Your Application Assets, 12th Grade - Seniors, College Admissions: Apply Right, College Admissions: Test Well, Anchorage