End-of-Year High School Mistakes to Avoid

Like many high school seniors, Jadyn Lewis thought that once her college applications were submitted, things would slow down a bit. But she says she underestimated how many college preparation and application-related tasks she would still be doing in December and January, like having scholarships to apply to, college portals to create and documents to upload for her applications.

“I applied mostly early action and therefore thought I’d pretty much be done and just waiting to hear back come the end of November, but the process continues past turning in your applications,” says Lewis, who attends East High School in Denver.

Junior and senior years are a busy time for college-bound high school students. And while most students are pretty good about keeping their eyes on the prize, second-semester mistakes can and do happen.

“Most seniors are receiving college acceptances in the spring, so they make simple mistakes like forgetting to check their emails for college information or not setting up their college portals to check for financial aid letters,” says Jolyn Brand, founder of Brand College Consulting.

Here are a few common end-of-year mistakes juniors and seniors should try to avoid:

— Not adequately preparing for exams.

— Not prioritizing college visits.

— Not understanding course importance.

— Not handling college details.

Not Adequately Preparing for Exams

Students should not let their test preparation slip for SAT, ACT or AP exams.

“Students can make the process more social and enroll in a prep course with a group of friends. This will allow students to engage with each other and have a little fun at the same time,” says Brian P. Hazlett, vice president for enrollment management at York College of Pennsylvania.

[READ: What to know about SAT prep classes.]

Maristella Valore-Caplan, a junior at George Washington High School in Denver, says she took the ACT in October and received a good score but is taking it again in hopes of receiving a higher score for an even better chance in college admissions. But she admits staying focused has been a challenge.

“As the second semester has begun to pick up and become more stressful, I’ve lost my focus on test prep and am hoping for the best for my test,” says Valore-Caplan.

Many students pack their schedules with AP classes and various extracurriculars, so it can be tough to manage time.

“The more successful students make their study time focused and engaged and make sure they have plenty of sleep ahead of the test,” says Jason Ferguson, dean of admissions at Longwood University in Virginia.

Not Prioritizing College Visits

High school students are generally advised to visit colleges early to help narrow down their list of schools to apply to. Repeat visits can help.

“Too often, students follow the pack when selecting a college or university and end up unsatisfied with their experience or surprised by what they find when they get there. Visiting colleges can help you make those comparisons and find the school that fits you,” Ferguson says.

For juniors, that means allocating enough time to research and tour schools. Seniors may want to return to campuses, including after they receive acceptance letters, to figure out which school is really the best fit before they make their final decision.

[READ: What to Consider When Visiting a College Town.]

“A college campus can take on a very different feel throughout the year, so if you can visit multiple times, I would encourage it,” Hazlett says.

He also recommends visiting schools not really considered, and adds that students “could be surprised by what you experience during that visit.”

Not Understanding Course Importance

When selecting classes for senior year, juniors should choose courses that enhance their competitiveness as an applicant and prepare them for their expected course of study in college, experts say.

“When I look at an application, I notice students who don’t take the easiest path to graduation. Students who push themselves stand out from the crowd,” Ferguson says.

This means taking high school courses that help prepare students for college and are in line with planned majors.

[READ:How to Choose High School Classes for College Benefit]

For seniors, courses listed as “in progress” on college applications should be completed or colleges notified of any changes.

“I’m taking courses that are thought-provoking and keep me engaged. Plus, I know that my senior year grades are still impactful in terms of college, so that provides another reason to keep working hard,” Lewis says.

Hazlett says the courses that students choose in their junior and senior years “lay the educational foundation from which you will build your future inside and outside the classroom.”

Not Handling College Details

During the spring semester, juniors are focusing on test prep for SAT and ACT exams and studying for AP exams in May, which may leave less time for college planning.

“Because of this test prep focus, some students don’t spend enough time creating a thoughtful, well-balanced college list. That list should include reach, match and safety colleges that the student has researched (or) visited,” Brand says.

For seniors, this means combatting senioritis and following through on college plans.

“Seniors have until May 1st to make a decision about which college to attend, but many mistakenly think that they are done at this point,” Brand says.

She says seniors should be completing housing applications, submitting deposits and making plans for orientation or events for accepted students as well as handling financial aid awards, especially student loans.

“Colleges will want tuition payment in August and sometimes the student loan process can take a few months to process and secure disbursement to the college,” Brand says.

Lewis says she wishes she had been more mentally prepared to continue balancing school and college applications beyond just the fall of her senior year. But she’s been handling it.

“I have been able to manage it well by keeping thorough to-do lists and prioritizing tasks,” she says.

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End-of-Year High School Mistakes to Avoid originally appeared on usnews.com

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