Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 is off to a great start for all of you. While we wait for Regular Decision news to arrive this spring, there are a few priorities to keep in mind in addition to submitting remaining applications:

Work Hard in School — I know, second-semester senior year has arrived, but I urge you to resist Senioritis and keep up your grades. For those of you who have received Early Action and Early Decision acceptances, those decisions are contingent upon you maintaining the same level of academic performance (or better) that was presented in your college application(s). Colleges do reserve the right to change their admission decisions if there is a shift in an applicant’s profile (drop in grades, etc.) You can read more about my thoughts on this topic in this week’s USA Today article “You only go to high school once — don’t waste your last semester.”

In addition, please do not alter your course schedule by dropping rigorous classes and replacing them with study halls or less demanding courses. Schedule adjustments will also be noted by colleges. If you are thinking of changing your academic schedule at all this semester, please check in with your school counselor before finalizing your plans.

Have Fun and Be Smart — This semester is a time for senior class celebrations and pranks in many school communities. While I understand the desire to be a part of traditions and make the most of these special occasions, please also be careful. On both high school midyear and final reports, school counselors are asked to report to colleges any disciplinary updates on a student’s record. While schools’ policies on reporting disciplinary matters to colleges vary, students should not take any chances. Make smart choices at parties, especially when alcohol is present, carefully monitor your social media activity, and if something feels wrong, it likely is. Follow your gut instinct, don’t partake in it, and don’t jeopardize your college opportunities. When I worked as a school college counselor, every year, there were stories circulating among my peers from local schools regarding seniors who lost their college acceptances because of some regretful moments at a graduation party or during a senior class prank. These are tough situations for students and families when they occur, so please do your best to make thoughtful decisions in the months ahead to avoid them.

Deferred? What’s Next? — If you received a deferral decision in December, there are steps that you can take to advocate for your candidacy in the Regular Decision round. First, a strong fall semester (1st and 2nd quarters) report card will be very important for colleges to see. Often, students are deferred because colleges have concerns about junior year grades, 1st quarter senior grades, and/or a downward trend in academic performance in grades 9-11. Earning high grades in rigorous classes this year will be beneficial for any students who were initially deferred.

Writing a deferral letter is also a common practice, and Popp & Associates is happy to assist any students who are interested. In order for these letters to be influential in the remainder of the application process, they need to clearly articulate in detail why you (the applicant) would be a good fit for the school and how you would contribute to the campus community. Questions? Please drop us a note. Students are welcome to make an appointment to work on a deferral letter; please remember that these letters should be sent to colleges by late January.

Financial Aid and Scholarships — The 2014-2015 FAFSA was released on January 1. If you are planning to apply for federal financial aid for the 14-15 academic year, please complete the FAFSA and any other paperwork required by your colleges. You can submit your FAFSA before filing your 2013 taxes. If necessary, amounts can be initially estimated and later updated. Some schools request that families also submit the CSS Profile. Colleges’ financial aid policies and deadlines are highlighted on financial aid office websites. If any questions come up, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

The winter and spring months are also ideal for scholarship searches. If you need assistance with any scholarship applications and essays, P&A is here to help. Financial aid and scholarship resources can be found on the P&A website.

Clear Your Calendar in April — If you were not accepted to a college Early Decision, March and April will likely be busy for both students and parents. Regular Decision news will arrive by April 1 at the latest, and students will need to confirm their college choice by May 1. During April, all colleges host open houses for accepted students. I highly recommend that students visit/revisit colleges in order to make the most informed decision about which school to attend. During these open house programs, students can often attend college classes, go to lunch with current students, stay overnight in dorms, observe college sports and performing arts events, etc. Be prepared to take a few trips in April and come full circle with the college visit experience!

Good luck in your last semester of high school! Make the most of your classes, extracurricular activities and sports teams. Most importantly, cherish your time with your friends and family.


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