The University Network

College Admissions Tips For High School Juniors — Interview With Sarah Ramos, Project Director, College Advising Corps At Trinity University

TUN sits down with Sarah Ramos, project director with the College Advising Corps at Trinity University, who provides tips to help high school juniors with their college application process.

TUN: Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.

RAMOS: Thank you for having me. 

TUN: What are the things that students should be on top of during junior year so that they’re ready to apply to college senior year? Can you walk us through the junior year to-do list?

RAMOS: Definitely. Taking your PSAT is definitely important. PSAT or SAT. I highly recommend that, once students take their PSAT or SAT, they connect it to Khan Academy.

Khan Academy is a great platform where students are able to get tutoring services for free. It really focuses on areas where students may have done poorly on the test. It allows students to really raise their test scores. 

What we have seen is, if students are utilizing this platform and practicing six hours and more, they can raise their score by up to 90 points, which is really good.

The second thing I would definitely recommend is researching schools. Once you have your PSAT score or your SAT score, start looking at schools and seeing what the requirements are. If your score is kind of low, I would definitely utilize (Khan Academy) to increase it. 

Start looking at different components. If you are leaving your city or state, start looking at the environment. What are the certain services that the schools you want to apply to provide? What are the student organizations? What are the different amenities? What is around the school? All of those things are definitely important when you’re starting college and looking at an environment that you’re going to spend four years in. 

The third thing I would recommend is to start attending those college fairs. Once you’ve done a little research on your own, write a list of questions. The best place to get very thorough information is going to be from a representative that is supporting that university. 

Start asking questions about all of the different components that are essential. What is the admissions process? Is your school really focused on testing? Will my test score break or make my application?

A fourth thing I would definitely recommend — and students seem to not fully pay attention to this — is volunteering and doing anything in particular that shows leadership qualities. 

Right now, we are obviously in a pandemic. But, there are volunteer opportunities that you could do online. Look at ways that you can be fully engaged in your school. 

I work with various scholarship organizations and score scholarships. One thing that we always see on those applications is, “How are students managing their caseload as well as other extracurriculars or volunteer opportunities?”

The other thing I would recommend is building a professional email. That’s so important, especially as you’re going to build your resume, which is the next step. You want something that is going to be an identifier as you go into college and your career afterwards. You want something that’s very appropriate, especially when you’re applying to colleges or any sort of jobs. 

A lot of college applications ask students to upload their resumes. So, make sure you have a list of all the volunteer and leadership work that you have done throughout your high school career. Having a list makes it easier to input all that information into your college application, rather than having to think back through your memory. 

Also, some schools have now become SAT/ACT-optional. So, it’s very important that you’re having these conversations with your counselors. 

You also want to look at APs and consider how you can take more rigorous classes, because once you get into college, there are going to be classes that are going to be harder than the typical classes that you’re taking in high school. 

You want to make yourself a standout candidate, and some of these things are going to set you apart. 

The last thing I would recommend is building relationships with your teachers. That is so important. I think students forget that, because they may be busy thinking about all the different things that they have to prepare for. But, teachers hold so much power in regards to writing those letters of recommendation. Building those relationships and being able to have a mentor in that space to talk about everything that you’ve been able to accomplish in high school is going to be important when you start applying for scholarships and when you start applying for college. 

Of course, you want to give them enough time to write those letters. You want to ask a month or a few weeks ahead so that they have enough time. Teachers are busy as well.

TUN: Who should students reach out to for guidance throughout the process? Are there people at their high schools who they can speak to? Are there any online resources that they could perhaps use? 

RAMOS: Your high school counselor. Reach out to them. Come with a list of questions that you have. We know that our counselors are overwhelmed with servicing a very big population of students, so that would definitely be helpful for them. 

Also, ask your counselor(s) if there is somebody else on campus hosting college and career services. A lot of our schools do have a college and career counselor. Maybe students aren’t aware because they just haven’t been in that space. Or, sometimes students feel like that’s only designated for seniors. But, the reality is that college and career counselors should be helping all students in grades 9-12. So, definitely reach out and see if there are any other people on campus that can help with that. 

The other thing I would say is that a teacher may be able to help you through the process if your counselor is overwhelmed or there is no college and career counselor on campus. The teacher can definitely start helping with some of the process, but you’ll just have to ask and see who is available and has that skill set to help you. 

There are great online resources, like Big Future with the College Board, that have a multitude of checklists that students can utilize.

There are so many great resources out there that will help you figure out things if you don’t have anybody on campus. 

College Greenlight is another platform that we utilize and is great because it shows college and scholarship searches. It also provides information on the environment and the ethnic makeup of campuses. It also provides information on what is near the campus community.

Those are really cool websites. Coalition for College is a great website as well that we use here at Trinity. It is open to students in grades 9-12. They have a locker where you’re able to put in some of the key things that I mentioned, like your resume, photos or anything. It’s a cloud-based system, so you can start storing all that stuff. You can also apply to various colleges through that platform as well.

The last online resource I would mention is RaiseMe. RaiseMe is such a great platform as well because, again, it is geared to students that are in grades 9-12, and you can use it to apply to scholarships. It really focuses on the leadership components and community service. You can use it to start getting scholarships very early on in high school. 

Those are great resources to start looking at. A lot of them also give you steps on how to apply to college and provide some other things to think about.

TUN: How much time should students spend on the college application process during their junior year? 

RAMOS: I think it takes a lot of time to really focus on some of the beginning processes of college. The key thing, in order for students to not be overwhelmed, is to really just take their time.

Organization is going to be key once you get into college. Think about that during the week. What am I focusing on on Mondays? Maybe Mondays I’m looking at colleges. Maybe Tuesdays I’m looking for scholarships on RaiseMe, or I’m looking at College Greenlight. Wednesdays, maybe I’m taking a break. That’s the most important thing. 

I would say spend about an hour or two on college-related tasks per day. Or, you could skip a day so that it doesn’t become overwhelming. 

I think that’s definitely going to be key when looking at the beginning of the college application process.

TUN: I know that junior year can be a very overwhelming time. Do you have any advice for students to curb some of the stress or anxiety that they might be feeling while trying to balance college applications with schoolwork?

RAMOS: Definitely. Give yourself some grace and look at the various colleges that you want to apply to. Look at multiple colleges that are going to have similar majors related to what you want to do.

Take it easy. Again, organization is going to be key so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Take some breaks when thinking about what it is that you want to do in your academic goals or even career goals. 

I would suggest also thinking about universities and how they have students apply to college. A lot of times, they take a holistic view. Sometimes, students may feel overwhelmed or stressed because they feel like they may not have the grades or they may not have the test scores. The reality is, they have a story. They have an important story that universities are looking for. 

Don’t be so hard on yourself because, sometimes, we can definitely be hard on ourselves, thinking that we’re not going to be this perfect candidate. Realistically, we’re the candidate that any university is looking for.

So, take your time. Think about where you want to be, and just organize your day. 

TUN: Thanks, Sarah, for joining us today.

RAMOS: Thank you for having me.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.