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Senior Year: The Final Lap

By Jeannette Webb
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #84, 2008.

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Jeannette Webb


One more year . . . one last time for the activities of childhood . . . one last chance to be a 24/7 role model for our children . . . it will never be the same again . . . if I don’t say it now, chances are it won’t ever get said . . . if I don’t do it now, I may never have another chance. Though the senior year has plenty of “To Do” lists, you simply must take the time to cherish the moment. Trust me.

Final Testing

If we have planned well, all the college entrance testing will have been completed by the summer of the junior year. However, sometimes we get behind or we need to re-test. Be aware that the October test date is the last one accepted if your student applies early action to a college (applications usually due mid-November). December is usually the last test date for Regular Action applications (usually due January 1).

It is not a good idea for students to cram all three SAT Subject tests into this last test date or to take their SAT for the first time here. This is almost always a disaster! Plan well ahead so the senior year is not frantic.

The College Application Process

Ideally, college applications are completed the summer before the senior year, but most of us don’t get everything finished by then. So, we have to lean heavily on the scheduling skills we learned the sophomore year and honed to perfection by the end of the junior year.

Using blank calendar pages, schedule in everything that has to be done:

  • final research on college options
  • attending college information sessions
  • scholarship applications
  • phone calls to admission offices for clarification on homeschool student applications or fine art requirements
  • essay writing
  • preparing the transcript
  • developing the school profile and transcript legend
  • writing the counselor letter
  • doing the research about each college for your teacher recommenders and giving them stamped, addressed envelopes for each college
  • filling out online applications for each college
  • filling out financial aid forms for each college
  • filling out scholarship applications for each college
  • submitting test scores (both SAT/SAT Subject tests and AP tests to each college
  • recording music for fine art supplements or compiling artistic portfolios (if needed)
  • submitting the secondary school report
  • submitting the fine art supplement (if needed)
  • submitting the midyear report
  • submitting the final school report

The list is truly daunting and most of it has to happen before January 1st. That is why it is so helpful to get a head start by beginning your work mid-summer when colleges update their websites with the current applications, time lines, and essay topics.

Interviews

We also want to allow time for practicing college interviews. Some interviewers will meet you at a local coffee shop, some at a restaurant for dinner, and some will come to your home. During Austin’s senior year, we had just moved into an old farmhouse and were in the middle of re-modeling when an interviewer called and insisted on conducting the interview in our home! So, be forewarned. These don’t take up huge amounts of time, but must be planned in advance and rehearsed. See Austin’s complete article about interviewing in PHS # 73.

College Visits

Many people recommend a college tour to visit all the colleges you are interested in. We thought this was necessary and made the huge sacrifice to make the cross-country trip after my son’s junior year. He even spent six weeks one summer at MIT and thought he knew the atmosphere of the school. He was shocked when he returned for a freshman preview weekend during the school year when the campus was crowded and the weather was gray and dismal. Even his visit to Caltech gave him a faulty image of the school. However, he made the decision to go there despite the initial negative impression he got of campus life. It has turned out to be a good fit for him.

We have come to the conclusion as a family that college visits can be postponed. If you are traveling through the area, by all means visit prospective campuses. If money is not an issue, the full-fledged college trip is fun and you may be able to eliminate some colleges from your list. But, if finances are tight, there is another way. If you are applying to a number of highly competitive colleges, realistically you will not be accepted at all of them. Therefore, it is possible to wait until after you receive acceptance letters to visit those particular schools or maybe even narrow it further and just visit your top choices to find the best fit. Be aware that a few top schools will actually pay for your plane ticket to visit them during admitted student weekends if you are financially needy. Don’t plan on it, but know that the possibility exists.

The real scoop about campus is found during the overnight stay that is offered to pre-frosh (admitted students). Most schools have preview weekends where students can spend the night in the dorm, eat in the cafeteria, talk to others in their major, and really get a feel for the campus. However, be aware that a few days at the school will still not give you the whole picture of what life is like on that campus. There is just no reliable way to know a school until you live and study there.

The final decision can be a difficult one for students that have a number of good choices. My daughter was agonizing over her top two schools when a wise professor told her, “Natalie, just turn off your brain and go with your gut.” Sure enough, when she walked onto the campus that she eventually chose, she felt she had come home. Attending classes and visiting with students confirmed that her gut reaction was indeed right.

When doing early planning for the senior year, be forewarned that December will be spent in completing applications, which are due January 1 and April will be spent visiting colleges to make the final choice by May 1. Plan school accordingly.

Senior Year Classes

It is important for your student to keep up their grades and to continue taking rigorous classes. Both my students continued taking difficult classes, but wanted to go deeper and thus chose to take fewer subjects. The load also seemed lighter because of the absence of all the extra testing. They also knew that they needed substantial time for all the college application activities as well as time to watch the sunsets and smell the roses before leaving home for good. The senior year for my kids was a bit of a respite before they moved on to pursue truly demanding degrees at top colleges.

Make Time to Celebrate

Because of the arduous nature of the last few years of high school, we looked for ways to celebrate. For example, after my daughter received her very last standardized test score and knew everything was fine, we built a bonfire to burn the huge pile of test prep books. She gleefully ripped pages out and flung them into the fire! Afterwards, we toasted marshmallows and made s’mores. We also took time to have daily rituals like afternoon tea or occasional celebrations like eating out with grandparents after her orchestra concerts. Extended family also need time for closure as they let go of young people headed off to change the world.

Inventory Skills

This year is your last chance to take inventory and see if there are any skills your children need that somehow got missed in the busyness of homeschooling. Does your son know the intricacies of stain removal and laundry techniques? What about ironing his shirts? If your children will take a car to college, do they know how to change a flat, check the tires for wear, or know the maintenance schedule of their vehicle? Are they financially astute and know how to pay bills, responsibly use credit cards, and deal with insurance issues? Does your daughter know how to protect herself in parking lots, airports, and public places? Do they know how to safeguard themselves from and treat various illnesses? These questions become very important if your children will be far from home. This is also the time to make sure that Mom and Dad know how to run the computer and DVD player!

Transitioning to College

If we have done our job well, by the end of their senior year our children should be ready to face the world squarely and make their own decisions. While my son has chosen to call me daily, it was not a requirement I placed on him. He has decided not to pursue recreational dating, but that was not by parental mandate. I find it troubling when parents monitor the Facebook and e-mail accounts of their adult children. We have had them in our presence constantly for the past 18-19 years. If we have not captured their respect and their heart by this point, long lists of rules, furtive spying, and screeching admonitions over the phone will not help. From infancy, I expected my children to be responsible and a mutual respect has formed that is daily easing this transition in our lives. I am thankful for the gentle changeover.

Jeannette Webb has worked with high school students for over 25 years. Jeannette teaches “Homeschooling Through High School” seminars and is a college coach dedicated to helping homeschool students matriculate to America’s top colleges. She can be reached through aiminghigherconsultants.com.


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