When is the best time to start the college prep process?
How long do applications normally take?
Does standardized testing still matter?
How do I find the right college or university for me?
How important are the college essays?
While there is no exact or perfect time, the ideal process for an aspiring US-bound student will start around 9th grade. Setting up a call during freshman year will enable us to map out a tentative plan and timeline for the next four years, and troubleshoot and adjust as needed along the way. For students applying to the UK, 10th grade is best to ensure we have the correct courses in place to access the desired schools and programs. For applicants interested in Canada only, the process will typically start at the beginning of 11th grade.
This answer depends on the number of applications the student is hoping to submit as well as the number and length of the supplementary essays that each school asks. Additionally, much of this answer is determined by the student. Some students write easily and prolifically, while others require more guidance along the way.
The importance of standardized testing has certainly changed as a result of COVID-19. While many schools did go test-optional before COVID, most notably including liberal arts colleges, these numbers have only increased in the past two years. For schools that are test-optional, the test is truly optional. And it is important to note that because of that, the students who do submit scores will typically be the ones who scored very high. Whether or not to test is part of the strategy Bloom assists students in developing. Here is a great resource for an updated list of test-optional schools.
The college process is all about fit. Determining whether a school is the right fit for the student, and whether the student is the right fit for the school, is central to the college consulting process we undertake at Bloom. While there are certain more obvious factors that play a role in fit — size, location, program offerings — there are others that are equally as important — diversity, research opportunities, curriculum, clubs and resources aligned with interests, and so many more.
The short answer: very. The process of applying to US universities is holistic, meaning that all the components play a central role in the decision-making process. The essays are an important opportunity to share your voice with admissions officers, bringing your extracurriculars, grades, and experiences to life.
AP courses are an opportunity for students to demonstrate academic rigor as well as specialization in one or a few subject areas. Additionally, many schools accept AP credits in place of some of their intro or first year courses, giving students the chance to exempt from courses when they arrive. The number of AP’s a student takes relative to the number of AP’s offered by their schools can also signal to universities that they are challenging themselves, which is a benefit in the application process. That being said, College Board discontinued some key AP Scholar Awards a few years ago that were encouraging students to overload on AP exams, often at the expense of other, more impactful, opportunities to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge. AP’s can certainly be helpful, but they should be part of a more balanced schedule that also prioritizes participating in activities that students really enjoy.