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Psst…Rising Seniors: Here Are the Secrets to Nailing the College Application Process!

KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy senior Tyranique Freeman never expected to be applying to college during a pandemic when she entered high school in 2017. But armed with a passion for forensic science, a proactive mindset, and support from her KIPP Through College Placement counselor Aixa Carmona, Tyranique found herself with a variety of college options by the time she graduated.  

What did it take to make her process so successful? Step inside this quarter-by-quarter look at  Tyranique’s journey with Ms. Carmona to find out and follow along with this checklist as you conduct your own college hunt!

Quarter 1 (September—November)

“Quarter one lays the foundation for the college application process,” said Ms. Carmona. The top priority of this quarter? Finalizing your college list and ensuring you know each school’s deadlines for application. “A balanced list of colleges is critical to ensuring students have the best shot at admission and financial aid,” she said, adding that attending virtual (and when it’s safe, in-person) campus visits can be useful to this process. The second priority for students this quarter is finalizing a strong personal statement. 

Tyranique entered the quarter with her personal essay already written—but she had it proofread by more than one person and tailored a few different versions to the colleges on her list, which ranged from Rutgers University to Syracuse University. According to Tyranique, having her essay complete as she entered the quarter was “a huge relief” and allowed her to carefully consider her college list and her academic interests more seriously. This year, Tyranique decided to pursue forensic science as her major, so she applied to schools that offered this focus. 

Your Quarter 1 Checklist  

Complete ACT Prep

Finalize Personal Statement with Counselor

Secure Letter Of Recommendations

Submit Early Decision/Action Applications after checking with your counselor

Submit FAFSA

Take October ACT

Take October SAT (as per counselor recommendation)

Apply for scholarships 

Attend college fair 

Schedule and attend 2 or more meetings with your counselor

NJFAMS, state-specific FA form.

CSS profile, if applicable 

Sending test scores to schools

Quarter 2 (November-February)

In Quarter 2, Ms. Carmona and Tyranique agreed that following through on financial aid and submitting college applications was a top priority. “Students should submit their FAFSA forms as soon as possible to maximize their chances of receiving competitive financial aid packages,” said Ms. Carmona. Ms. Carmona and her team set a deadline of November 1st for students to submit their college applications; this approach allows more time for students to consider financial aid options and follow-up on their applications. 

Tyranique recognized early that while Ms. Carmona was an excellent resource, she had to be self-motivated to meet these deadlines. In many cases, she exceeded them as she applied to the nine schools on her list. “I worked with my mom and submitted my FAFSA form in November and submitted my college applications shortly afterward. I knew I wouldn’t want the stress of submitting them on my shoulders for too long,” she said. Tyranique also reached out to apply for scholarships that would help her reach her goal: to graduate college with as little student debt as possible. 

Your Quarter 2 Checklist 

 Submit College Applications and EOF Applications

 Submit FAFSA

 Add and remove schools to FAFSA as needed

 Apply for scholarships

 Attend college visits

 Send scores to schools that have not received them

 Follow up on submitted applications

 Schedule and attend 2 or more meetings with your counselor

Quarter Three (February—April)

With nine acceptances by March 15th, Tyranique had a lot to consider! “I was looking at financial aid first and foremost so I don’t graduate with too much debt, but I also considered the colleges that are best for my chosen career,” said Tyranique. While one college in particular with a strong forensic science program started to win her over during Quarter 3, she “wasn’t going to let them know that just yet!”

“This is where all the work students performed in the beginning of the year really starts to bear fruit. Students should have financial aid award letters to review and have to start making informed decisions about how their options line up with their goals,” said Ms. Carmona. Some action steps to keep in mind? Sending schools mid-year grades, scheduling virtual campus visits, and reviewing financial aid letters carefully with your college counselor. 

Your Quarter 3 Checklist:

 Review financial aid award letters

 Bring ALL financial aid letters to your counselor 

 Follow up on submitted applications

 Review and submit all acceptance, denial, and waitlist letters to your counselor

 Apply for scholarships

 Schedule and attend 2 or more meetings with your counselor

Quarter 4 (April-June)

Drumroll, please…it’s decision time! “At this point, students are almost KIPP NJ alumni,” said Ms. Carmona. “This means they’ll need to connect with their College Success counselor who organizes the programming that will support their transition from high school to college and will continue to work with them throughout college,” she added. This programming includes support with anything from creating a college budget and designing your career path, to navigating roommate relationships and college meal plans. 

Your Quarter 4 Checklist

 Make a Decision! (May 1st)

 Complete college matriculation checklist with your counselor

 Accept or deny financial aid awards

 Apply for scholarships

 Schedule and attend 2 or more meetings with your counselor

 Meet your alumni counselor

 Attend KTC Senior Programming

By the time our magazine went to print, Tyranique wasn’t quite ready to make her college decision…but on Senior Signing Day she announced she would be attending…Villanova University! Congratulations, Tyranique!

Tyranique Freeman and Aixa Carmona discuss college options on FaceTime.