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The To-Do List for 11th Grade

By Robert LeVine

To prepare for the college application process and maximize your chances to achieve the best possible schools, we recommend that 11th graders focus on four concerns.

First, be sure to perform well in school. The marks received during 11th grade will be the ones weighted most heavily. In fact, if a student applies early enough, the 12th grade marks may not even be available when admissions representatives first review your application. Obviously, get good grades!

What is less obvious is how a student’s good intentions may lead to bad results. Nobody is perfect. At some unexpected point, your grades may start to slip. If they do falter, it is highly likely that you are at least part of the cause, in which case you cannot be the entire solution to the problem with your grades. Instead of trying to avoid damage to your future by taking things into your own hands, the moment you notice even a hint of trouble, ask for help!

Second, maintain and improve your non-academic “resume” of activities. Colleges desire quality, not quantity; broad impact beyond high school; and especially originality. If you want a university to recognize that you have something different to contribute, then you must actually be different. If you are not unique, then you have nothing unique to offer. Find a way to do something original. Also, do not forget to keep and update a document that lists not only your activities, but also the specifics of them. You will want that document when you fill out your applications. It is amazing how easily people forget important details.

Third, get your best possible scores on standardized testing. This includes SAT or ACT (colleges do not require both tests, and they have no preference) and perhaps also Subject Tests (take them even if the school makes them “optional”). Plan on finishing your testing during 11th grade. Prepare as best as you can (we recommend tutoring if the family can afford it) and register for your preferred test dates well in advance. Great test scores can mean not only the difference between acceptance and rejection, but also form the basis for many scholarships.

Fourth, be nice to your teachers. Many universities require recommendation letters as part of the application process. Do not sit bored and silent. Be a contributor in the classroom, and perhaps also take the time after class to show interest in the teacher’s life. Teachers notice and remember those who interact with them. The best recommendation letters are the most personal. Remember to ask your teachers before 11th grade ends for the honor of their recommendation. Give them plenty of time to do the job right.

Do not forget to pay attention to your college counselors, too. They have the ability to help you attain the top colleges, but they cannot help you if they do not know you. Stop by the office or email your counselor with updates and requests for advice.

Other efforts are possible, but not critical. You may wish to research or tour some universities. If so, do a little research before you go (perhaps a virtual tour on YouTube) and do not try to select or reject a school based upon a visit of only a few hours. Remember, information sessions are marketing efforts by the colleges and invariably generic, and tours can be affected by the weather, the personality of the tour guide, the number of people in your tour group, and how much they talk. Collect whatever information you can about the schools, for your future use. In most cases, students and families do not make their university decisions until April of grade 12. In our experience, everything can look different in April. Until then, all of your research efforts should be to identify college options that might be good fits for you when the time comes to make your final choice.

Keep things simple: in 11th grade, focus on academics, activities, testing and teachers.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email or visit

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