5 Questions for Juniors to Ask to Prepare for College

Lighthouse-College-Planning (21)

What classes should I be taking in high school in order to prepare me for college and my anticipated major?

Students should be focusing on taking your 5 core classes each year, and then supplementing with classes that may introduce you to your preferred major. For example, students should be taking a course in English, Language, Mathematics, Science, and Social Science each year in high school. Even though most high schools’ graduation requirements do not require that students take this course path, colleges are looking to see four years in each area of study. Colleges are also looking at the rigor of your course load. If you are looking to apply and get into highly selective schools, you should be taking Honors and AP courses throughout your four years of high school and work hard to receive A’s. Colleges want to see that you are challenging yourself and are taking the most rigorous courses that you can handle or the most rigorous courses your high school offers if you plan on applying to an Ivy or highly selective college.

What does the college application process look like at my high school when I’m trying to compile the following various forms: transcripts, teacher/counselor recommendation letters, essays, and ACT/SAT scores?

Each high school has a different college application process and students and parents need to be aware of this process junior year of high school. Some of the questions you should be asking your college counselors are: How do I request a transcript? Do I have to pay for my transcript to be sent to colleges? How much does it cost to send each transcript? Do I have to request recommendation letters through Naviance? (Rule of thumb: If you have to request a recommendation letter through Naviance, first ask your counselor or teacher face-to-face, and give them a heads up that they will receive an email from Naviance allowing them to upload the recommendation letter. Remember to say thank you; it goes a long way!) Are my test scores on my transcript or do I have to send my scores directly from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org? Note: Some colleges require that the scores come directly from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org even if they are on a student’s transcript. When should I start my essays and who can revise them? If my school does not use Naviance, how are my transcripts and letters of recommendation sent? Do I have to send them through the mail? See your high school counselor often and make sure you form a relationship with him/her and the college application process will be much easier!

When should I start filling out college applications and when should I hit the submit button?

Students should be filling out applications the summer going into their senior year. We recommend that all applications be completed by October 1st, so students need to use their summer wisely. Applying to schools is like taking an AP course in regards to time. Applying is not hard, but time-consuming when you look at all the essays you need to write. The Common Application launches August 1st, while other applications open in June or July. Get a jump start in the summer and do not wait until school starts senior year to start applying! When you get back to school, you should only have to talk to teachers about the recommendation letters you should have requested before you left for summer, request your transcripts, send your test scores from the ACT center or Collegeboard.org, and possibly have your English teacher revise your essays. You should feel confident to hit that submit button October 1st!

What should I be doing during my summer/winter/spring breaks?

Research, research, research! A major component of Lighthouse College Planning is our counseling program. We recommend that students research up to 30-35 colleges and then narrow their list down to about 8-10. Researching becomes very time consuming and nearly impossible if students start senior year; we start this process with our sophomores. Our sophomores start researching about 1 school a month and by the time they are juniors, they then continue to research about 2 schools a month.

When researching, our students look at the following factors in order to learn more about each college campus and the academic programs they have to offer: majors/minors offered, retention rate (what percentage of the freshmen class returns sophomore year), graduation rates in four, five, and six years, direct admit programs if offered, tuition, percentage of scholarship/merit aid distributed, acceptance rate, acceptance rate for early action deadline, admission deadlines, SAT subject tests needed, location, campus life, and the list goes on…

Students should also be using their vacation time wisely by working a part-time job or volunteering on a consistent basis. Colleges are also looking for students in leadership roles and who take advantage of the opportunities within their high school and community. Students should also be looking into job shadowing or internships in the career field they are thinking of pursuing. Colleges love to see students gaining extra experience in the field before getting to college.

Should I know what I’m going to major in before I get to college?

Yes! Or have some type of idea. Time and time again, I have heard high school counselors say that students do NOT need to know what they want to major in before they get to college. I have also heard high school counselors say that it is okay to switch majors three or four times while in college! I do not know anyone who can afford to switch their majors three or four times!

At Lighthouse College Planning, we work with students extensively on career planning and goal setting. High school students need to have an idea of what they want to study when they get to college. They need to know the course track they will be taking when they get there and they should be determined to graduate college in four years. Nowadays, between 50%-65% of students are graduating in four years. What are the other 35%-50% of students doing that they are not graduating in four years? They are switching majors, not taking at least 15 credit hours per semester, failing classes, or taking full semesters off. Try to avoid the above reasons at all costs or the cost of college will keep rising. Make sure you have an idea of what you want to study in college and make sure the colleges that you are applying to have the academic programs you are looking for to further your future career. If you have three different careers in mind, make sure your colleges have all three majors or academic paths that will help you reach your end goal.

Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

By:  Lauren Benters, School Counselor

Lighthouse-College-Planning (15)

Scholarship essays are a good way for you to earn a few thousand dollars here and there to help offset student loans.  Here are a few tips to help you write essays that win.

  • Research the scholarship you are applying for.  What are the values behind the scholarship?  What is the organization/scholarship stand for?  That will become very important to tie your essay back to.  You still need your essay to tell a specific example about you, but if you can use your example to make connections to that scholarship, the readers are more apt to award you.
  • While you can use similar themes in scholarship essays, don’t get lazy and copy/paste.  It becomes so obvious when students have one essay and submit it to every scholarship.  Take the whole 20-30 minutes longer to read and understand what the question is asking of you, and answer that, specifically based on what you have experienced.  Yes, you will have similar essays, but they should all be a bit different.  This personalization can pay big dividends.
  • Focus on one aspect of your character that stands out.  Committees are looking to award someone money, but they have to decide who is most deserving.  They will usually have your GPA, so it is pretty clear what type of student you are.  What is not as clear?  Who you are as a person.  We all have qualities that make us different and exceptional.  What are yours?  When you’ve pointed that out, see if reading your own essay would make you want to award you the money.

Take the time to fill out scholarships!  So many students trick themselves into thinking the amount of effort for the scholarship is not worth it.  Wrong!  Remember, loans accrue interest you have to pay back.  Scholarships are gifts with zero payback.  Take the extra time, as it literally pays off.  You’d be surprised how many students don’t apply for scholarships, so the pool is typically small, leaving you a good chance for you to be awarded those gifts.

Being a Part of Your Class


Big campus, small campus, or anything in between, you will need to become a part of your class and college community.  Often I will hear students cease talking about their goals when they discuss the college-application process.  There is almost a vibe that once they get in, they are set.

Yes – being accepted into college is a huge deal, and we are already proud of you.  However, we want you to remember why you are going to college.  Typically, these answers revolve around getting your dream job, and college is just the means to get there.  Also, dare I say you are also going to college to have fun and meet the people that will remain some of your closest friends?  Often true, too.

College is the place to work hard, and yes, enjoy your experiences.  This will be your first time living alone, and deciding your own study schedules.  You will meet people from all different areas, and become fascinated with the different upbringings people have.  All of this is much like the workplace.

This time then becomes your exposure to the different walks of life you eventually will work with.  How do you show your future, first employer, what you have done has been valuable and important?  You become part of your class.

Becoming part of your college class not only makes your experience more meaningful and fun, it will also help you land a job.  Here are some ways you can do so:

Go to class.  You will be so thankful you did.  Your professors are cluing you in on what they feel is important and what will be tested.  Listen to them!

Also, stay after class.  Talk to your professors further about a topic that made you interested or ponder and question.  They will be flattered to know you were genuinely thinking about their lecture.  Those conversations may then lead to an assistantship or a letter of recommendation – critical if you want a leg up on an employment application.  Go to your professor’s office hours.  Students rarely show up, and you will receive individual attention from the expert himself.

Do more than just attend college.  When you graduate college, your potential employer will want to know what one or two things you did outside of college.  Be prepared to have something to discuss.  Tutor elementary students, be a mentor, intern, write for the newspaper.  Pick what you’re interested in – this should not feel like a job.  If you are interested in what you choose to do, you will have the most impact.  The sky’s the limit!

Last, talk to your peers in class.  College can begin feeling incredibly lonely.  Talking to the person sitting next to you in class will make college feel more welcoming.  “How are you?”, “How long did it take you to get the reading done for class?”, “Did you understand what this chapter was about?”  People will begin to open up, slowly for some, but most students will open up.  Not only could you meet your best friend, you also are building your network of people for any and all connections we all rely on in life.  There is a lot of truth in:  it is not what you know, but who you know.

Choosing Between Standardized Tests: The Importance of the ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests

Lighthouse-College-Planning (14)

Colleges accept both college admissions examination scores, so it is up to you on what test you take and what scores you send. Most high schools do not offer both tests to their students or are not national test sites, so you need to sign-up for the tests and pay for them on your own. You can visit act.org or collegeboard.org to sign up for both tests as well as SAT subject tests depending if the colleges you are applying to want scores from the SAT subject tests. You will not be penalized for sending every score from each test; colleges look at the highest score.


ACT- Most students will take the ACT because it focuses on curriculum, based on what a student has learned in school. The ACT measures college readiness and is designed to measure academic achievement. The ACT has four subject area tests, English, Math, Science, and Reading, with an optional Writing portion. Scores are based on number of correct answers and are not penalized for incorrect answers.

SAT– Both the components and the structure of the SAT was just recently redesigned in March 2016. The new components of the SAT are evidence-based reading and writing with a reading, writing, math, and language test. The 50 minute essay is optional; colleges determine if they accept the essay or not. Total testing time is 3 hours, plus 50 minutes if you choose to take the essay portion. The SAT is more of an aptitude test measuring testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

SAT Subject Tests

There are 20 SAT subject tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics, and Sciences. Students can take up to three tests on one testing day; the tests are an hour long. The subject tests test you on how well you know the material in each subject area that you learned in high school. Most students taking the SAT subject have already taken an AP course in the subject area.

A good rule of thumb is that if you are taking the SAT subject tests, take them immediately after your AP exams. The information will be fresh in your memory and you will have to do little, if any studying at all. Most highly selective colleges will ask you to take 1-2 subject tests of your choice or if you are applying to become an Engineering major, the college may ask you to take a science test and/or math test; each college is different so you need to research!

Extremely Important!

These tests are extremely important when looking at your future. The scores of either test will determine what colleges you are accepted into and more importantly, how much money you will receive in scholarships. Every year, college is becoming more and more expensive, and if you want the college to pay YOU to attend their institution, study, study, study! I highly encourage you to evaluate your strengths and see which test is right for you. The higher you score on your test, the more money you will receive from the college/university you apply.

On average, I recommend that students study 45 minutes a night for the ACT or SAT. Like I mentioned above, each test has different components that you need to focus on. For instance, the majority of the ACT Math test is Pre-Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, and Geometry. Most students forget the formulas learned freshmen and sophomore year, so you need to revisit them and take the time to study.

If you receive your tests scores and you are not happy with them, take the test again. On average, our students retake the test 3-5 times until they are happy with their score. Some students will also pay a tutor to work with them in the subject area they are struggling in. Majority of students will pay for an ACT/SAT prep program before taking the test in order to prepare them. Most prep programs are costly, but if you receive a $16,000 scholarship, the $2,500 prep program is worth every dollar!

Time Management

Lighthouse-College-Planning (9)

Time management and organization are key skills to college success. College is much different than high school. In high school, your schedule is planned out for you and you know you’ll be in school pretty much between the hours of 7:30am and 3:00pm. In college, your schedule can vary drastically. You might have a class schedule that resembles something like this:

English: M/W/F, 8:00am – 9:00am

Psychology: M/W/F, 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Biology: T/Th, 12:30pm – 3pm (Labs on Wednesday from 11:00am – 12:00pm)

Statistics: T/Th: 3:30pm – 5:00pm

As you can see, you may have several hours of “free time” between your classes. In order to maintain your GPA (especially if you’ve got a merit scholarship that you would like to keep during your entire college career), you have to be able to put in the time to study, but you also want to be able to keep up with your work schedule and a social life.  To manage your time effectively, using a calendar and/or a planner will be key.

If you have a smartphone, you have a calendar at your fingertips that you carry with you everywhere you go. Use it to your advantage! Here is a sample of what a week might look like for a typical college student.

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 10.54.03 AM

In those extra blank spaces, you can add in time to hang out with friends, go to the gym, or do a service project. Being very specific about what you plan to do with your time will help you to initiate and follow through with your tasks. If you really want to, you can also schedule the time you go to bed and wake up every day, but not everyone needs to do that. Make adjustments to your schedule as needed based on what you need.

Some students struggle with not budgeting enough time or even too much time for a particular task. In this case, you may need to try an experiment and keep track of some data for a week or two to get a sense of how much time you need to devote to a particular activity. One thing you can do is create a chart of your tasks, estimate how much time the task will take you, then record how much time you actually spent on the activity from start to finish. There are also apps that can help you manage your time, such as 30/30, Remember the Milk, and Focus Booster.

High school is a great time to start practicing some of these strategies to help you ease the transition to college. If you can master this before you leave the fall of your freshman year, you’ll start college off in a much better position because you’ll have developed an essential skill for not only college, but for everyday life.

Working While at College – Internships

Lighthouse-College-Planning (7)

How important are internships for students in college? To do or not to do, in this blog I will be addressing some reasons why internships and volunteer experience are beneficial for students while in college.


Across all majors, industries, and organizations, internship experience can be pivotal to your career goals.  The competition for jobs continues to increase. Having the opportunity to gain real-world experience through internships can help you stand out among your competition and boost your resume, which leads us into the next point.


Have you ever heard the next sentence? “It’s all about who you know.” An internship in college can be an opportunity to network, build relationships and gain resources with employees already in your desired industry. These employees get a chance to see you in work-related situations and can become a mentor for you to grow in the field.


Can’t find internships at your college? Keep investigating.  There are similar ways to build your resume and gain experience that an internship accomplishes. Check with your Office of Student Services to get involved in activities that directly relate to your major.


When you’re researching the perfect college match for you, be sure to look into the opportunities for internships, work-study and volunteer experience available for you.

Being Your Own Advocate

Being Your Own Advocate


You are about to start your first year of college. It is an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time and you may experience some challenges as you adjust to your new environment. One of the most important skills you should practice in order to make your transition successful is self-advocacy. In order to be an excellent student, you must be able to advocate for yourself.

Advocates are people who know what they want and stand up for their rights. The following four steps will help you become a better self-advocate and make your first year at college a success:

1.   Know Yourself

  • Identify your strengths and skills
  • Identify areas of improvement
  • Identify your interests and potential careers you’d like to explore
  • Know your learning preferences: what ways do you learn best?
  • If you require special accommodations, be ready to talk about them and show documentation so you can get the resources you need

2.   Know Your Responsibilities

What are your new responsibilities as a student? Develop a system (i.e. a planner) for keeping track of your assignments and additional responsibilities. You will not have parents, teachers, counselors, etc. checking up on you like they did in high school.

Also, identify the requirements you need to meet in order to graduate with your major(s) in 4 years. By doing this ahead of time, you will avoid unwanted surprises in the future!

3.   Know Where to Go for Help

In order to get help, you’ll need to know where to go to ask for it! Research the support your school has and write down the contact information for people you can go to when you need help. Some of the services you should identify are:

  • Academic support services (For example, tutoring options for different subjects you are taking, a writing center, etc.)
  • Registrar’s Office (for info about your transcript)
  • Financial Aid Office (What GPA do you need to keep your scholarship, and are there additional scholarships you can apply for once there?)
  • Health Center – including counseling services
  • Residence life services, like your resident advisor, for dorm-related issues
  • Information technology (Where do you go when you’re having an issue with your computer or need to download specific software?)
  • Student work (Where can you go to find an on-campus job if you choose to have one?)
  • Professors’ office hours (Use them as much as you need!)

4.   Take Action

Now that you’ve identified who you are, your responsibilities, and where you can receive help, you are well on your way to being successful. The next key step is being able to communicate your needs and take action. No one else is going to do this step for you. You have to be brave and speak up for yourself and seek out resources. Colleges have plenty of resources, but you have to utilize them and do so on your own.

Here are more tips for becoming your own advocate that are applicable now as you search for internships and research experiences that will be helpful in the future:

5 Ways to Be Your Own Advocate