11th-graders plan for college

School staffers urge students to start preparation early

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“There is no such thing as senioritis,” Rock Canyon High School counselor Marlaine McMechen told an auditorium packed with juniors and their parents. “There is no goofing off your senior year.”

Busting that myth just one bit of advice RCHS counselors offered during the school’s annual Junior Night last month, an evening designed to steer college-bound juniors successfully to their destination. RCHS is among high schools across the district that host such evenings.

Nearly 88 percent of Douglas County students attend a two- or four-year college, and the process required to get there can be long and complicated.

“We want juniors to empower themselves and take control of this process,” McMechend said. “The person that’s in the driver’s seat is the junior.”

RCHS counselor Susan Young recommends students reserve three hours a week for it, starting the second semester of their junior year. That time should dedicated to “doing all the tasks necessary to make a good selection,” she said.

“It’s a lot of work,” Young said. “And it’s very time-consuming.”

All DCSD high-schoolers have access to Naviance, a computerized college and career planning program that allows students to explore career options, set goals and research colleges.

For juniors, “Naviance is going to be your best friend,” Young said.

Most college-bound high-schoolers take the ACT or SAT test during the junior year. Most colleges accept either, but some only will accept one or the other. Young recommends students take both.

But students are urged to go well beyond college-required testing by researching colleges and touring campuses, practice-writing college essays and finding scholarship opportunities.

“The earliest college applications are due in October,” according to an article in the online Princeton Review that urged juniors to research potential colleges. “If you do not start now, no amount of scrambling in the fall will make up for it.”

At Legend High School, every student — regardless of their post-high school plans — is required to apply to a college; 97 percent of them go.

Assistant Principal Danny Windsor also said researching colleges is vital.

“It’s that idea of fit,” he said. “A lot of times, students end up finding jobs right in their college town or near it. So don’t only look at it as a college; could you see this as a lifestyle fit?

“CU and CSU — those couldn’t be more different types of schools in terms of settings. Go see what it’s like to be at DU vs. a CU vs. a Colorado College.”

The search for scholarships also can begin during junior year, and Young said the money is there for those determined enough to find it.

“You can no longer say, ‘I can’t afford to send my kid to college,’” she said. “That, to me, would be a tragedy. If you want to go to college, you can find a way.”

As important as junior year may be, McMechen said senior year also carries significant weight.

Many colleges now ask for mid- and final-senior year transcripts, even after they’ve accepted a student, she said, and if grades have fallen off dramatically enough, some has rescinded a student’s acceptance.