True, the time has come to enter the high school doors again. So just operate the same way as in past years.

Do your homework, take quizzes and tests, and participate in class. You may join a few clubs and maybe be a part of an athletic team. Outside school, you might participate in a youth group at your synagogue or elsewhere. A few students may have paid part-time jobs or volunteer.

That’s it; you are ready to start school.

Sorry, it takes more than that to be a successful student.

Let us take a look at those students beginning the new year. There are a few questions to ask.

Are you taking the right courses? Remember, colleges are looking for rigor. Taking the easy way out may not help you.

Perhaps take AP and honors courses if you can succeed. If an AP course would take up all your study time, what would happen to your other courses? Should you take five APs and have little time for anything else in life? That might not be a good idea. Your physical and mental health is very important.

What courses do your prospective colleges want? Read the suggested course requirements that each school recommends or even requires. If you desire an engineering major, what courses must you take, according to the college?

How much do admission test scores count? Usually, test scores are the second or third most important elements in your application. But you might not do well on the tests. In fact, your scores are poor, and you have always tested poorly in school.

Not all colleges require test scores. Some are test-optional. If your scores are a sore point, look at the test-optional colleges.

Should you take the SAT, ACT or both? Look at your PSAT scores from your junior year. Take an ACT practice test or the real thing. Which test are you more comfortable with?

Examine the content of the tests — the questions, the categories. Do the colleges to which you intend to apply want the optional writing test? If yes, you have to register for that section.

Will colleges look at your extracurricular activities? Usually, yes. Do you need a host of activities to impress the college? No. Colleges are interested in quality, not quantity.

What have you accomplished other than showing up for meetings? Did you start a club? Did you have a leadership position? What did your participation mean for the activity? When my clients work on a résumé, we dwell on accomplishments.

If you are an athlete, tell more than that you are on the team. Do you play much? Warm the bench? Succeed where you didn’t think you would? Even if you have not been recruited, if there is a chance of making the team, let the coach know of your interest.

Seniors will choose teachers for recommendations soon. Which two teachers will you choose? Why are you selecting them? Will they be enthusiastic about you? Are they considered good writers?

If they give you a strange look when you ask for a recommendation, that nonverbal response might be telling you the teacher can’t write a favorable letter about you.

Many colleges require a school recommendation, typically written by your school counselor. Do you know your counselor well? If not, find a way to change that relationship. If your counselor just writes what the college knows from your application, the college isn’t learning much. Let the counselor know more.

Your counselor is your biographer. You want the counselor to write a best seller. Teachers see you each day in class. Your counselor, no matter how good, does not see you often because of a heavy caseload and additional responsibilities.

Most college applications are not difficult to complete except for one section: the essay, which can drive you up a wall.

Your transcript is black and white. Your SAT or ACT scores are numbers on paper. There are two times you can let college admissions officers know you. One is by your essay. The second is an interview for those schools that permit or even encourage interviews.

Look at the Common Application essays. Which prompt would you choose? Why? What are you expecting the essay to indicate about you? Can you get help on your essay? What kind of help?

The essay must be written by you. Admissions personnel know, after thousands of essays, when an essay is not written by the student.

I am deciding which of two essay companies would be good for my students. Note that these companies do not write the essays for the students. They help you formulate the essay. Stay away from someone else writing your essay.

Often, in addition to a main essay on the Common Application, a college will have one or two supplemental questions. In many cases, a question will boil down to “Why our college?” Your answer shouldn’t be “You are in a big city” (they thought the campus was on a farm in a rural area) or “You are a good school” (no one ever told them that, even if they are considered one of the top schools in the nation).

I think you get the message. You need a sophisticated answer.

Don’t forget to compare colleges on your list. Broad topics include people (such as the intellectual level of students), academic life (primary major of interest, class size), campus life (academic facilities, housing, religious life), student body (undergraduate enrollment) and financial details (typical aid package, scholarships, loans). Those are just a few examples of the many ingredients to compare schools.

College visits can be a game changer. How many colleges have you visited? Did you visit large colleges, medium colleges and small colleges? Where would you fit in better? Where would you have the best chance for a successful college education?

The football team’s success will not give you the answer.

How will you demonstrate interest in the college? Some colleges keep track of your interest. You don’t need to pester the admissions office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them.

And you thought that just continuing to go to class would take care of your high school experience.

And juniors, you need to think ahead.

Mark Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants ( and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (