SIKESTON -- Now that students are heading into the second semester -- and last of high school for area seniors, now is the time to tie up loose ends before they head off to college in the fall.
One of the biggest musts is for students to ensure they have all the credits they need to graduate -- and get into the colleges they are applying to, said Kim Thornbrough, senior counselor at Sikeston Senior High School.
"They need to make sure they know what the qualifications are for admission and make sure they meet those qualifications," agreed Jerry Brehmer, counselor at Scott County Central. Both said that class schedules may be able to be altered, or students can take classes over the summer to meet all requirements.
Now is when students begin narrowing down their list and choosing what school to attend. The counselors suggested students and parents go on campus visits, to get a real feel for the school they can't get by looking at Web sites and brochures.
"Students can see it firsthand and visit with the teachers in the program they're interested in," said Thornbrough. "And if you go during the week, you can take a tour of the campus, see the dorms and talk to some of the students there."
She advised students narrow their list down to three and visit those colleges.
Another important piece of the puzzle is how a student's college education will be paid for. Although the deadline for most merit scholarships is now passed, there are still some endowed scholarships, as well as several local scholarships, students can apply to receive.
"Each set of applications will have its own set of rules to follow," said Emily Carlisle, counselor at New Madrid County Central. "And we stress that to students -- you have to follow the directions correctly."
She, as well as the other counselors, went into classrooms and/or met with senior students during the first semester to go over resumes and other information they should include.
"Hopefully then when the second semester rolls around, we're just paying attention to deadlines and completing the actual applications -- just trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together," said Carlisle. "I think the second semester of the senior year takes on a life of its own -- it just seems to be a whirlwind."
She and other counselors often advise the students to get in touch with teachers and others about writing letters of reference and saving them early in the year, so it's ready and all that has to be filled out is the recipient's information.
And when it comes to filling out those applications, the counselors also had some suggestions.
"You want to try to stress to the student that they have to brag on themselves," Carlisle said. "They have to say whey they are more deserving of the money."
Sikeston students devised "academic resumes" first semester. "It combines all their awards and community service," said Thornbrough.
She said that since it's difficult for some to recall all that, it's a good idea for students to begin tracking awards and service their freshman year. "It's never too early to get prepared," Thornbrough said.
When writing essays, Brehmer said students should give judges a taste of who they are. "I think they should try to give a sense of their personality and individual goals," he said. "Maybe include some of the things that have shaped who they are."
Thornbrough said she keeps books with tips in her office, including does and don'ts. She advised students also get someone to proofread their applications and not rely on spell check.
It's also vital to pay attention to deadlines. Brehmer suggested the parents get involved in the process to keep their children on track.
Parents can also help out by filing their taxes as soon as possible. That's the information students use to apply for FAFSA, or federal student aid, so the sooner filed the better, said Brehmer.
Carlisle, who has been on scholarship committees before, said one of the biggest criteria is "are you going to get your money's worth?" One of the most frustrating things is when a student is recommended for a scholarship, but end up not following through on their goals and attending school.
Several scholarships are geared toward specific areas, the counselors noted. That's why Brehmer said it's a good idea to declare a major, instead of going undecided. "We know students change their majors an average of four times before they graduate, so it's not that big of a deal," he said.
Counselors are available to help students prepare for interviews if applicable, the three noted. Brehmer also said that students looking for talent-based scholarships need to set up auditions with coaches or instructors this year. High school-level coaches and teachers often provide tips and practice time for finding the right audition material and practice, he said.
And, Carlisle pointed out, the most important part of the scholarship process is to send thank you letters. "It's not only for them," she said. "But to keep the ball rolling for the next group that comes through."