It’s senior year. Here’s your guide.

September 8, 2021

By brianpowell

For nearly a decade, I worked in university recruitment, and now direct one of the most prestigious and competitive merit scholarships in the nation. This is some of what I tell students beginning their final year of high school.

By Anne Lassen
Flinn Foundation

Today’s Arizona high-school seniors will be walking the halls of their new universities as freshmen at this time next year. Between now and then lie many deadlines to remember and decisions to make. Below are six tips to help high-school seniors and their families navigate this exciting time.

It’s time to apply already? Yes.

If your list isn’t already complete, September is a good time to decide what colleges—whether in-state or out-of-state—and scholarships you will pursue. The application has already opened for Arizona’s three state universities for the fall 2022 semester. Nov. 1 and 15 are typical early-decision and early-action deadlines for the nation’s most competitive universities.

As the director of the Flinn Scholars Program, I encourage all excelling Arizona high-school seniors to apply for the prestigious merit-based Flinn Scholarship. While it’s extremely competitive, and only 20 students are selected each year, one of those awardees could very well be you. The deadline to apply for the scholarship, valued at more than $120,000, is Sept. 27.

Applying early for Arizona’s universities

Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona accept applications during most of a student’s senior year. Their applications for admission for the fall 2022 semester opened in July, and there are advantages to applying earlier during your senior year—especially to qualify for the greatest number of scholarships. In addition to scholarships, your admission is the key that unlocks many other important doors: registering for new student orientation where you will get your class schedule, signing up for on-campus housing, and securing parking.

Joining the Honors Colleges

Separate from university admission, the honors colleges at Arizona’s public universities have their own applications and admission deadlines. Barrett, The Honors College at ASU opens its separate application for the fall 2022 semester on Sept. 8; the deadline to apply is Nov. 1. The NAU Honors College opened its application on Sept. 1 with a deadline of Nov. 15 for the Honors College Merit Scholarship, and applications being accepted throughout the year. And the UArizona Honors College has its own application for high-school seniors that can be selected when applying to the university. The priority application deadline is Nov. 15, with a final deadline of Feb. 15, 2022.

A Critical Component: Recommendations

Many scholarships and colleges require recommendations. The Flinn Scholarship asks for up to three recommendations—two from teachers and an optional one from a counselor. Recommendations help to complete an applicant’s profile with examples of and observations about a student’s work, experience, and character. It’s important to select recommenders who know you beyond your capacity to get good grades.

And don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. The vast majority of educators enter and devote themselves to their profession because they care about helping students. Give recommenders enough time to write a thoughtful letter that is not rushed and ensure they have all the information they will need to complete the recommendation. Tell them why you are interested in a program, university, or scholarship and what makes you a strong candidate. Communicate the logistics, such as how the recommendation will be submitted, the format, and the deadline. And, last but not least, thank them.

Paying for College

A good place to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA form, to be considered for aid from the U.S. Department of Education. Students can begin filling out the form on Oct. 1 for the next school year to seek out grants, scholarships, work-study jobs, and loans. Students are encouraged to complete the form as soon as possible, and almost all students will qualify for some financial aid. College-bound seniors should also reach out to their universities of choice to learn about financial-aid opportunities and research the scholarships offered each year to Arizona high-school students.

So, what’s your passion?

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Every student has heard a version of this, but the problem for many is that they don’t know how to follow their passion—a perfectly natural feeling. To start, consider the distinction between pursing a major/career path that you think will make you happy and one that aligns with your values and the impact you want to have. (What makes you happy, you may discover, can change quickly.) If you can’t really say what you’re passionate about, that’s okay. College is a wonderful place to find answers. Arizona’s universities offer hundreds of majors, clubs, and organizations that will provide opportunities for exploration. I also recommend you take classes outside of your major that intrigue and challenge you.