The season of college applications and planning can be a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking necessary steps and keeping up on your To-Do list will make this season of life more manageable. Whether you’re finishing your junior year or in the middle of your senior year, here are 10 things to add to that To-Do list:
1. Get Organized!
The To-Do list is the first step. It’s important to keep track of important dates and deadlines. Planning ahead and having an organized schedule can make a big difference. I suggest an excel spreadsheet. This will help you chart out potential schools, costs, deadlines and requirements. Keep track of your potential recommenders and plan ahead. You can update this throughout the process, referring to it as your central source of information. Put dates in your phone as well. Set reminders.
2. Take the SAT/ACT
The earlier you take the SAT/ACT, the better. Getting those initial scores back will allow you to see what you can better prepare for. In some cases you might want to hire a tutor, or attend a class. At the very least it’s important to purchase a prep book. This will help you understand the format of the SAT and give you simple tips to improve your score. It’s also a good idea to take a first test cold turkey. Just show up with your materials and go in without expectations. This will take some pressure off and allow you to get comfortable with the test-taking process. When you start prepping for round two you’ll know what to expect.
3. Narrow Down Your Initial List
When you first started thinking about college you may have listed of twenty options. I’ll save you the grief (and financial burden) of applying to twenty schools. Narrow down your list. Think about costs, location and probability. It won’t be easy to say goodbye to Harvard, but there’s no sense in wasting your time and money on something that couldn’t happen. This isn’t to say don’t dream—I’m all for having a dream school. It’s just important to be realistic with where you’re at academically. Before you start applying, you’ll want your list to be somewhere around five schools.
4. Get Info from the Colleges!
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s important to learn more about these schools. This step could also help in the narrowing process. Explore the college websites; find out what they have to offer you, and what you have to offer them. They love hearing from prospective students. Some schools can set up phone conversations between you and a current student, allowing you to get a sense of what it might be like for you. Take advantage of what schools have to offer, it’ll be important when it’s decision time.
5. Set Up a Visit/Interview
Once you’ve decided on a core group of schools, set up a visit if possible. If they’re local, this is an easy step. It’s important to walk the campus and get a feel for it. It might sound cliché, but when I walked on Biola University’s campus I had a sense of peace that I didn’t have at the other schools. The anxiety I’d felt from the entire process disappeared and I knew. That being said, if you aren’t local visiting might not be an option. My roommate moved to Southern California from Maine without ever having visited. For her, the virtual tour was enough. This step is important, but not essential. Don’t stress out if a visit is not an option, whatever choice you make will be the right one for you.
6. Talk to Your Parents
This step may seem like a no-brainer, but I don’t mean talk to your parents as in “How was school today?” “Good.” I mean set up a sit down meeting with Mom and Dad. Ask the hard questions—particularly about finances. Up until now the costs of tuition might have seemed like abstract numbers, but those numbers are very real. They might be able to help out financially, or they might not. Every parent or guardian will have a different role in this next stage of life. Even if they can’t help pay, they can help guide you through your options, like loans. They’ll offer wisdom and advice you need, and I suggest you listen.
7. Start Saving
Whether your parents are paying for all four years or not paying at all, you’re going to need money for college. Books are expensive. Food can be expensive. The winter coat for your move across country isn’t cheap. This is the time to save money. Even if you don’t have a job, set aside some of that birthday money from Grandma. One day soon you’ll need it.
8. Consider Majors
This is when the process gets fun! School websites will list their possible majors and the classes you might take when earning that particular degree. Explore the pages and figure out what interests you. This doesn’t mean you have to be a Math major, but it might be fun to think about. You can always change your mind, but planning ahead for your (very soon) future can never hurt.
9. Seek Support
As stressed as you are, there are tons of high school juniors and seniors experiencing that same stress. Talk to your friends, your advisors and your parents. Look for message boards online. Whether it’s much needed distractions while you wait for the yes or no envelope, or just a place to find comfort, there’s a place for you. Don’t stress out in silence. Even asking a friend how they feel about next year might open up a much-needed conversation—for both you and them!
10. Finish strong!
Even while this time of future planning is going on, it’s important to stay rooted in the present. Don’t get so distracted about next year that you forget about THIS year. Enjoy the time with your friends, enjoy dinner with your parents, and don’t forget to study for that AP Calculus test. This is not the time to let your grades slide. Enjoy high school, not because it’s the best years of your life, but because it’s your life now. When it comes time to go to college, enjoy college. Allow yourself to daydream every now and then about next year and all that it holds, but don’t forget to paint your face for Homecoming too.