Winter break is almost upon us. As much as you need (and deserve) some downtime, consider dedicating part of your free time to college planning. A few hours wisely invested now can prevent a lot of aggravation down the road. Whether you are deep into college planning already or just beginning that journey, following these suggestions, specifically timed to coincide with the college application schedule, will help you reap the maximum benefit from your efforts.
Practice, Practice, Practice
For most students, standardized testing is intimidating. That’s why it’s important to take several practice tests before the actual exam. Local test prep companies frequently offer practice exams that include pointers and coaching for a successful outcome. If you prefer to practice at home, follow these tips to simulate actual test conditions:
Most colleges look for well-rounded individuals, so volunteering in your community can be a noteworthy accomplishment on college applications. The key is consistency – find an activity that you love, and begin volunteering now. As a sophomore, you have a lot of time to build a substantial resume. If you don’t already have a passion that you are following, use winter break to research your areas of interest. Be creative – how can you differentiate yourself from the crowd?
- Interested in business or government? See if your city has a Youth Council program. Most cities sponsor ways for youth to become involved with the city council or city government.
- Is music your jam? Can you offer lessons in singing or playing an instrument through the local rec center? Perhaps participating in a youth choir or directing a children’s choir through your religious organization is more your speed. Organizing a group to sing or play music regularly at a senior center or hospital demonstrates both commitment and compassion.
Study for the SAT
This is probably the least popular (but most practical) activity you can accomplish during the break. Most college-bound students will have to take either the SAT or ACT eventually, so preparing now will relieve some of the pressure later. If you’ve already taken the SAT you’ll have your score before the break (College Board typically releases scores the second week of December) and you’ll know the areas you need to study for an improved score the next time around.
The most effective way to study for the exam is to set a schedule and stick to it.
- Designate no more than one or two hours per day
- Focus specifically on areas where you need improvement
- The College Board has an entire suite of online study options, ranging from practice tests to study groups to sample questions. You can access their website here. They even have an app that supplies you with one sample question per day!
- Online test prep programs are available at a discount through the 360 Planner platform. Access the tools here.
Intern or Job Shadow
As a high school junior, you might already have a part-time job, which will look great on your college applications. If you don’t have a job yet, consider working as an intern in your area of interest. For example, if you are drawn to veterinary medicine, volunteering at a pet hospital or shelter would be ideal. It demonstrates initiative and shows prospective colleges that you can work cooperatively with others.
Virtual-Tour Prospective Schools
By now, most schools have invested in virtual online tours. Their goal is to attract new students, so it’s in their best interest to show off their most attractive features. Spend some time online to see which campuses draw your interest. You can narrow your search considerably by specifying the location, college size, and admission requirements. Even checking out college websites within your own state is valuable. Just because the school is in your town doesn’t mean that it’s the right fit for you.
Apply for Scholarships
Financial aid is probably the trickiest piece of the college puzzle. Luckily there are thousands of scholarship opportunities available and not all are geared toward academic overachievers. This is the time to consider any and all family affiliations:
- military, veterans, or government service
- labor unions or related organizations
- heritage, ethnic, or religious groups
- fraternal or professional organizations
- state, county, or city connections
Be aware of small scholarships, frequently given out by local businesses such as credit unions or realtors. Small monetary awards may not feel worth pursuing, but if they don’t require hours of effort, even $200 will cover the price of a textbook. And definitely don’t overlook scholarships available from schools where you have submitted an application. Many departments offer substantial scholarships to incoming freshmen. (This can represent a significant source of college funding!)
Finish Your Applications
If you are submitting applications to several schools it’s easy to lose track of deadlines and which steps have been completed.
For the schools, you have already submitted applications to:
- Visit each school portal regularly to check for outstanding application requirements
- Also, look for outstanding financial aid requirements
If you are still in the process of application submission
- Work on required essays
- Complete and submit remaining applications
- Make sure to send your Letters of Recommendations, transcripts and test scores
Make time for recreation and fun activities with your friends. You’ve been working hard your entire high school career, and this is your moment to shine. Enjoy your senior year, and make memories to last a lifetime.