As I am nearing the start of my college career, I realize how unprepared I was as a junior and how little I knew about everything that goes into applying to college. Here are some things I learned along the way that might help give juniors a head start:
1) Sign Up for College Tracks or ACES
I consider this the first step and the most important one. The application process is not easy and it definitely isn’t something you can do on your own. Contact either CollegeTracks or ACES via email and ask them what the first step is to apply. The process to join is very simple and the volunteers are really some of the most amazing people, I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.
2) Research Your Schools
I know you have probably heard this countless times already, whether it be from your counselors, someone from CollegeTracks or ACES, your teacher, or your parent, but researching your schools is absolutely essential. Each college is different; they have different requirements and expectations, so it is important you are aware of what you need in order to apply for those schools.
Get an idea of the SAT/ACT range you need to reach for, if you need a portfolio, if you need to do a CSS profile along with FAFSA, and any other requirements or recommendations found on the colleges’ websites. It’s also important because you can get an idea of what schools you like or dislike as well as if they offer your intended major or not.
3) Study for the SAT/ACT
With summer vacation coming and this emergency shutdown, there is no excuse for you NOT to be studying for the SAT/ACT. Use this time to your advantage and review subject matter that you feel you need help on.
There are plenty of websites that can help you; Khan Academy has free lessons on the SAT. CollegeBoard also offers practice as well as lets you look at previous tests for free. Right now there are even sites offering free live sessions online and if you buy the ACT book, you get a year of the ACT online prep for free.
4) Get a Head Start on Essays
Writing essays is definitely not the most interesting way to spend your summer, but your senior year self will thank you if you do. Starting your essays now will save you so much time in the future, even if it’s just a draft or outline. Anything you have ready will give you more time to revise. Also, certain colleges have specific essays or prompts that they require: look at these and start them as soon as you can, it will keep some of the stress away later in your application process.
5) Research Scholarships and Start Applying
Researching scholarships is also important. This is how you can get more money to pay for college. Find out what scholarship deadlines are, start the process, and understand what you need in order to submit them. The more scholarships you apply for, the more money you can get.
There are tons of websites and resources at school to help find the scholarships that match you. There are so many scholarships most people don’t even know about, even if it’s only a couple hundred dollars, it’s money that goes to your education.
6) Visit Colleges
With the current shutdown, this probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but there is a “loophole” to the campus visit. Colleges are aware that prospective students are unable to visit, so many of them have created virtual campus tours on their websites. Even though you aren’t there physically, you can still get a view of the campus which is so important when it comes to picking a school.
7) Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
I understand how stressful the college process can be and I know it is important to have everything done on time, but your mental health is more important than an application. Spend a reasonable amount of time on your application and take baby steps, it is okay if you can’t have everything done in one day.
If you feel overwhelmed or if you have a lot of questions, talk to someone: a trusted teacher, someone from CollegeTracks, your parents, or even friends that are experiencing the same thing as you. And remember, you don’t need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Many students go into college undecided: don’t stress over picking a major, you will find your way.
Lastly, remind yourself that you are more than just an SAT/ACT score or how many extra-curriculars you did last year. You aren’t just statistics on a paper. Be prepared, but do not let a college application (or decision) define you.