It’s easy to become overwhelmed with college applications during high school. With test prep, college visits, college applications and financial aid, students and parents often wonder how to prioritize tasks and which should be at the top of the list.
Here’s a list of college application priorities from one to 10, starting with the most important:
1. Get organized and stay focused.
Stay on top of paperwork, information and important deadlines. Create a college landing zone for all college-related information and start a filing system for the important paperwork. Use a large wall calendar or calendar app to stay on top of all the deadlines and important tasks during the college admissions process.
2. Focus on grades.
Grades will determine a student’s GPA over all four years of high school. Without a strong GPA, it will be difficult to make it into any competitive college.
3. Choose the right courses.
It’s important for to take academically rigorous courses. Focus on AP (Advanced Placement), Honors, and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes. Rigorous courses communicate a desire to excel academically. This is something colleges value in a student.
4. Take the PSAT, SAT and/or ACT seriously.
With the PSAT, students can qualify for a full-ride scholarship. Standardized test scores are a crucial part of a college application. Take advantage of free test prep online and make studying a priority.
5. Apply for scholarships like it’s a job.
Even if you have planned to pay for college, it makes sense to focus some of his time applying for scholarships. This is free money, money you don’t have to spend or pay back if borrowed. Start early in high school because there are scholarships available for all ages. And don’t stop until graduation from college.
6. Focus on one community service project.
Colleges look for consistency in high school volunteers. Find one community service project and stick with it throughout high school. Log the hours to show commitment and consistency. Jumping around from one project to another will not impress admissions officers.
7. Start your college search early.
College visits for information purposes only should begin as early as sophomore year in high school. These visits should help get a feel for campus culture. It’s never too early to begin a preliminary college list . Narrow it down at the beginning of senior year. Do your research about admissions requirements and financial aid to avoid surprises.
8. Cultivate strong recommendations.
Students will need strong recommendation letters for college applications and for some scholarship applications. Cultivate relationships early in high school, so it will be easy to choose the right teachers and counselors to write letters.
9. Spend a significant block of time on the college essay.
Start formulating ideas and writing college essay drafts early. Students can look at the topics on the Common Application and pick the ones that best meet their writing and personalities. Start with a rough draft and work on crafting an essay that gives admissions officers a picture of why the student would be an asset to a college community.
10. Pick colleges that are a good fit.
Students should choose colleges that are a good fit academically, socially and financially and make the student excited to attend. If one or more colleges do not offer admission, students should be happy with the remaining choices. Too many students add schools onto a list as “fallback” colleges and never consider whether or not they would be happy to attend.