In today’s fiercely competitive college admissions scenario, it is crucial to do everything you can—and more—to create an application that will stand out from the rest of the competition.
There’s plenty of things high school juniors can do towards this end, but these 10 carry the most weight.
1. Check out testing deadlines
Check out the test requirements of the colleges you are interested in applying to. Make a note of the deadlines. Taking the SAT is a mandatory requirement of some colleges, whereas others may require you to submit your ACT scores. Depending on which program you are applying for, you may also be required to complete AP or Subject tests.
It is best to get these tests over and done with as early as possible so they do not interrupt your other plans—and so you have time to retake them and improve your score. Determine which tests you need to do, make a note of the deadlines, and start preparing. It’s never too early to start.
2. Attend college fairs
Schools and other learning communities usually organize college fairs before the summer vacation. This is a great opportunity to meet representatives from various colleges. You also get more information about the institutions you are interested in and get to know more about colleges you may not have heard of before.
Find out which colleges will be represented at the upcoming college fairs in your school or your neighborhood, go online to learn more about the programs these colleges offer and make a note of questions to ask so you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.
3. Get your letters of recommendation
Recommendation letters play a major role in the selection process. The key to getting a good letter of recommendation is knowing whom to approach. The best time to do this is before you leave for the summer.
Select one or two teachers who know you well and who have a good rapport with you. Let them know that you intend asking them to write your letter. Give them all the information they need to draft a compelling letter highlighting your strengths and your accomplishments.
4. Think about your essay topics
Writing the essay can be the most challenging part of the application process but there’s no escaping it. It takes time to brainstorm an appropriate topic and then compose an outstanding essay around it. The earlier you start, the more time you will have to mull over ideas and also change your mind if need be.
Starting the process too late can leave you feeling overwhelmed and under tremendous pressure, which is not a good frame of mind to be in when you are working on something as important as your college essay.
5. Explore summer classes
It may not be the most fun thing to do over the summer break but taking a summer class to boost your academics can earn you huge brownie points and is well worth it. There are no rigid requirements when it comes to enrolling in a summer program. There are various options you can explore.
You can take one through your high school, community college, online or an academic program at a university. When choosing a program, you can either choose one that is geared toward your particular area of interest or you can use this opportunity to explore other fields such as business, engineering, journalism, medicine, or any other.
6. Find volunteering opportunities
Volunteering offers several benefits, from that feel-good factor to boosting your application. From old age homes and orphanages to animal shelters, disabled facilities and museums, there are no limits to the kind of opportunities available. If you have a particular skill you could even choose to use that to help others. For example, you could help ESL students improve their English, coach a youth team or help the elderly learn basic computer skills.
Whatever you choose to do, it is important that you work at the same activity over a few months at least to show your commitment to a cause. Switching from one activity to another and doing a few hours of volunteer work at each will not do much to impress college authorities.
7 Explore internship opportunities
Spending time in an internship allows you to get hands-on experience so you can make more informed decisions about which program to pursue. You can either do an internship in the field you wish to pursue or you can explore new fields to determine whether or not they are a good fit for you.
Internship opportunities are not all that easy to find. Starting early will give you more time to look around. Teachers can be a great source of help in this regard so be sure to ask.
8. Apply for summer jobs
It may not be your favorite way to spend the summer but taking up a job is a great way not just to get work experience but also to earn some money that you can use towards your tuition. Wouldn’t it be a relief to be able to apply for a smaller loan?
You will have to hone your time management skills to fit in all of your other activities along with a full-time job. If it just isn’t possible, a part-time job will also serve the purpose as long as you stick with it for a while. Preferably look for a job that will allow you to learn while you earn.
9. Start building your online presence
This does not mean you should go overboard on Twitter or Facebook. The idea of building an online presence is to give admissions authorities a glimpse into a side of you that they would not be able to see by looking at your grades or your transcripts.
Click away from Facebook and instead create a detailed LinkedIn profile that highlights your strengths, capabilities, accomplishments and work experience. A strong—and relevant—online presence can have a major impact on your acceptance into the college of your choice.
10. Improve your extracurricular skills
Whether you are an amateur pianist, a budding painter, or a talented soccer player, make time to participate in activities you enjoy and improve your skills. Colleges prefer to admit students who have outside interests and are not just buried in their books. Participating consistently in one activity also shows admission authorities that you can commit to a particular activity, which is a huge plus point.
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