Congratulations! You’ve made it to the last years of high school! This is a huge accomplishment, so don’t forget to take some time and celebrate all the milestones you’ve conquered so far.
But now come the dreaded questions from well-meaning aunts and uncles. “What’s next?” “Where are you going to college?” “What job do you want?” “What are you going to do with your LIFE?”
The inevitable “deer in the headlights” look is sure to come next, bringing an existential crisis close on its heels.
Yet this is not cause for alarm! Rest assured. There IS a college for you. There IS a perfect job for your unique skill set, and your life DOES have purpose and meaning. With that in mind, however, there are five things that you can be doing right now to streamline your college applications and make you as appealing a candidate as you can possibly be.
1. Develop a smart and short list
Instead of applying to every college into which you can possibly shove an application, focus instead on your top picks and make those applications the best they can be. Of course, you want to remain realistic in your selections as well. Applying to every Ivy League school may be an ego boost, but make sure to have a balanced plan. You’ll burn out if you try to apply to every conceivable college; thus, make a short list of “dream,” “likely,” and “fallback” colleges to simplify your search.
2. Take the time necessary to get good SAT/ACT scores
Your junior and senior years of high school are the time when it is most easy to slack off and coast to the finish line. Resist this urge with everything in you! Now is the time when you really have to put in the hours to make your grades the best they can be. While getting good grades on the SAT or ACT may seem like a no-brainer, it’s going to require a lot of dedication and planning to make sure you’re prepared. Take practice tests, ask for tutoring, and go out of your way to ensure that your scores are above average. While standardized test scores certainly aren’t the only things that colleges examine, the higher your score is, the easier it is to get good scholarships. So buy those practice test books and get to work!
Whether or not your top choice colleges require reading lists, take time out of your day to read anyway. And I’m not talking about your favorite Harry Potter novel; use this time of your life to enlarge your horizons. You don’t have to wade through every page of Plato’s Republic, but make sure that you’re adding things to your booklist that you might not read any other time. Classic books, philosophical books, theological books—anything that expands your mind and makes you think will not only teach you valuable lessons, but also prepare you for four years in an intensive classroom environment.
4. Involve yourself in community service projects
This is by far one of the best things you can do to set yourself apart from thousands of other applicants. Volunteering at a nonprofit, helping to build your neighborhood playground, working at a soup kitchen—these are all things that will make you an even more valuable candidate to potential candidates. Of course, you never want to exploit ministry opportunities for the sole purpose of putting them on your applications; however, by actively seeking out chances to serve in your community or city, you are not only broadening your own personal horizons, but you are also engaging in unique experiences that only you have to offer.
5. Pay attention to details
Optional essay? Write it. A chance to elaborate on extracurricular activities? Add them. Reading list? Make it as long as possible. In the parable of the talents, the one who invested his talents in the best possible way was the one to whom God said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things; I will make you ruler over many things.” The same holds true for college applications. It is tempting to get tired, slack off, and stop putting effort into applications after you’ve been sitting in front of your computer for hours. Yet by reading and re-reading every single thing you write, and by going the extra mile, your application will immediately stand out from the crowd as one that is polished and the best it can possibly be.
Each and every one of these tasks requires a lot of hard work and elbow grease, but stick with it! Any effort that you put in now will pay off 10 times over in the long run. Before you know it, you’ll be settled in college and learning more than you ever dreamed!