6 Things You Should Do Before Applying to College

High School student learning how to prepare for college.

College application season is right around the corner. Yes, you should take some time to celebrate your accomplishments and even plan a few virtual celebration (keeping social distancing in mind). However, now is also the time to prepare to apply to college come August 1 when most applications open.

Here are some things you can do now to move that process along and keep from being stressed out later.

1. Start Building Your College List

Before applying to college, you need to build a college list. You should begin searching for colleges that are in line with what you are looking for — for e.g., cost, location, size, majors and campus life. It is important that you apply to between 5-8 universities, including a financial safety school.

A financial safety school is one where you have a very high chance of being accepted and where you can afford the Net Price (Cost of Attendance minus any grants or scholarships).

Another key aspect of finding the best fit college is taking a college tour. While the pandemic might not allow for an in-person college visit, try visiting virtually: YouVisit.

2. Think of who will be writing your recommendations

Don’t wait until you are applying to college to start requesting letters of recommendations. Now is the time to start considering who you want to write your recommendation. You want a recommendation from a teacher/coach/counselor who knows you well and give a more impactful statement in your favor.

If possible, ask your teacher before the school year begins, if they would be willing to write you a recommendation. Remember, you may not be the only student asking.

3. Keep track of accomplishments

High school is four years of many different activities so it’s not uncommon to forget what you were doing in 9th grade. Developing a resume, will allow you to keep track of your important extracurricular activities which will help when you begin applying to college.

In addition, many application platforms will allow you to upload a resume (or activity sheet) as part of your application. However, you will also need to enter the information into the application.

>>RELATED: College Admissions Guide

4. Design a challenging but manageable Senior Year

As you plan your final high school schedule, it will be tempting to give yourself an easy senior year. However, it is important that you finish strong.

After you apply to college, the admissions committee will review your entire high school career up through the first semester of your senior year. If you are admitted, high schools will then send them your final transcript. You have to find a healthy balance between challenge yourself and overburdening yourself. Don’t take too many classes or too many difficult classes that your grades slip. Some colleges have been known to rescind their offer of admission. Taking challenging courses (for e.g., Honors, AP, IB, dual credit) will, however, ensure you are prepared for college level work.

5. Register for the SAT or ACT

If you have not already taken the test, register to take the SAT or ACT as soon as possible. If circumstances permit, take the standardized test at least once before your senior year to see how you do and then retake it in your senior year.

Due to the pandemic, many colleges are temporarily waiving the ACT/SAT requirement for students applying to college this year. To avoid any confusion, check the guidelines for each college on your list. If there is nothing preventing you from taking the test, you should definitely take it since it could potentially open up more opportunities for you.

6. Start Writing Your Essays

Essays are a standard requirement when it comes to applying to college. However, this is one of the requirements that create the most angst among college applicants. If you are using the Common Application, the essay prompts for students applying in Fall 2020 are the same as last year. The application goes live on August 1.

In addition to those essay prompts, there are some college-specific supplemental essays that you will be expected to complete, based on the colleges you select.

If you are applying to a Texas public university you will, more than likely, apply using ApplyTexas. University of Texas and Texas A&M University also use the Coalition For College application. ApplyTexas is using the same essay prompts as last year. However, “required” or “optional” essays will vary by university. Check with the universities on your list to figure out the specific requirements.

Don’t forget, your essay is a place to showcase your personality and share more of your own story. This is an opportunity to go beyond your grades and test scores to let college admission officers see how you will enhance the class they are trying to build. You can answer the question being asked, but use it to write about something you are extremely passionate about. Have someone you trust look at your essay to provide feedback.

Furthermore, colleges use the essays to find students who set themselves apart from other applicants. Writing a compelling essay that showcases your unique perspective on any topic could earn you an “Accept”.

>>RELATED: 12 Texas Colleges That Offer Free Tuition

Final Thoughts

Applying to college will be one of the most overwhelming tasks of your high school career. There are many pieces to put together – essays, recommendations, test scores, transcript, etc. My advice to you is start early to create a more manageable college application process and submit your best work.