Contribute to a Club
This comment typically results in a giant eye roll from high schoolers, but hear us out!  It is a small investment on time that could potentially reap great rewards.  If you haven’t participated in a club thus far, now’s the time to do some investigating and commit to participating in something new for the spring semester.  If you’ve already been participating in a club, take it to the next level by raising your hand for a leadership position or simply diving deeper into the club.  It’s important to realize that any type of participation is important and meaningful if you make it that way – you don’t have to have a title next to your name.  More importantly, it’s worthwhile if it speaks to who you are.  Who knows, you may discover a hidden talent or new best friend along the way!

Ramp up the Rigor
Now’s the time:  show colleges you can handle tough academic work!  Colleges are looking to see that you are challenging yourself – and doing well – in tough classes.  Your counselor will send a document called the school profile along with your transcript – this is a document that shows colleges the context of your academic performance, so they can tell how many honors and AP classes are available to you.  If you’re deciding how many AP classes you should take, think about it this way:  if you can get straight As in all of your AP classes – DO IT!  If your grade in one or two classes might slip to a B, that’s ok.  However, don’t feel the need to take EVERY AP class that you can, especially if it will impact your ability to succeed in them.  If taking a heavy load of rigorous classes will bring all or most of your grades down, then maybe scale back by one or two.

Talk to a Teacher
For some students this comes so easily (maybe too easily), while for others it feels like pouring battery acid in their eyes.  Often times, it’s hard to take the first leap, but each time you do it gets easier.  Reach out and get to know your teachers!  They’ll be providing your letters of recommendation – and you’d be surprised to know that most of what they will evaluate is not directly related to your grades.  They’ll tell colleges about your personality, your determination, the quality of your class participation, and how you’re respected by your peers.  Colleges rely on teacher recommendations to learn more about the student and classmate you could be on their campus.

Strategize for Summer
While summer may seem like it will never come, it will be here before you know it. Summer is a great time to catch your breath after a busy school year and gear up for the next, but maximize your time during the summer to take advantage of the things that you do not have the time or opportunity to do during the school year.  People often ask, “What do colleges WANT me to do during the summer?”  The answer is that there is no one answer – they want you to do whatever speaks to who YOU are.  Whether it’s community service, a paying job, an internship, summer school, travel abroad, or family adventures, it’s beneficial to spend some time planning ahead to ensure that your time away from school is well-balanced.  For rising juniors and seniors, the summer can also be an ideal time to focus on standardized test prep so you can get those tests out of the way early.

Investigate Information
Regardless of your current grade level in high school, it’s beneficial to gather information on different colleges along the way.  The more information you have, the more you can articulate what you want, or don’t want, for your college experience.  Although this might seem overwhelming at first, ease your way in by investigating college websites and gathering information through college fairs and when admissions representatives visit your school.  The most efficient way to learn about college fairs and college visits to your school is through your school’s college counseling office and/or Naviance portal.  However, don’t be afraid to plan your own adventure too!  Visit some local colleges, or hit the road!

Evelyn collaborated with North Carolina-based Katie Garrett of Garrett Educational Consulting on this post.

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