Yes, finals are over and the holiday season has begun. But don't lose steam just as yet. Keep up your strong work ethic to use the winter break to get ahead of the game. What game am I talking about? Applying to colleges of course! The upcoming year is going to be about you. Your parents, counselors and advisors are going to help you put your best foot forward as you apply to colleges but there is only so much they can do if you are not prepared.
Use this winter break to do the following 4 things:
1. Start your research
There are over two thousand four-year colleges and universities in the United States. You owe it to yourself to pick the college or university that best suits your educational needs and future aspirations. Books such as The Fiske Guide to Colleges and The Insider’s Guide to Colleges are good resources as you start thinking about this serious question. Don't stop there. Talk to current students or alums from schools you have shortlisted to get a sense of what student life is like.
2. Make a test prep calendar
Take out a calendar and start with the end in mind. You want to be done with taking the SAT/ACT by November 2016 at the latest. So circle that in first, then work backwards from there.
I recommend taking the SAT/ACT at least twice. Once in the spring of your junior year and once in the fall of your senior year. You can register for your spring test now to help you set a goal (U.S. SAT registrations or U.S. ACT registration). Check your prospective college website to see if they recommend taking the SAT subject tests. If so, budget in preparation for the SAT IIs as well.
(Related Article: 7 Ways to Get Ready for the SAT/ACT this Winter Break)
Get in the habit of populating your calendar with other important dates such as midterms because balancing applying to colleges while maintaining grades is essential in getting into a top U.S. college.
3. Start preparing for the SAT/ACT
Your calendar must be looking full now! It might seem like your spring test date is just around the corner. Winter break is the best time to get ahead in test preparation because you don't have competing demands such as midterms, homework or finals to worry about. Preparation is key in achieving your target SAT/ACT score.
Yes, this one sounds odd, but do it! Use your break to quickly assess the following two things:
Do you have a good relationship with your teachers and counselor? Be honest. If the answer is no or so-so, go into the new year with a mindset of changing that because teacher and counselor recommendations are a crucial part of your application.
What about extracurricular activities? If you have been seriously involved in a couple of activities, keep up the good work. If you have been dabbling in a few, it is time to pick 1-2 activities that interest you most and pursue them to the fullest this coming year. Admissions professionals are not looking for a laundry list of activities but a handful of activities where you have shown meaningful involvement and leadership.
There is a lot of advice you will encounter about what more you can be doing. While there is always more, I assure you, that if you focus on the four tasks outlined above, you will be in good shape, if not great shape, at the start of 2016.
Let's get started!
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Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an award winning personalized ACT and SAT program. For a free trial (no credit card) required, click here. If you are a parent and want to learn why TestRocker is the best program for your teen, visit our parent page here.