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The Savvy Applicant Blog

5 Things Savvy Underclassmen Should be Doing to Prepare for College

While the college application process is a ways off, savvy 9th and 10th graders set goals and develop a plan for success. The key to the goals, however counter-intuitively, is that they not focus solely on admission to college and definitely not to a particular college. Doing so would be akin to an actress setting a goal of becoming a movie star. Instead of focusing entirely on the desired result, she would be better served to work on mastering elements of stagecraft that would position her to do well in an audition.

Think about the college admissions process similarly. Admission to college, especially highly selective colleges, is not an end in itself, but a byproduct of developing into the person who is going to be ready to do great things there and beyond. For now, start with these five things.

 

1. Evaluate your study skills and habits

If they are not as effective or efficient as you would like, focus on improving them now rather than later. In addition to a system like Cornell notes or the QEC (Question/Evidence/Conclusion) method, think about where and when you study best. Develop a routine and own your technology rather than the other way around. As you move into more challenging courses, you will be glad you did. 

 

2. Confirm meaningful summer plans

Summer is a crucial time to explore your extra-curricular interests in more depth. Colleges love to see students ultimately dedicate themselves to a smaller number of activities and develop the foundational background to move into leadership positions and make a real impact as they get older. Don’t choose activities because you think they will look good on your resume. Double down on what gets you excited. If somebody asked you about your summer activities, would you be able to talk about them for an hour? People may not want to hear you do so, but if the activities were taken to a meaningful level of depth, the answer is probably yes.

 

3. Develop your writing skills

In addition to doing well on school papers, compelling college essays are a centerpiece of any successful application and students applying to ten colleges may, in the end, have over 25 essays to complete. Applications may seem a long way off, but putting in extra effort now, will pay dividends later. Too often we see students who have done well in school and on standardized tests struggle to complete their application essays. In addition to felicity with language, practice writing about yourself. While school papers focus on analyzing symbols, like the green light Gatsby sees off in the distance, college essays ask you to reflect on your own experiences and values.

 

4. Read for pleasure

You cannot be a great writer without being a voracious reader. Make a good list of books you want to check out over the summer and give yourself a schedule. If one turns out not to interest you, move on to the next. It should be fun and hopefully feed the depth of your activities. Plus, some colleges will straight out ask what you like to read outside of school. Need we say more?

 

5. Get a game plan for managing stress

As early as possible, understand what needs to be done in the admission process and when. Having structure and being well organized will give you (and your parents) peace of mind that you are on schedule and nothing is slipping through the cracks.

We also urge students not to underestimate the importance of nutrition, exercise, and getting enough sleep. If that means taking fewer Honors or AP course, so be it. Understanding that is not what will differentiate you from your peers will help tremendously.


If you would like to learn more about how Princeton College Consulting can help you navigate the process of preparing to find your best fit colleges and tell your most meaningful stories in the admission process, contact us today.

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