8 Ways to Get a Head Start on US College Apps

If you are about to enter 12th grade and have your heart set on getting into a college in the US,  then you must be wondering how to prepare for your college applications right now before the common app opens and new essay questions are released.

Let’s face it – there are plenty of talented students looking to pursue undergraduate education in the USA, which means the competition is stiff. Use this down-time to get on top of your college admissions game plan. Here are eight useful tips –

1. Open a Common App Account

Common App is the most popular and widely used application platform, giving you access to nearly 700 member colleges and universities. It streamlines the admissions process. However, there are also a lot of sections to fill out. It is important to take this time and complete these details, so you can focus on energy on other components of your application process later on.

2. Research Colleges In-Depth

You are going to be very busy during school semesters, so utilize the time you have now to fully understand the colleges you are applying to and make connections with staff and students there. Visit college campuses if you can, to get a feel for what life is like on campus. If you cannot travel abroad to visit colleges, take a virtual tour on their website or YouTube, go through their or university social media pages, explore the course catalog thoroughly to research specific programs and classes you find appealing. Ask your school counsellor, seek help from family and friends to connect with alumni and try to get first-hand perspectives on courses, faculty, costs and campus accommodation., Researching colleges will help you prepare a ‘balanced list’ that will include your dream, target and safety schools, with notes on what is appealing about each place. All of these notes will help you in drafting your “Why” college essays.

3.  Supplement Academics

Before school starts spend time catching up on school work and focusing more on topics you find challenging. Your midterm grades will be sent to universities, so brush up on as much material as you need to during this downtime, so your grades are in top form. If you plan on re-taking any SATs, ACTs and SAT2 subject tests during the start of your senior year, you can prepare for these during this period, as well.

4. Build Upon Existing Extracurricular Activities

While your academic performance is the foundation, the US college admissions process is holistic, and universities, especially highly selective ones, are looking for students who can demonstrate that ‘X Factor’ through their extracurricular activities. However, do not spread yourself thin among too many activities, and do not start something completely new. Build upon activities and causes you have been dedicated to earlier; commitment and consistency are qualities admissions officers look at closely. That said and done, if you strongly do want to start something new and it does fit your profile, you may do so as a one-off add-on extracurricular activity. However, you will really need to brainstorm creative ways to demonstrate dedication, commitment and achievement in a brand new endeavor within a short span for this initiative to be effective from an admissions standpoint.

5. Become a Bookworm

A huge component of college applications is writing essays. And, the best way to improve your writing skills is by reading. Reading for leisure will broaden your perspective, offer you new insight, expose you to different styles of writing and communication and it will also expand your vocabulary by leaps and bounds. Furthermore many colleges ask you to discuss books that you have read and/or which have influenced your worldview, so bulking up that list now is a good use of your time.

6. Write & Polish Common App Essays

And, that brings us to our next point – essays. Use the time before you get immersed in school work to explore each common app topic, decide which one most allows you to convey your story and work on as many drafts as possible. You do NOT want to leave this until the last minute, unless you love being stressed out, which, of course, no one does. Polish your essays as much as you can, especially if you are applying for early decision.

7. Take Care of Important Groundwork

Take care of important application groundwork, ranging from securing letters of recommendations from your teachers to polishing your resume so that it is ready to present to visiting admissions officers. Consider creating a LinkedIn and/or ZeeMee profile that showcases your strengths, ranging from extracurricular activities, work and internship experience, language and software skills to honors, awards and other achievements. LinkedIn is a great way to network and connect with students and alumni from other schools and helps boost employability in the long-run.

8. Clean Up Your Social Media Presence

Many colleges review applicants’ social media presence to get to know them better and assess if they are truly a good fit for the college community. Essays are integral in this aspect, but social media presence can reveal your true nature. Hence, you should take time out to clean up your social media accounts so there is nothing that raises an eyebrow.

A little bit of planning can go a long, long way. So, do not procrastinate and make the most of your time before school starts!

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