The holidays are over, the crunch for seniors to submit their college applications is done, a polar vortex has descended on half of the country - it's feels like a winter slump. But don't let the calendar fool you. There are plenty of ways to use this quiet winter time to make valuable progress on your college plans, whether you're a senior in high school or a ninth grader. Here are my recommendations for what you should be doing for the next few months to make your college future brighter and better:
High School Seniors: Yes, you read that right, and I did hear that collective groan (along with the scattered mutterings of "Are you kidding me???"). Just when you felt as if you were *finally* done with all things college and were getting ready to enjoy senioritis, I'm here to remind you about several things:
1) DO NOT fall into to the senioritis trap! Your final grades will be sent to the college/university that you will be attending and the school reserves the right to revoke your acceptance if your grades slip dramatically. Moreover, you can't go to college if you don't actually graduate from high school, so there's one more reason to keep those grades up.
2) Now that your school applications are in, this is the perfect time to research and apply for scholarships!!! Free money is free money, whether it's an extra $100 to help pay for books or an extra $1000 to go towards tuition. Start with your school's guidance office - they usually keep a list of school-based or local scholarships. Get that list, review it, and apply to the scholarships that seem like a good fit (i.e., you meet the application requirements and you haven't missed the deadline). Also use fastweb.com and bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/grants-scholarships as places to find scholarships that you may apply for (just be careful and always read the fine print - you may initially be matched with a scholarship but that fine print tells you that you actually can't apply). Some scholarships may ask for essays - see what what you can "recycle" from all of those essays that you wrote for your college applications. Don't be afraid to "remix" several different essays into a new one for a scholarship (just be sure to proofread carefully for any typos!). Always remember: never pay to apply for a scholarship! You should not have to pay money to get money in this case.
High School Juniors: Get excited!!! This is the beginning of your college journey, and it's your opportunity to make your first real "adult" decision about your life! It's also a chance for you to treat this process as a chance for self-discovery, and an amazing way to gain important self-knowledge that will help you grow. In other words, now is the time to dream big! So, where do you start?
1) Talk to your parents about using some time during upcoming weekends or February break to go visit some local college campuses. These schools don't necessarily have to be places that you actually want to apply to, but they should be places that will give you a taste of what it's like to be on different college campuses. Make appointments for an information session and a campus tour (you should be doing that, not your parents, but make sure that parents are on board with going with you, so coordinate your calendars!). Make it a point to check out at least one school that is a large university, one that is a mid-size school, and one small college. If you can, visit a school that is located in a big city, one that is in the suburbs, and one that is rural. Take notes, since you'll be bombarded with lots of information! Write down what you liked and didn't like about each place, and write down notes on what it felt like to be there - for example, was it fun walking across a huge campus with lots of people around? Did that small campus feel like a real tight-knit community? Did your gut tell you something felt really right or really wrong? These details all matter and will help you when working on a list of schools to explore.
2) Start thinking about what is important to you. What kind of educational experience do you want out of college? What kind of social experience do you want? I find that taking the time to reflect on what you've liked and disliked about high school provides a good starting point for making a list of things you want to get out of your college experience. You might also want to try taking a personality test online to get a better insight into yourself. One of my favorites is www.16personalities.com/. It's FREE (one of my favorite words), it's based on the well-known and respected Myers-Briggs personality theories, and it's easy to complete. Once you answer a series of questions honestly, the site will tell you what your personality type is, and then suggest possible careers for you (along with lots of other information on how you relate to others, how you learn, what are your strengths and weaknesses, etc.). It's always good to talk about your results with a trusted adult, whether it's a parent, a teacher, or a counselor. Other tools that can help you clarify what you're looking for in your future college experience may be found in the awesome book by Steven Antonoff College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School For You (find it here). Use the worksheets in this book consistently and honestly, and you'll end up with a much clearer idea of what you want for your higher education experience. This will then help you research schools online that match your criteria, and you'll be well on your way to creating a great application list.
High School Sophomores and First Years: You may be thinking "Come on! I'm too young for this college thing!" Believe it or not, you should be thinking about "college stuff" right now, but not in the way that your junior and senior friends are thinking about it. For you, this is the time to explore some possible college majors, fields of study, and careers, but all in a very fun way.
What do I mean by this? You've got some vacation time coming up in February and April - maybe you can ask to shadow a friend's parent at work if you think that their job is interesting and might be something you'd like to do someday. Or perhaps you care greatly about volunteer work. Vacation weeks are a great time to volunteer, so see if they need help at a local food pantry or at a local religious institution (such as your church, temple, mosque, etc.).
And summer will be here before you know it! Don't have plans yet? Start exploring now. Perhaps you can apply to be a counselor-in-training at your old camp. Is there a course you'd like to take at a local community college this summer? Maybe you want to intern at a local tech company - reach out now and see if they are open to having high-school interns in their office over the summer. Or maybe you just want a job - that's great, too! Start drafting a resume and getting it out there to places where you'd like to work. Winter is when institutions plan for the summer, so NOW is the time to get cracking on your vacation/summer plans. You can have fun, you can learn new things, you can possibly earn some money, AND you will have at least one new activity to put on your activities list when the time comes to apply to college.
Winter doesn't have to be hibernation season for high school students. Use this time to your advantage, and once the flowers start blooming, you'll be very happy that you did!
Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent educational consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.