By Christine, IvyWise Premier College Admissions Counselor
Preparing for college (and indeed for life!) requires steady effort throughout high school. However, even the most prepared of students can inadvertently hurt their college chances by making simple mistakes that are easily avoidable!
College prep should start early, and without this long-term perspective, some students may find themselves sprinting out of breath at the end. To prevent this, it may be helpful for students to recognize how, along the way, they may “sabotage” their college preparation without even realizing it.
Below are five common pitfalls and, more importantly, ways to avoid them.
Neglecting freshman year.
Some students think, and are even told, that freshman year is unimportant. The truth is, all four years of high school matter. Each year, when a college evaluates tens of thousands of applications, the admissions committee begins with the transcript. So, start high school strong; don’t wait until junior year to earn the As and challenge yourself academically. Moreover, take rigorous courses in all five core academic subjects (i.e., English, history/social studies, science, math, and world languages), if you can, and aim to do well across the board. For students who had a slow start, there is good news: they can work hard to increase their course rigor and improve their classroom performance each year. Colleges recognize the effort behind an upward trajectory!
Poor time management and disorganization.
Disorganization and time mismanagement, including procrastination, catch up with you sooner or later. Instead, build up—that is, develop and consistently practice—foundational study skills. For example, clear a quiet, uncluttered space to do homework and study for exams, and unplug completely.
Use technology smartly such as task management and reminder apps. Develop and use a system to organize class notes, assignments, and course materials for each class (e.g., physical folders and binders, dedicated e-folders, and systematically-labeled documents). Learn to take good class notes and review them daily (e.g., try the Cornell Method).
Develop daily, weekly, and monthly calendars that include all regular and significant items, such as homework and test prep time, meetings, practices, and games, and important test and due dates; sync your e-calendars via multiple devices and/or use paper calendars (perhaps even a big calendar posted in the kitchen or family room for all to see). Take fifteen minutes at the beginning of each week to plan out each day in hour blocks. Start early, don’t wait until the night before. With consistent practice good habits can form!
Jack of all trades, master of none.
What makes an applicant stand out to colleges? Impact, commitment, expertise, and passion. These qualities take time and effort to develop. Dabbling in a series of “one-hour” clubs – one hour here, one hour there – or spreading yourself too thin is unlikely to result in distinguishing results. Instead, devote yourself to 3-4 commitments —become an expert and a leader in them and take them as far as possible. To provide a few examples: volunteer weekly for a few years at a local organization whose mission resonates with you and later offer to help start a new initiative; prepare and train for regional, state-level, even nation competitions; create a deep writing portfolio that spans multiple genres; conduct original, independent research and write a lengthy research paper; excel in a sport and lead/mentor younger teammates. Colleges seek to craft diverse student bodies, and “pointy” students have unique depths and areas of expertise to offer.
Too busy to read and write.
Today’s students are hard-working and busy; their jam-packed schedules allow little, if any, time for outside reading. But non-required reading is critical to success in school and the college preparation process. Reading is just simply good for you. It makes you a stronger thinker and writer and benefits your performance not only in the humanities, but STEM subjects as well. Reading every day would also strengthen your preparation for standardized tests. Thus, make daily reading non-negotiable, and read the good stuff, be it tomes on the Great Books list or picks by your local librarians. Moreover, read deeply, mastering a genre, and broadly, exploring new ones. As you read, be engaged, e.g., ask good, tough questions! And to capture all the fresh insights generated by your reading, school work, and other experiences, keep a weekly “idea journal” – a deep well that you can draw upon during the application process.
Rely too much on rankings.
All too often, students rely on published college and university rankings to determine their college list. Unfortunately, that’s not a good way to find the best-fit schools; instead, thorough research is required to understand what each college or university has to uniquely offer–from academic and student life experiences to financial aid–and to develop a balanced college list. Visiting a campus is invaluable, so take advantage of various travel opportunities, e.g., family trips. The print and Internet worlds offer numerous helpful resources as well, such as virtual tours and reviews by current students.
College prep doesn’t have to be exhausting, but it should be consistent. Starting early and planning ahead is key to avoiding these common college prep mistakes. Don’t sabotage your college prep by not paying attention to the details! Most of all, as you prepare for college, don’t forget to take a moment each day to reflect on what you are learning and why you are doing what you are doing; enjoy the journey and where it is taking you!
At IvyWise we work with students to help them plan for their college goals and identify areas where they might be derailing their carefully laid college plans without even realizing it! For more information on our college counseling services for high school students, or to sign up for an Initial Consultation, contact us today.
To learn more about Christine, read her bio and watch her video here!