By Kyle Grappone
Summer vacation is in full swing as thousands of high school students are entering into the freest and unchained part of their year. For many, this is a time to go to the beach, hang out with friends, and watch an unhealthy amount of Netflix. While breaks are essential to restore and replenish your mental health and well being, it is crucial that this time not be lost entirely. For most high school students, some part of the college research and selection process is right around the corner.
Ahead of the Pack
Almost all American High School Students enjoy 10-12 weeks of summer vacation. The majority of these students will do very little of anything school related. Meaning, those who take the time out to plan for the upcoming school year will be miles ahead of those who do not. Being ahead of the competition is never more critical than when it comes to applying for colleges.
Why Should You Care?
If you are currently a student on vacation, you are probably asking why you should be thinking about applying for colleges when it is seemingly months away. Yes, technically, you could wait until the fall to begin and continue your college selection process. However, that is what everyone else is doing. Take this time off to stand up and stand out. Why? College admissions standards are rising due to the increased amount of applicants. The competition for state colleges has increased dramatically due to the rising costs of private colleges and universities. Summer vacation is the perfect time to devote your time and energy to researching and finding the best college for you.
#1 – Conduct Self Discovery
All of your tests and finals are officially done. You no longer have to cram for exams or spend time writing papers. This means you have more time to focus on yourself. Use this time to answer a few key questions before you begin making one of the most significant decisions of your life up to this point.
First, why are you going to college? Have you ever thought about that question before? Most students plan to go to college because they believe they are supposed to or their parents want them to go. These are not sufficient reasons to dedicate a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources to something. Think about why you have chosen college as the next step in your life and what are you looking to get out of it.
Second, how are you going to pay for it? I have surveyed over 100 college graduates regarding their time in high school and college. The biggest regret they have is not learning more about the loans they are signing up for. In my online course, How To Select The Right College For You, we dedicate an entire lesson to understanding student loans and another to determining if a college is worth the money. For now, start by talking to your parents about what you can afford and determine a rough estimate of how much money you may need to take out. Then make a list of all the questions you have about student loans and seek out help from a financial professional.
Lastly, what type of future are you trying to build? I challenge all my coaching clients to determine the kind of person they want to become to plan for the kind of future they are working towards. Use this time off to think about what you enjoy doing and what brings you the most satisfaction. Begin to envision the type of life and career you are looking to create for yourself. This will give you clarity when you are learning about schools and the programs they offer.
#2 – Plan 3 College Visits
Most colleges conduct their official, group tours in the fall and spring. That does not mean you cannot conduct your own tour this summer. By touring a campus in the summer, you will be able to enjoy the visit stress-free. If you miss something, you can always come back during the year.
If you already have one of several colleges on your list, reach out to the admissions office and express your interest in taking a tour. Chances are high someone in the office can arrange to meet you on campus for an afternoon. A private tour is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the school and ask all the questions you want without the craziness of a large group. It also allows you to get used to touring campuses and learn what to look out for.
Aim to complete three college visits. If you do not have that long of list or it is not logistically possible then visit your local campuses. Even if you cannot schedule an official tour, download a campus map and give yourself a tour. Once you have your tours set, make sure you create a full list of questions. These questions are designed to learn about the culture of the school; their plan to prepare you for the workforce and their dedication to your progress and development.
#3 – Talk To Those Who Have Come Before You
This time in your life is a complicated one. You undoubtedly have a lot of questions about colleges, universities, majors, student loans, dorming, and more. Luckily for you, this entire process has been done before, by people you know. The answers you seek usually lie with those you have come before you.
Instead of waiting until the fall and the return of tests and projects, use your downtime to compile a list of questions you have. What about college is stressing you out? What about going away to school are you nervous about? What about financial aid confuses you? Now is the time to organize your thoughts and figure out who to talk to.
Begin to look into your inner circle of family and friends for recent college graduates. They will be to provide insights into the process, what to do, and what to avoid. Use this time off to set up lunch and coffee appointments. Be sure to bring your list of specific questions and record their answers.
Lastly, create a LinkedIn profile this summer and connect with alumni of the colleges you are looking at. Again, these former students can give you insights and truths you will not find on the school website or on an official campus tour. Be sure to respect their time by providing a short list of detailed questions. Thank them for their time and inquire if you may keep in touch throughout the process. These types of connections will prove invaluable as you move forward in your college search.
Summer is a time to prepare for the next step in your life. Yes, you should still go to the beach, see friends, and watch Netflix. However, be sure to use some of this free time to get clear on your goals and vision. Determine what you are looking to get out of college and what type of future you are working towards. Your future self will thank you for it.
Kyle Grappone is the founder of To The Next Step, an educational coaching and services company designed to prepare students for the next steps in life including college, entering the workforce and the real world. He offers several student-focused services including one on one coaching and on-demand courses. You can learn all about it at ToTheNextStep.org or by emailing him directly at Kyle@ToTheNextStep.org.