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Make a Plan! Reduce Stress During the College Admissions Process

Written by Kelly DuBreuil


Posted on February 11 2021

One of my favorite places to go is Walt Disney World! There is so much to do and so many places to go. There are always new things and changes. Just like college admissions! I also love the college admissions process as much as I love to go to Disney!
When I think about going to Walt Disney World, I make a plan. I do research. I think about the cost and my budget. I make reservations for my hotel, dining, and rides. I find out about new things or changes-like park reservations. I think about how I want to spend my time to have the best experience possible.
The same is true when thinking about applying to college. Making a plan for the college admissions process helps you or your student have the best experience possible and can lead to having really great college options in the end.
Here are five parts of the college admissions process and when to start.
1. Self-Exploration
When to start? This can begin as early as the beginning of high school.
Think about your likes and dislikes. Your strengths and weaknesses. Possible career paths. Maybe you are thinking; there is no way a 14-15-year-old knows what they want to do for the rest of their life. That is just the point! This part of the process is about taking opportunities to try activities, explore interests, and discover likes and dislikes. The earlier you or your student begins to explore these things, the more time and opportunity you or your student will have to impact other parts of the college planning process.
2. Academics and Activities
When to start? This starts when you begin high school.
Why is it important to start thinking about this at the beginning of high school? High grades in a rigorous curriculum are the number one factor college admissions look at when admitting students. And how you or your student spends their time outside of the classroom is also important. In addition, clubs, volunteer positions, hobbies, sports, and classes outside of the high school classroom are all ways to explore future college and career endeavors.
Hint: Keep a list of activities either written or on the computer or your phone from the beginning of high school. It is amazing how much students can forget what they have done when it comes time for college applications.
3. Testing
When to start? Summer before junior year
Think about your admissions strategy. Do you plan to apply early or regular decision? Traditionally, standardized test scores have been important to most colleges. We will see what happens in the future as we move forward since most colleges went test-optional this year in light of the pandemic. We do know that just recently, the College Board announced they will no longer administer SAT Subject Tests, and there will no longer be an optional essay on the SAT. It is still recommended to make a plan for taking either the SAT or ACT for now.
4. College Search
When to start? Junior year
Making a college list involves a lot of research. The factors you or your student will want to consider are career and major, academic fit, social fit, and financial fit. Starting the college search process early in the junior year gives plenty of time to discover great college options and to start college visits, whether online or in person.
5. Applications
When to start? Summer before senior year
There are different parts of the college admissions process and the applications themselves-the actual applying to college-has many different parts. For the students I work with, I like for them to work on their activities list and personal statement during the summer so that in August, they are ready to go when the Common Application is released. As school begins, students work on their supplemental essays and then work on honors colleges and scholarship applications. Having this timeline helps ease stress and gives seniors more time to enjoy their senior year activities.
Haven’t started the process yet, but already in high school? Don’t worry. Review what you have done up to this point, even if you have not planned it, and then move forward with the steps and an adjusted timeline and plan.   
Making a plan for the college admissions process can help reduce stress and help you or your student have a great experience and great options at the end of the process. Like Edna Mode says-Luck favors the prepared.



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