Graduation fever is in the air.
Though the event itself is still months off, many seniors are already eager to graduate. Caps and gowns are being ordered, senior pictures are being taken, and, most importantly, college application deadlines are creeping up fast.
The prospect of filling out all the required forms and anxiously awaiting the acceptance letter may be daunting, but with a little research, college applications needn't be so intimidating.
The first step is to understand what it is that schools are actually looking for. There is a common notion that all that matters is grades and test scores, but this is far from the truth. Academics are, of course, very important, but besides taking challenging courses, maintaining a high GPA, and improving your test scores, the best thing you can do is develop your interests.
Colleges want to see that a student is well-rounded and has been actively involved in their community, whether that means within their school or on a global scale. They want to know that the students they admit will take advantage of all the opportunities they are provided with and make the campus community a better environment for everyone.
Involvement may look very different for different people. It all depends on what you enjoy. That may mean athletics, debate, academic competitions, any of a variety of clubs, or many other things. For example, University of Utah describes one category considered when evaluating applicants as "Significant Commitment to Citizenship through Public Service, School Activities, Community Engagement, Leadership, or Familial Responsibilities." Schools want to know that you're a good citizen of your community because that means that you'll contribute to their community as well.
Show your passion
Colleges especially smile on students who demonstrate leadership, from being the president of a school club to founding a service organization. Take charge in everything you do and seek opportunities to become a leader in your community.
An important thing to note: Most schools value quality over quantity. It's better to pour your heart and soul into a select number of activities that you're truly passionate about than to dabble in a little bit of everything. On its website, Harvard describes some of its distinguished applicants as "well rounded" and others as "'well lopsided' with demonstrated excellence in a particular endeavor -- academic, extracurricular or otherwise." If you can display your dedication to a certain area, such as sports, or music, or art, colleges will appreciate your abilities and commitment.
Once you've gotten involved, organize all of your activities and awards with a student resume. You can find templates online with examples of many different formats. Resumes make it easy to fill out required fields on applications regarding your activities, and some schools even allow (or require!) you to upload a copy of your resume. Refer to the college's website in order to know what specific information you should include, such as the average number of hours spent on each activity.
Never too early
Whatever you do, research each school you're applying to and know what the admissions officers are looking for. Don't procrastinate! Deadlines are final, and it's much better to be done early and have time to review and revise than to be up all night finishing your application the day before the deadline.
If you're still a sophomore or junior, start thinking about college now. Where do you want to go? What program(s) do you want to pursue? What activities do you want to be involved in? The sooner you know the answers to these questions, the sooner you can begin to get involved in the right activities, assemble your resume, and plan your future.
The transition from high school to college can be scary. So much is changing. At the same time, this is one of the most exciting periods of life, when a million possibilities lie before you.
So, enjoy it while you can -- even the less-than-fun parts. After all, it will be worth it come graduation day, when you can not only celebrate everything you've accomplished, but the journey you're about to undertake.
Kalli Damschen is a senior at Clearfield High School. She is passionate about reading, writing and her Christian faith. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.