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Speaking of College: What You Can Do to Help Students Excel

Today’s high schoolers are juggling a lot. Classes, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, jobs, homecoming, prom and everything else they’re supposed to be doing to look good for colleges—the list goes on and on. As a result, mustering the effort to actually apply to their preferred colleges is enough to send most students into mental overload. The good news is, you can help.

Here are some tips to share with your students, along with ways you can assist them in making the college application process and transition more manageable: 

1.) Start thinking about it early. (And by ‘early’ we mean earlier than senior year.) 

HOW: It’s never too early to start considering options and understanding the process. Focus on finding ways to bring college into the classroom. Whether it’s having students research and present on their top college choices, or comparing stats about different universities—anything that gets them immersed in the mindset of ‘where’ rather than ‘whether’ is valuable. Applying early once senior year does roll around is also key. Crunch time really begins the first day of senior year, and the clock just keeps ticking down until those early apps are due in November.

2). Have an open mind. (Encourage students to allow their perceptions to change.)

HOW: Some students just know where they want to go. Or better yet, where they think they want to go. Try planning group campus visits to local and nearby universities. This will give students the opportunity to see what’s out there and get a feel for each campus’s  unique vibe. They might just discover the college they were set on isn’t a great fit for them after all, while the one they might not have considered feels just right. Going in groups can also take the pressure off and being able to share the experience with peers can provide insights they might not have gleaned otherwise. 

3.) Don’t procrastinate. (Let’s say that one again for emphasis: Don’t procrastinate.)

HOW: Procrastination can get the best of many of us. But when it comes to applications and the essays (Oh, the essays!), doing a little at a time goes a long way in saving students’ sanity. A great way to help them avoid this oh-so-common pitfall is to set aside one day after school per week where your classroom becomes a haven for college applications. Not only will this help split up the process into more manageable bites, but using you as a sounding board can also be a huge benefit to students—especially first-gen college students whose parents might not know how to help. 

4.) Explore the known and the unknown. (They don’t know what they don’t know. And they likely don’t know what they think they know.)

HOW: Not only can you find ways to infuse college options into your curriculum, but also things like financial aid and scholarships. Make a game out of finding funding for matriculation—or even just finding great sources for scholarships and loans (like websites and apps). Sure, the financials are less fun than weighing who’s got the best football team, but without sufficient funding it’ll all be for naught. Asking students to really examine the cost of tuition, room and board, supplies and spending money can shed new light on the college experience. They might discover their dream out-of-state private university just isn’t worth the substantial cost increase over the state school with the right high-ranking program.  

5.) Be real. (And realistic about what they are trying to achieve.)

HOW: As an educator, you’re probably familiar with students telling you what they think you want to hear. College admissions officers are too—tenfold. Find ways to help students understand the value of being themselves and using the essay prompts as a way to tell admissions officers things they won’t find anywhere else on the application. It’s about showing how their unique experiences (and ways of thinking) will help broaden and diversify the college. Oh, and be sure to remind them that diversity isn’t just about race. It’s about anything they bring to the table that’s different (such as religion, life experiences, where they’re from, etc.). In-class discussions about the prompts can help students become more introspective and eliminate any writer’s block. 

BONUS: Another good idea is to have students consider what they are looking for in a school; something to help them figure out their preferences and must haves. We happen to have just the thing to help with this printable handout from our resource library: Quiz Yourself: The Secret to Finding the Right College.

6.) Try not to future trip too much. (Focus on the here and now.)

HOW: While the goal is to get into a great school, part of getting there means making the most of the high school experience. Try organizing a few out-of-school events for you and your students to get to know each other better. The more you know about them, their lives and their interests, the easier it’ll be for you to write really valuable recommendation letters. Plus, it can help them blow off some steam. Focus on activities that are more active than passive—watching a movie, for example, doesn’t provide a lot of opportunity for meaningful conversation. Mini-golf or a hike on the other hand, are more lively, interactive and are a great way to get to know people better. 

7.) Learn what to expect. (Give them a taste so they can rise to the occasion.)

HOW: Teach students the difference between college classes and high school classes. In other words, have them read the materials before class so they come prepared to discuss and ask questions. This also means helping them develop consistent study skills that they can take with them. After all, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Help them understand: no one is going to hold their hand in college. But you’ll be happy to for just a little while longer. 

This list of ideas is certainly not exhaustive. Think of it more like a thought-starter to get your brain cranking on ways to make the process and transition easier for your students. Let us know which of these tactics worked well—and please share any brilliant ideas you’ve implemented on your own at