2017 College-Related Resolutions

Okay. Happy New Year, everyone! A new year. Literally. Cool.

For you, a new start, perhaps? A set of new goals? Maybe a group of new goals.

What will your year hold? Let’s examine some possible resolutions to adopt that relate to college.

First of all, let’s define some terms. “Resolution.” Exactly what does that mean?

Obviously, we could look to a formal defining source, such as a dictionary or the Internet. Here’s what the latter says:

Resolution: It’s a noun that means you make a firm decision to do or not to do something. As far as the realm of college admissions goes, there are tons of things to do and not to do.

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Resolutions for college-bound high school students are, naturally, dependent upon grade level. Freshmen have a long-range view and most sophomores do too.

Juniors are in a more active mode during this extra-crucial year, and seniors — well, seniors are “in the barrel, ” so to speak, under pressure to make all the right moves.

I did some research about college-related New Year’s resolutions for high schoolers and found a few that you may want to consider. Of course, if you have already made your list, then these will be mostly FYI.

First, Susan Alaimo, writing in MyCentralJersey.com, mentions a few approaches that students might want to consider during the coming year. Here are some highlights:

– Manage your time effectively. This is an important habit to develop before embarking on your college journey where good time management skills will have a major impact on your academic success. Practice setting a schedule, indicating when you will start, and finish, working on each long-term assignment and studying for each exam. Be sure that procrastination is not one of your traits.

While this may seem a bit obsessive, not allowing for much flexibility, it does make a lot of sense to view time as a finite quantity. You don’t actually have “all the time in the world” to accomplish your goals. That’s why getting a realistic grasp of what you can — and cannot — accomplish within a certain timeframe is a good skill that will pay dividends in high school, college, and life in the so-called real world.

– Put your free time to good use. College admissions officers at every school look carefully at applications to assess which students have demonstrated a solid commitment to volunteer activities. Colleges know that if you have developed the habit of helping others while in high school, you’ll most likely be a contributing member of your college community as well.

Good point, but I would extend this suggestion to include extracurricular activities. If you have a certain passion that takes up your free time, simply because you love doing it, don’t be shy or feel guilty about doing it. Every year, admissions officers see amazing applicants who have focused much of their time and energy on a specific activity, be it specialized research or collecting Civil War figurines. Don’t shortchange your passionate focus just because you think others (as in admissions folks) may think it’s a waste of time. You may be positively surprised.

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– Think about the “big picture.” In other words, seriously consider your potential career and what major would be most beneficial to pursue in college. People often say, “You can’t expect a teenager to know what he/she wants to become in life.” Unfortunately, [with] typical college costs (including tuition, fees, room and board) ranging between $30,000 and $60,000 a year, students may find themselves drowning in debt if they change majors, or don’t choose one in a timely manner, and need to spend more than four years to earn a degree.

I’m a big-picture guy, so this makes sense — up to a point. Let’s face it; some young people aren’t cut out for college. Every year, I see high school graduates go on to college with well-laid plans about direction, focus, and a life’s work, all of which ties into a carefully chosen major and course schedule. Then, for any number of frustrating reasons, they become discouraged and their train of thought and planning derails, causing them great stress and an unfortunate eventual decision to withdraw from college and head in a different direction, be it a job, the military, or some other vector. So, be sensitive to what can happen to meticulously manufactured plans.

– Get the Highest GPA and SAT scores you are able [to get]. While colleges certainly consider your activities, essay, and letters of recommendation, the key criteria for almost all colleges are G.P.A. and SAT scores. To colleges, they are the best indications of academic potential to be a successful college student. Pragmatically, a high G.P.A. and impressive SAT scores are worth striving for as they will often be rewarded with generous scholarship awards.

True, true, true. While many colleges boast of their “holistic” approach to evaluating applicants, the raw truth is that numbers (GPA, test scores, class rank, etc.) are the jewels in the admissions crown. That’s why it’s never too early to buckle down and rev your academic engine as high as possible without blowing it up. One caution, though: Beware of irrational stress. Obsessing on grades can actually become a negative to your overall college process. “Balance” is an often misused term when it comes to college applicants, but reasonable variety in your life can keep you from imploding under the pressure to get perfect grades. Be aware that a B will not make you a bad person and consign you to the losers’ bracket. It’s far better to get a B in an Advanced Placement course than it is to get an A in a much easier course. Do your best, naturally, but beware of any obsessive, neurotic tendencies.

Moving on to another source, U.S. News offers some resolution suggestions by class. Some highlights … Resolved:

Freshmen: “I will set college admissions goals now, rather than waiting until I’m a junior.”

College and its complex admissions process can seem impossibly far away when you have just begun high school. Your future, however, will be built on the foundation you lay out today. Begin determining your college goals now.

Starting now doesn’t mean that you have to set your entire trajectory immediately – during the next four years, you will discover new interests and new priorities that will partially shape your path. Rather, your college admissions goals can include general timelines for the next several years. …

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Sophomores: “I will develop an ACT and SAT testing plan now – not as a junior.”

It is no secret that the ACT and SAT are critical to admissions success. But many students wait until they receive a disappointing result to dive into test prep.

You do not necessarily need an intensive study plan as a sophomore, but you should know where you stand. Discover which test best suits your goals and strengths.

Commit to taking the PreACT or the PSAT, if possible. At the very least, complete a practice exam to get an estimate of your future score and to identify areas of improvement.

Don’t stress unduly over the result – you still have a great deal of learning to do. …

Juniors: “I will begin my college applications two months earlier than I believe I should.”

You might be tempted to set aside a single month or even two for college applications. Entrance exams have specific dates, you have to wait for your recommenders to send you their letters of recommendation and your high school releases transcripts on a set schedule.

That just leaves you to write your college essay – how long could it possibly take to write a few paragraphs?

The reality is that great applications take time. Your personal statement will require reflection and revision, and it will likely benefit from the input of trusted mentors and guardians or parents. Letters of recommendation can take time to acquire, since the authors are often busy with multiple letters to write – so it’s best not to wait until the last minute. …

Seniors: “I will remember that admissions decisions do not solely determine my intelligence or future.”

Although the first resolution encouraged you to begin preparing for college as a freshman, it’s important to also understand that this focus should not define you.

Remember that college admissions is an intensely competitive process. Your GPA, test scores and a small slice of your life are weighed for admission – you may feel like there are more things you wanted to accomplish …

… Above all, remember that college is one part of a journey. Yes, you can begin preparing as a high school freshman, but the story continues well past your graduation date. Spread out the work and keep moving forward toward your goals and dreams.

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So there you have some suggestions for your 2017 college-related resolutions. I can offer an additional suggestion: Live the New Year one day at a time. Don’t try to boil the ocean all at once; do it one pan at a time.

This means that taking a big task such as your college process in small, well-defined doses can make things go a whole lot smoother and less stressful. After all, there’s enough stress in our everyday lives already. Why up the ante?

Here’s to your healthy, happy, prosperous, and successfully “resolved” New Year!

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Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.