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10 Winter Break Tips For High School Seniors From College Counselor Lisa Micele

Winter break is when many high school seniors are rushing to finish their college applications. Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson gets some tips from Lisa Micele (@LisaMicele), director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois.

10 ‘Micele Musts’ For College Applications And Using Your Winter Break

  • Aim for authenticity: I have always preached that this is a process requiring students to follow their moral compass. While the mechanics of this process can be daunting — and the endless questions about “what looks better to a college” surface in high school — I beg seniors to remember that the goal is to land where they will grow, thrive, take advantage of resources and feel supported to reveal their authentic self to others. So before I give you some mechanical tips and reminders, please remember: As you write essays and worry about your college list, your journey after high school is really about finding places where you can create the most authentic version of you. The rest will fall into place.
  • Vet your college list one last time: Are you already anticipating a stressful break because you are applying to too many schools? None of this should be random. If you honestly don’t know why you are applying, cut it off your list and free up time to focus on other applications.
  • Make a list — and check it twice: Santa makes a list. You should too. What do you have to work on? Did you release your test scores from the ACT and SAT? Are you still working on essays? Did you take inventory of the supplemental essay questions you may have to answer for particular colleges? You can’t create a schedule to manage tasks if you don’t have a list of those tasks. Do this first.
  • Time management tools are personal: Your parents may suggest something, but if you don’t use it, what’s the point? I personally like the “hour by hour” method. This is where you plot — from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed — how you will use your day. This daily grid should include break times, hanging out with friends and eating meals, too. From 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., for example, you have 14 hours. You do have enough time to work, play and rest. To avoid time-wasters, you must map out a plan.
  • Focus on what you can control: You can control releasing your test scores, writing college essays and meeting your deadlines. You can research if the school has merit aid and complete extra essays, if required. You are responsible for all parts of the student portion. Focus on this.
  • The proof is in the proofreading: Take time to write, review, revise — and proofread all parts of your application closely before submitting. While you should have one or two people help proof statements with you, I caution you on seeking too much input on your applications. Before long, six people will have chimed in, and seniors become discouraged as their story becomes overedited by others.
  • “Ready” your team: Everyone needs accountability. Everyone needs support. Many school counselors may be away from work and emails for the entire school break. Who are the people you will call upon when you have questions?
  • Stay calm: Rarely are there any emergencies in this process. Let me explain: A senior may decide to alter their college list and apply to a new school. Over break, they panic and try to find where their high-school counselor lives so they can beg for a transcript on New Year’s Eve. Stop. Take a breath, and remember this: apply, meet your deadline — and talk with your counselor when you return to school after break. Note: For college applications processed through portals like The Common Application, your materials from your high school and teachers are already there. Adding a new college is as simple as you submitting your application, and the newly added institution will download materials already there, within the virtual file cabinet of materials submitted for you by your teachers and school counselor. Easy!
  • Submit early and then “drop the mic”: While we know seniors submit their applications at times that are often “too close for comfort” for us, those helping seniors know that this happens — and yes, colleges can see the date stamp of the submission showing 11:58 p.m. But too often, servers can crash due to thousands of late submissions. If you are going to submit your completed application on the due date, it should be sent by 5 p.m. at the latest. Our seniors are facing so many insecurities during this process. Their desire to strive for perfection haunts them even after they hit the “submit” button. Seniors: Please submit and drop the mic! Celebrate.
  • Even now, show gratitude: In the midst of the pressure and frenzied break, remember the reason for the season and show thankfulness and appreciation to those who have helped you. After all of your applications are submitted, write handwritten thank-you notes to those on your team. They are rooting for you.
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