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Starting as early as freshman year, you will be asked a thousand times where you think you’ll go for college. If you’re like me, the answer to this question will change many times, too. I was ahead of the game for my major. I knew exactly what I wanted to major in, and I was sure I knew what type of college I wanted to attend — a small Christian college that was close to home. That changed for me as well. As someone who recently finished going through this college decision process, here are a few tips, tricks, and advice to ease this stressful process.

It All Starts Freshman Year!

I know college seems like it is light-years away, but preparing for it starts now. No matter what you hear: Your grades freshman year matter! These goes into your cumulative GPA, just as much as your junior year grades do. Your cumulative GPA is how a lot of colleges measure their acceptance rate and scholarship-earning averages.

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Get involved your freshman year. Colleges like to see a wide variety of extracurriculars including athletics, arts, employment, service opportunities, and any other clubs! There are so many options. These not only look great on your application, but are a great way to meet new people, and make the most out of high school.

Sophomore Year: Visit. Visit. Visit!

It is time to start looking at colleges! I know it is still early, but next year is the busiest year of high school and you will want to be ahead of the game. Some questions to answer before you start looking are:

Do you want a big or small school?

Private or public?

Does the school have your major?

Do you want to stay close to home or go far away?

How much am I/my family willing to pay for college?

If the answer to some of those questions are “I don’t know,” that is okay! And even if you want a small school, it is sometimes helpful to look at bigger schools as well.

Knowing your major, and I know this firsthand, can make the college decision even more difficult. You can fall in love with a college, and then it may not have your major. It’s heartbreaking!

While on a college visit, make a list of likes and dislikes and other important things about the college. This helps because after many visits, they can all start to blend together.

Junior Year: It’s Time to Test!

You’ve heard it before: This is the hardest year of high school. For me, it definitely was my hardest year, but it was also my favorite.

You can’t slack off, even when everything seems so overwhelming. This may mean dropping one of your activities, in order to maintain more balance. Personally, I had to drop cheerleading because I knew I needed more time to prepare for the ACT and focus on my grades.

SAT/ACT prep is so important. There’s a class offered at Timothy (which I took!) and there are many other private organizations that offer prep classes as well. Beyond the classes, you can be preparing at home yourself. All you need is an ACT/SAT practice test book and a timer.

Take the test as many times as you can this year. Often times, your scores will keep getting better and better. It is tedious, but it is worth it in the long run.

RENEW Internships are an amazing opportunity to take advantage of this year. It can help you decide if you want to continue pursuing your major or change it! For me, I did an internship at ABC7 News and this 100% confirmed my passion for my major. I knew that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and go to a bigger school that was better for my major.

This year, make a list of all the colleges you want to apply to. You should apply to three different types of schools: Reach schools (schools you are unsure if you will get into), schools in your reach, and safety schools (that you will without a doubt accept you).

For me this looked like:

Reach: University of Illinois, Michigan State University, Indiana University

In my reach: DePaul University and Calvin College

Safety: Trinity Christian College and Indiana Wesleyan.

My reach schools were not necessarily schools that I would have trouble getting into. They were schools that were great for my program, but also schools that I thought were either too big or too far away for my liking. But I was accepted into all of them!

Finally, finish up all your visits this year.

Senior Year: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

You are in the homestretch! But it is definitely not over. You should start your Common Application in the summer. You will want this finished ASAP.

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During the first month of school, you should also be asking for letters of recommendation. People you ask should know you well and have a close relationship with you. These may include:

  • Teacher
  • Superintendent/principal
  • Guidance counselor
  • Coach
  • Pastor
  • Any other mentor

Continue taking your ACT this year! Even after you apply! You can notify colleges if there is an increase in your scores.

Apply to all your colleges by November 1st (a few may be even earlier deadlines). For most colleges this is an earlier action deadline which qualifies you for scholarships. A lot of my schools had a later deadline, but it gave me more peace of mind to be done with them all by November 1st.

No matter what, do not slack off in your grades!

Once you start getting accepted into colleges, schedule overnight visits. They help you get a better feel of the college, which is incomparable to day visits. I disliked one college that I visited for the day, but fell in love with it when I went back for a second look and stayed overnight.

If you do not get into a college that you were hoping to or did not receive the amount of scholarship money you were looking for, write a letter of appeal. Your admission counselor from that college can help you and give you more information.

Now comes the hardest part of this whole process: Choosing a college. Remember all the questions that you first considered when visiting colleges? Use those again now. Also take into consideration the scholarship money you received from each college.

I chose DePaul because of the journalism program and the amazing opportunities the program offered. I also decided I wanted to live in the city, rather than a traditional college campus.

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The most important thing to remember is to put your trust in the Lord. Prayer can bring so many answers. This will also provide peace in one of the most stressful times.

Another important thing to do is apply for scholarships. On top of merit-based scholarships, most schools also have donor-funded scholarships you can apply for. Timothy also offers a list of other scholarships you can apply for.

Once you are at your college, you will feel it! I heard all the seniors tell me that when I was an underclassmen and I had a hard time believing it. When I went to Admitted Students of College of Communication Day for DePaul, I was so confident that I made the right choice. I knew that this was the place for me and I could not contain my excitement for next year.

The college process is stressful, long, and hard. The most important thing to remember is that God has the perfect plan. There is an army of people willing to help you in whatever way they can. I cannot wait to attend DePaul next year, and I could not have done it without the help of Timothy and the other wonderful mentors I had during this process.


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