Well, well, well…you’ve almost made it! 

You’ve worked hard, and you’re rapidly approaching graduation. Soon it’ll be time to enjoy the fruits of all your hard work. It’s a milestone of which you should be incredibly proud. But what’s next?

As you prepare for the next stage in your education journey, it’s time to grasp your collegiate future by the horns. What do you want to study? Where do you want to go? Will you get in? Where will you live? Who will you live with…it’s so OVERWHELMING!

Relax. This is all part of the process.

Getting into the college you want, and pursuing the subject you want to study, are entirely achievable goals. Let’s talk about how you get there.

#1. Lists are Life

Honestly, the smartest thing you can do is sit down and write out a quick list of all the places you’d like to go to school, based on your areas of interest. Once you have a list of about 10 ideal colleges, now it’s time to do the real work. 

Make a second list, with the top five schools for your chosen field of study. This is going to be your “shortlist,” or your preferred list. The last five colleges on your list then become your “safety” schools; your next best options if you don’t land the perfect spot.

Remember, it’s great to shoot for the stars whenever you can, but try to keep your expectations relevant to your field of study and your GPA. Obviously, the Ivy League is a commendable goal for anyone, but only a small number of students get in every year. Your best bet is to choose a number of colleges that suit your degree plan, then rank them according to where you’d like to spend your time for the next four years. 

The trick is to only choose schools that focus on your major. Remember that, and you’ll never be disappointed by the outcome.

#2. Don’t Put Off Studying for Big Exams

Everyone always tells you how important it is to study for your exams. It’s easy advice to blow off…when it comes to the SAT and ACT, though, you really want to give it your undivided attention.

The SAT/ACT represent the culmination of everything you have learned up to this point in your education, and colleges pay very close attention to your score. They’ll want to see what you’ve learned and where you need to improve. Most importantly, they’re trying to judge how seriously you take your studies.

Take your time to really learn the material and focus. Everyone wishes they were literal geniuses who didn’t need to study to achieve greatness, but the truth is that most of us have to work at it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also, whatever you do… don’t rush through it. Take your time, breathe, and memorize everything you can. 

#3. READ 

As a writer, I’m perhaps partial to books over most everything else, so I could be biased. Despite this, I will argue that the more you read in your free time, the less work you’ll have to do in school. Yes, I said that

Let me explain. Reading as much as possible improves cognition, memory recall, and acuity. So, if you struggle with certain concepts like government or literature, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up as many perspectives on these topics as you can.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to stick to titles that expand your mind, but this doesn’t mean that you have to go out and get 8 books that are totally outside your wheelhouse, either. Try to stick to topics that interest you; if you like history, social science, or literature, for example, get material that appeals to you on those topics.

#4. Do Some Volunteering

Volunteer work and community engagement is something your college counselor will definitely look for when you apply for colleges.

They don’t do this to try and make sure you “brown-nosed” your way through school. Instead, it’s to ensure that you understand how hard it is to work and live in the real world, and that you’re an engaged and empathetic member of the community. They also want to make sure you’re gaining valuable experiences that you could have received nowhere else and that you’ll be a positive fit for the academy.

These are all worthy reasons to explore community outreach programs. Volunteer work can also provide valuable experience that may be beneficial later in your career.

Another last—but crucial—point I’ll add here: volunteering simply makes you feel good. That’s a worthy-enough reason on its own. 

#5. Take a Deep Breath

You’ve studied until your eyes ached. You’ve read books outside of your wheelhouse. You’ve volunteered at your local clinic or library. You’ve crafted your long and shortlists for colleges. And, you’ve done it all without freaking out. 

Now, it’s time to reflect. Take a minute, sit down and really think about everything you have accomplished thus far. Rest is just as important as all the other stuff you’re cramming into your brain. So, while you certainly shouldn’t slack off when tests and graduation are so close, you also can’t run at 1,000 miles per hour every day. 

Each evening after you’ve finished studying (maybe right before dinner) take some time to sit somewhere quiet and think through all the things you’ve learned that day/week. Trust me, the respite will do you good, as it can help center you for the weeks ahead.