There are many things I wish I knew earlier about the college process. For instance, in high school I got to choose my classes, so I decided to take a lot of difficult classes while working a job and participating in a sports team. All these time commitments made the college process very difficult for me and more stressful than it had to be. I learned that applying to colleges takes a lot of time, and I should have started putting my applications together earlier. Also, I should have taken lighter classes so that I wouldn't have had such a heavy workload while also applying to colleges. Here are a few more things I've learned that I wish I knew before starting senior year!
While my grades were great in junior year, senior year was another story. The heavy workload negatively affected my grades, and colleges noticed. I thought it could not make much of a difference but there was a college that waitlisted many of the students in my school due to their decrease in grades first semester senior year. I wish I had known just how important it is to keep your grades up during your senior year. The SATs are also an important element in the college process. I took the SAT twice, once junior year and again senior year. The first time before taking it I went to free SAT prep and did well on it. After taking it once, I didn't have any more time to study for it. My score improved a little the second time around but not as much as I had hoped it would. I greatly regretted not studying for it more and taking more practice tests because I could have gotten a higher score.
Commit to Leadership Activities
While I did participate in many clubs, sports, and volunteering activities, I was not a leader in any of those activities. I had many different activities on my resume, but colleges love to see leadership experience. Therefore, I recommend getting highly involved in one or two activities and dedicating a lot of time to those activities so that you can earn a leadership role rather than splitting up your time amongst many different activities. Colleges will be more impressed by one or two leadership roles than a whole list of smaller commitments!
Apply Early Action/Decision
I recommend that you consider the benefits and disadvantages of applying Early Action or Early Decision to schools. If you apply early, you can get the applications out of the way sooner so you don't have to worry about them over Winter Break. If you get accepted, you can avoid sending out a bunch of Regular Decision applications. Even if you get accepted to a school as an Early Action applicant but decide not to attend that school, it’s a huge relief just to get into college! But be aware that Early Decision applications are binding, so if you apply to a school Early Decision and get accepted, you have to attend that school!
Good luck, and don't stress out too much!