Keep your grades up: While it’s easy to get wrapped up in worrying about details such as essays, testing, and campus visits, never forget THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN THE ADMISSIONS PROCESS: the transcript. No matter how good a writer you are, how well you interview, or how high your test scores are/will be, nothing is more important than your grades and the quality of your classes. Stay focused in the classroom!  Remember that a “B” student with a 1550 on the SAT is still a “B” student.

Develop a testing plan: Whether you get professional help or study on your own, develop a plan to make sure you are taking the right test at the right time. Will you be an ACT kid or a SAT kid? How are you planning to choose between the two tests? One way is to take one of each—using real tests of course—and compare the scores using these concordance tables.

Are you considering colleges that require SAT Subject Tests? These are often overlooked and taken as an afterthought, but they play a huge role at some highly selective colleges.

Streamline your extracurricular activities: Your activity list shouldn’t look like a laundry list. Pick two to four activities and really commit yourself to those. Try to position yourself to earn leadership positions in your senior year. For example, if running for student government appeals, do that, or if you already hold a position, be sure to take some real action in that role. If you enjoy community service, go for it and make a difference!

Schedule college visits: Look at your calendar, identify some good times for visits, and start registering and signing up for college tours. Going during the school year is better because you can see campuses in full swing when students are around. Visit a variety of schools (big vs. small, urban vs. rural, liberal arts colleges vs. big state schools or research universities). You’ll have a better search process if you understand the range of possibilities. But be realistic and don’t fly across the country to visit a school that has a 4% acceptance rate unless you truly have a chance at getting in. Reaching is great, but you don’t want to waste your valuable time.