Whether an adolescent does it right or not, how they prepare for college will shape future academic and personal success. Young adults on the cusp of newly found autonomy may still require scaffolding to help them navigate the right next steps.

How To Prepare For College: Essential Tips for Young Adults And Adolescents

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Let’s face it. Gen Z have grown up during tough economic times with increasing uncertainty. There’s an enormous amount of pressure to succeed. Many of these kids feel like they’re strapped to the top of a speeding freight train, going 100 miles per hour, final destination unknown, with no stops or detours. This can be an overwhelming experience for many, and the result is an anxiety-ridden generation of youth that have had no time for self-discovery, are fearful about the future, and are afraid of making mistakes and disappointing loved ones. 

As your child enters their junior or senior year, you’ve undoubtedly given thought to how to prepare for college. You may ask yourself: How can you ensure your graduate is ready for college? What is the college application process like, and are there any tips for college admission success? 

We’ve also considered these questions. We work with young adults and families daily, looking to answer these important questions regarding college readiness for young adults, and we’ve got some great practical advice to share.  

Understanding College Preparation

When you typically think of college preparation, your mind instantly goes to college applications, writing that perfect essay, or getting prepped to get that high score on an ACT/SAT. But we’re here to share how college preparation should be much more than that. 

Whether an adolescent does it right or not, how they prepare for college will shape future academic and personal success. Young adults on the cusp of newly found autonomy may still require scaffolding to help them navigate the right next steps. Simply put, being prepared for college means finding the right fit between you and your college of choice. There are many factors to the college selection process, but some of those factors are tuition costs, knowing what they want to study or do, emotional maturity, knowing if the college experience is right for your child (if they hate the snow, don’t go to a college in North Dakota), knowing if they need a degree or if a trade school is a better fit, or knowing whether an alternative path like community college for the first two years or a therapeutic gap year might be the next right step. 

The College Placement Process

While college admissions and placement haven’t changed much over the last decade, it’s fair to say that most colleges look at academic performance, extracurricular activities, and how interesting you look on paper. 

We recently enjoyed interviewing Jeff Dvorak on our In The Trenches podcast. Dvorak has an inside track regarding college admission–he currently works in admissions for UC Berkeley and owns a New York-based educational consulting firm. Dvork’s advice for what separates one great student from thousands of high-performing applicants? Diversity and personality. 

Dvork’s number one college success strategy is all about how well you can demonstrate during the application process what your passions and interests are. And they don’t have to be world-renowned. “It doesn’t matter what you do,” says Dvorak, “It’s that you do something.” Whatever you’re into, whether it’s downhill skiing, volunteer work, or winning yo-yo contests–showcasing authentic passions and interests will greatly increase your chances of admission, providing that you meet the minimum academic requirements.

TRENDING: How A Therapeutic Gap Year Can Help You Succeed In College

College Application Tips

We get it. This is an important step, and a lot goes into crafting a compelling college application. Embarking on that process can seem daunting. Here are our best practical college admissions tips for crafting an attention-grabbing college application:

Include a well-written personal statement.

A well-crafted personal statement is a crucial component of your college application. It should provide insight into your character, experiences, and aspirations. Be honest, and don’t exaggerate achievements or experiences. 

Craft an impactful essay.

Writing an impactful college admissions essay can greatly influence your application’s success. Follow these simple steps to craft an essay that admissions officers aren’t likely to forget.

  • Avoid using clichés or writing what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Instead, focus on sharing a unique perspective that only you can provide. 
  • Tell a story. Personal essays are always about connection, and storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to build a connection. A well-told story with vivid details can captivate the reader’s attention and make your essay memorable. 
  • Show, don’t just tell. Use descriptive language to create a clear picture and immerse the reader in your narrative. Use anecdotes, experiences, or situations highlighting your skills, values, and character traits. For instance, instead of saying, “I’m a team player,” describe a specific instance where you operated as a team member to achieve a common goal. Showing your qualities through real-life examples makes your essay more vivid and convincing.
  • Edit, edit, edit! Writing a strong essay often requires multiple drafts and revisions. After writing your initial draft, set it aside for a day or two and revisit it with a fresh perspective. Consider sharing your essay with trusted peers, teachers, or mentors for feedback. 

Include extracurricular activities.

Admissions committees want to get to know the real you. Your application should reflect your passions, experiences, and personality. Feeling like washing dishes or working at McDonald’s isn’t good enough to list as an extracurricular activity? Think again. A part-time job shows you have life skills that will help you succeed in college, like communication, time management, money management, commitment, leadership, etc.

DISCOVER: Common Mistakes Young Adults Make In The College Process

Request strong letters of recommendation:

Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your abilities, character, and potential. Provide them with relevant information about your accomplishments and goals to help them write personalized and compelling letters. A strong letter of recommendation can provide valuable insight into your qualifications.

Just be you.

Remember, the college application process is a chance to showcase your strengths, aspirations, and how you’d contribute to the academic community. Admissions officers value authenticity. Your essay should reflect your true self, including your values, passions, and personality. Write genuine and compelling essays that showcase your unique qualities and perspectives using these tips:

Common Mistakes To Avoid 

Applying to college takes a lot of dedicated effort. Don’t let all that effort go to waste by unwittingly making these three big college application mistakes: 

Procrastination And Missed Deadlines

Waiting until the last minute to start your applications or failing to submit materials on time can significantly impact your chances of admission. Colleges have strict deadlines, and missing them may result in your application not being reviewed. To avoid this costly mistake, create a detailed application timeline that includes enough time for researching schools, writing essays, gathering recommendations, and completing forms well ahead of the deadlines.

Lack Of Attention To Detail

Grammatical errors, typos, and inconsistencies in your application materials can give the impression of carelessness or lack of effort. Proofread your essays, résumé, and any other written components meticulously. Even a single spelling mistake can detract from the overall impression of your application. Consider having others review your materials, as a fresh set of eyes can catch errors you might have missed.

Generic Or Unfocused Essays

Submitting generic or unfocused essays that could apply to any college is a common mistake. Additionally, writing essays that lack a clear focus or fail to reveal your personality, experiences, and goals can make your application less compelling and memorable. 

LEARN MORE: College Is Stressful! It’s Okay To Ask For Help

Is College Always A Good Fit?

We love the perspective that Jeff Dvorak brings to the admissions process. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Dvorak says to slow down the process. “The ‘best’ school, says Dvorka, “is the ‘right’ school for your child.” Is Harvard the right school? That’s debatable. It could be that the best college for your young adult is not a big-name university; it could even be a smaller community college, or it may be that a therapeutic gap year or semester is what you need. It is important to get it right–college will always be there and ready to take your money when you make that step. 

The most important thing you can do for your child is to provide them with guided self-discovery. The most successful young adults have figured out what kind of life they want, what that looks like, and what it will take to get there. And if your young adult is unsure about any of those, just slow the process down. Get a job, travel, or volunteer your time. The worst thing you can do is rush ahead, strapped to that train going 100 miles per hour with no end goal. We have a growing generation of kids quitting/failing out of college because they can’t figure out what they want.

If you’re thinking about college, do your homework. Check out interesting academic programs, the campus culture, and the location (hot or cold, small town or big, far from home or close?), and take advantage of virtual tours if you can’t get on campus. Being on campus can give you an up-close view of what life might be like at the college of your choice. But if you think you’re not ready to commit, it’s time to get creative. One of those creative paths could be taking a therapeutic gap year or semester. 

A Therapeutic Gap Year – The Ultimate Guide To Self Discovery

While college may not be for everyone, a therapeutic gap year can be a wonderful time of self-discovery, even for the most successful college-bound senior. It’s not uncommon for many young adults to lack the social or emotional maturity to make good decisions. And it may just be that they need the gift of time to find themselves so they can succeed in college. A famous philosopher once said: “As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” 

A therapeutic gap year is a great way to get to know yourself–what you like, what you don’t like–and take the time to figure out what you’re good at. Taking it slow with an alternative path just might be a blessing in disguise that could help your child avoid costly mistakes, and maybe put your young adult on a different path. One that they maybe should have been on in the first place. It can change everything. Pure Life Adventure offers a holistic, tailored environment to develop personal growth, skill-building, and emotional maturity. Reach out to us to discuss how our program can develop the skills your young adult needs to set them up for future success. 

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