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5 Things Your Teen Should do Before Applying to College
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5 Things Your Teen Should do Before Applying to College

It’s that wonderful time of year again: the hustle and bustle of back to school. High school seniors are really starting to feel the pinch now as the college application countdown begins. Let’s not sugarcoat it; the college admissions process can be daunting. Between the standardized tests, rigorous coursework, and extracurriculars, it seems like there just isn’t enough a teen can do to make their application stand out from the pile. Aside from the SAT / ACT prep and scholarship searches, these are a few ideas to help students prepare for this exciting time in their lives, hopefully with minimal stress.

All of these activities require teens to think outside of their own needs, demonstrate their capacity for leadership, and define their long-term goals. This process is important because “teens who clearly articulate their interests, goals, and potential are most likely to be considered for a spot in the freshman class,” Lee Coffin, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Dartmouth College, told U.S. News & World Report.

1. Get outside their comfort zone.

College presents an entirely new set of challenges for students, both academically and socially. Those who have the ability to deal with ambiguity and take initiative in unfamiliar situations are more likely to succeed in this new environment, and admissions officers know it. Encourage your teen to push beyond their boundaries by pursuing an out-of-the-ordinary experience or picking up a skill that is entirely new to them. On Rustic trips, students face new challenges every day: have they ever rappelled down a 140-foot waterfall? Or had to communicate with someone without using words? Overcoming fears and crossing new barriers are essential experiences that allow students to learn about themselves and build up their resiliency.

2. Learn a new language.

Speaking of overcoming communication barriers, the benefits of learning a foreign language are well documented. However, really mastering a language requires focused, daily practice, which can be hard to fit in when juggling all those AP classes and extracurriculars. Rustic Pathways language immersion programs allow students to supplement classroom instruction with real-world interactions and experiences. Of course, language doesn’t necessarily need to refer strictly to spoken languages. American Sign Language or computer programming languages are unique and highly sought-after skills as well.

3. Identify a cause or issue they care about—and do something!

Top colleges are looking for students who can put thought into action. Students should reflect on their own interests and find meaningful ways to make an impact by volunteering with a local organization, fundraising for a cause, or even creating a campaign to raise awareness and take action on an issue. If you’re not sure where to begin, Rustic has several service-oriented programs that expose students to a range of ways to get involved in local communities.

4. Document their achievements or passion projects.

Gone are the days of the traditional résumé. While many achievements might look good on paper, they can really come to life in a photo essay, website, or video. These multimedia projects allow your student’s unique personality and style to shine through (not to mention demonstrate some very in-demand skills) and add an extra element to any application. For some inspiration, check out this Rustic alum’s video encapsulating his experience in Laos.

5. Take time to reflect on personal needs and preferences.

Beyond demonstrating college-readiness, it’s also extremely important for students to take personal stock. Do they learn best with small, hands-on classes or do they prefer large lecture halls? Do they want access to the resources (and distractions) of city living or would they perform better in a smaller town focused on campus life? Every campus has a slightly different atmosphere, and having the self-awareness to identify what kinds of environments work best for one’s individual needs is a critical tool for successfully selecting a school.

Not every student is ready for college immediately after high school, and that’s OK. There are several different options that can help prepare students for the college experience in ways that high school simply can’t. Students may be interested in seeing more of the world through a gap year program. Participating in a gap year, whether traveling or working, allows teens to discover and explore new interests that may lead them down an unanticipated career path. Colleges value students with real-world experience that they can bring with them to the lecture hall.

What did we miss? Share your tips for parents of high school students in the comments below.


Want to help get your teen outside their comfort zone? Request a free copy of our program catalog today!

About the Author

Kelly Baker

Kelly joined Rustic Pathways in 2017 as the Global Communications Coordinator in Costa Rica, after completing her master’s degree at The New School. An AmeriCorps alumna, she has worked with organizations in Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Hungary, and all over the US to address issues such as refugee resettlement, economic development, and youth empowerment. She received her undergraduate degree from McGill University in Montréal, where she played hockey and learned to love poutine. Her French is pathétique but she’s nearly fluent in Portuñol.