Winter break is not just a time for festive celebrations and relaxation; it also presents a valuable opportunity for high school students to make significant strides in building their college admissions profile. While the holiday season is a well-deserved break from classes, extracurricular activities, and other commitments, strategic planning can set students apart and enhance their college applications. Whether a freshman or senior, high school students should take advantage of their weeks off of school to take stock of the year and get ahead before the start of the coming semester.
Here are five ways that students can use their time during the holiday break to enhance their admissions profile:
1. 9th-12th: Reflect and set goals.
Students should begin the break by reflecting on their academic and extracurricular achievements thus far. They can identify their strengths and weaknesses from the fall semester and set realistic goals for the remainder of the school year. Whether it’s improving their GPA, pursuing leadership roles, or diversifying their extracurricular involvement, setting clear objectives will guide how they spend their winter break and their spring semester.
2. 10th and 11th: Prepare for standardized tests
If a student is planning to sit for the SAT or ACT in the spring, winter break provides an ideal opportunity for focused test preparation. Increased free time and lack of schoolwork can afford students the time to take a diagnostic test to gauge what they need to improve. Sitting for a diagnostic test is time-consuming, but it is the best way to track one’s progress, assess areas for improvement, and build confidence in the testing format. Students should use their results to create a study schedule, find relevant online resources, and decide whether or not they need to enroll in a test prep course. Consistent, targeted preparation during winter break can lead to improved scores and increased confidence.
3. 10th and 11th: Research colleges and plan college visits
The best time for students to tour colleges on their list tends to be in the spring, so as students narrow their college list, they should also work with their parents to plan their future college visits. Students can use the downtime to research potential colleges and universities, considering factors such as academic programs, campus culture, and location. . If a student is unsure of whether they want to visit a certain college on their list, they can use the break to attend a virtual visit or online Q&A to critically evaluate whether they want to see a campus in person. Engaging with the campus community, even if remotely, can provide valuable insights into a college’s atmosphere and offerings. Students can also reach out to current students or alumni in their area for insights.
4. 11th and 12th: Research financial aid and scholarship opportunities
Winter break can be a critical time to investigate financial aid options and scholarship opportunities available at the colleges on a student’s list. Students and their parents should familiarize themselves with deadlines and requirements for financial aid—posting a calendar in a visible spot in the house can help families stay on top of dates and deadlines.
5. 12th: Finalize essays
Winter break is the last opportunity for students to polish their personal statements and supplemental essays, as many top schools such as Emory, Columbia, and Princeton require applications to be submitted on or before January 1. Therefore, students should complete initial drafts of their essays in the beginning of their break. Then, they should work with a trusted friend, older sibling, or parent to edit their essays for grammar, coherence, and overall impact. Essays should be written in a student’s distinct voice and show their unique personality and perspective. Students should consider reading their essays aloud to their friend or family member to evaluate the flow of ideas and ensure that their voice shines through in a compelling way.
As high school students embark on their winter break, strategic planning will help students use their time wisely and continue to build their application profile. By balancing academic pursuits, personal development, and self-care, students can make the most of this valuable time and boost the strength of their candidacy at their dream school.
Originally published on Forbes.