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Ten tips to make the jump from high school to college

Getting ready for college be overwhelming. But relax. It’s only the biggest decision of your life, right?

Don’t fret. There’s oodles of resources out there to help map out the journey. As with any monumental journey, the best bet is to bite it off in short increments and start early. You don’t need to go full-on Tracy Flick, but those who get a jump during their junior year find the process easier than dilly-dalliers.

Here are 10 tips to make your life easier.

Make a calendar
Sure, it’s a little dorky. But goals are easier to attain if they are visualized. Get a giant desk calendar and some fancy pens and highlighters. Stick it on your wall and mark it up with dates for specific tasks like taking the SAT or ACT.

Practice, practice, practice
Worried about test scores? Register for the preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The tests are usually given in October, help you prepare and can be used to enter into scholarship competitions. Best of all: They can be taken in a classroom.

Make a list. Check it twice
Write down a list of 10-20 colleges and universities. Separate them into categories: Top choices, tier twos and fallbacks. Dream big. Do your research. Talk to counselors and teachers. Start the process of narrowing the list.

Scholarship research
Tons of money is available. Millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. Get your money’s worth from the guidance counselor, do your research and start prioritizing.

If you have an extra two minutes right now, why not enter to win the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing? It’s the easiest college money you’ve ever earned.

Letters of recommendation
Most wait until the last minute. Don’t be that guy. Ask early and be OK if some teachers turn you down. Remember: Letters from last semester’s AP chemistry teacher are better than ones from your freshman introduction to metallurgy class.

Campus visits
This is where it gets fun. Campus tours are scheduled throughout the year. Absorb the tours but wander off the beaten path. Talk to students in the bookstore. Go to a coffee shop.

Is this a place you can picture yourself? So much of campus tours are about feel but it can be an overwhelming process. There’s a lot to absorb. Take lots of notes and snapshots to refresh your memory in a few months.

The nitty gritty
Senior year is typically when the search hits high gear: Taking or retaking SATs or ACTs, writing and perfecting admissions essays, scheduling interviews, exploring costs and financial aid and completing the free application for federal student aid.

Phew. Take a breath. It’s going to be OK.

If you’re not yet a senior, why wait? Start now as a junior and move the head of the class.

Refine that list
Sure, your Dad graduated from St. Ezekiel of Perpetual Sorrows. But does it have a strong program in your major? Does it offer the extracurricular curricular activities that you enjoy? Does it have a sense of community? Does it fit you? When you close your eyes, can you see yourself there?

Make a call
Decisions, decisions. At some point, fate is out of your hands. It can be an anxious time. But if you’ve done everything on the list, take a bow. Even if you haven’t but have met all the deadlines, take a bow. There’s nothing you can do about it now but wait.

And take it from us: Things are going to be OK and work themselves out. They usually do.

Follow your own path
There’s so much pressure in college admissions, it’s easy to lose perspective. This is about what is best for you and what college can help you get where you want to be.

We understand that at Michigan’s top 14 independent colleges and universities. The colleges are smaller and emphasize community over crowds. Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.