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8 Essential Things College Bound Seniors Should Know

Your guide to making the right decision as you prepare for higher learning.

The second semester of senior year is tough for high school students. By now, most have already submitted college applications, received acceptance letters or are patiently waiting for them to arrive. It is completely normal to want to be done with high school. There's less pressure and, finally, it feels like you have a chance to relax.

And while second semester definitely should feel easier, that doesn't mean it's a chance to slack off completely. There are still a lot of tasks to accomplish before heading off to college. Moreover, there are still great opportunities out there waiting to be tapped into.

The following are the top eight things you should be doing in your second semester. Remember: stay productive, seniors. As a college freshman, I can say that it will be worth it next fall.

1. Maintain Academic Standing

Camille Crites, Syracuse University's associate director of undergraduate admissions in the Southern California area, says one of the most important things seniors can do in second semester is concentrate on maintaining strong grades. An acceptance into a university is not a cue to let grades fall completely. Crites said that while it doesn't happen often, it is not unheard of for an institution to renege acceptance if grades drop severely. Crites said that even in second semester, students must "keep their eye on the ball."

2. Apply for Scholarships

Many universities automatically consider students for academic merit scholarships when they apply. However, a lot of money lies in private scholarships, often from local organizations such as sorority chapters and nonprofits. They're also usually easier to get because fewer students apply. "There is a lot of money out there. A lot of money doesn't get given away, because students don't realize that they're available to them," Crites says. She suggests using fastweb.com to search for scholarships and raise.me to earn micro scholarships for high school accomplishments, including community service and academic achievements.

3. College Visits

Since the workload in second semester is typically lighter, it is often the perfect time to embark upon some college visits. Websites and pictures can only do so much. If possible, at least visit your top schools to experience life on campus. A visit can either solidify how you already feel about a school or change your mind. Visits are also a great time to sit in on possible future classes, see facilities and talk with current students and professors.

4. Say 'Thank You'

Now that you've been accepted, do not forget to thank the people who helped you get there. Teachers, counselors, coaches and anyone else who gave a recommendation letter or helped with the application process deserves a "thank you." Everyone appreciates hand-written notes, but if for some reason you can't get your hands on one, at least send a thoughtful email. Likewise, keep these people updated on which universities you got into and update them on future plans. After all the effort they put in to help you succeed, they would want to be included.

5. Connect with the University

This one can't be stressed enough – check your email daily. Crites says emails contain info about future placement exams, housing applications and more. These things fill up fast, so get on it ASAP. Crites also suggests connecting via social media. Most schools also have Facebook pages for each incoming class. It's the perfect place to find a roommate – or just get to know people a bit early. Oakland University's director of undergraduate admissions, Dawn Aubry, also says students need to remember to check online to register for things such as orientation and accept scholarship offers.

6. Start the Decision-Making Process

As results start to roll in and the decision deadline (May 1) nears, narrowing down the list is essential. Aubry suggests ranking schools by factors that are most important to you. Maybe it's a specific academic program, the surrounding city or financial aid. Whatever it is, stay organized. Aubry says some important questions to ask yourself are: Do I feel comfortable? Do I see myself at that college? Be sure to keep your mail and important information in folders. It sounds simple, but organization goes a long way, especially if you applied to several schools.

7. Study for AP/IB Exams

Credits are everything in college. Thanks to IB exams, I entered my freshman year with 14 credits. In short, that's less money to pay for college classes. Every university's IB and AP requirements are different, so be sure to check for yours. Not only can you save money, you can save time and graduate earlier. Crites added that it can also give "more flexibility" and allow for a double major or study-abroad experience. Why not work a little harder now to guarantee an easier time later?

8. Look for Summer Opportunities Early

The summer before college doesn't have to be solely reserved for spending time with friends and doing nothing. It can also be the perfect three months to job shadow, intern or work. If you don't necessarily know exactly which professional field you want to enter, that's OK. Take this summer to explore. Working in the summer can only help. Ultimately, you'll start freshman year with more professional experience, a better resume and a clearer idea of what you want to do. Begin the job search early and maximize your chance for getting a great job you really want

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