Do you believe in the power of superstition? If so, maybe you're keeping your fingers crossed and holding your breath until your college acceptance letters come back. But there’s a better way to tip the scales in your favor—after all, the best luck is the kind you create yourself. Here are 13 tips for making sure you hit a lucky streak with your college applications.
1. Save the dates
Now's the time to create a planning system that works for you to keep track of important due dates and upcoming interviews. There's an app for everything nowadays, and if a digital organization method is your jam, go for it. However, a paper planner might help you remember events more effectively, so consider going analog and writing everything down.
2. Maintain your grades
Is senioritis already taking a bite out of your motivation? Resist the urge to cave into laziness! Colleges retain the right to revoke admission for poor second-semester grades, so even if all your applications are in, it’s important to keep your grades up.
Related: Video: 3 Tips to Avoid Senioritis
3. Make a top 10 list
Most students have a dream school and several backups, and making a contingency plan is smart. Write down a list of desirable schools, starting with the one you love most and ending with one you at least like and know you can get into—just remember that every school on your list should be one you'd be happy to attend. Even if you think you’re done applying, you may want to submit a few more applications, just in case.
4. Talk to your counselor
Your high school counselor can give you practical tips on how to boost your applications. They can also suggest activities that make you a more appealing candidate. While you’re visiting them, use them as a resource to discuss your college admission headaches. School counselors are good for lending an ear and providing advice backed by experience.
5. Fill out your FAFSA early
Even if your parents plan to help you out, odds are you’ll need a way to fund your education. Start applying for financial aid early so you don't set your sights on a school out of your price range. High school seniors can file the FAFSA a year before they plan to enroll in college starting October 1; this will help you find out your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and see how much federal and institutional aid you may qualify for. Your parents will do their part, but you have to do yours too.
6. Get great letters of recommendation
A well-written letter of recommendation can make the difference between getting in or sitting on a waitlist, especially if other parts of your application need improvements. Talk to your counselors and teachers well in advance so they don't feel rushed. Chances are you're not the only student asking for a reference, so give them plenty of time to prepare a winning one.
7. Find school-specific scholarships
Colleges and universities offer institutional scholarships and aid for their students based on need, merit, majors, talents, and much more. Since you have a list of preferred schools to work from, begin researching scholarships over break and applying for some if you're able (and file the FAFSA if you haven't already!). Depending on how a school offers aid and how much, you could use this information to alter your preferred school list—you may want to put the colleges that offer the most scholarship opportunities toward the top.
8. Revise your application essays
A heartwarming and well-composed college admission essay is your best defense if your grades are lacking. How you write the essay can show you have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed. Go over it several times and ask friends and family to proofread. If you struggle with writing, consider working with a tutor. It might cost a little, but it’s for your future.
9. Review all supplementary information
Some colleges ask for more than an essay or two. Some colleges ask for other supplemental material. They may request a portfolio of your work if you're applying to an Art program or another program for which a special application is required. They may also require interviews. If so, schedule these in your calendar and start preparing as soon as you set the appointment.
10. Maximize your extracurricular engagement
Colleges give preference to students who make a difference in their communities or go above and beyond in other areas. So volunteer with an organization that supports a cause you care about, or attend an educational event you can add to your applications. Walk dogs for the local Humane Society, pick up litter clogging scenic byways, or search for a college and career conference in your area—it all rounds out your applications.
11. Find work over break
If you're funding your education personally, use school breaks to get a jump on your savings. Many stores hire temporary workers during and even after the holidays to help with the busy season and the returns rush. You could also shovel driveways for your neighbors in a pinch. This experience looks good to colleges because it shows you are a go-getter and hard worker.
12. Make a second calendar
Sometimes you send out applications and don't hear anything for a considerable time. While colleges typically will send a rejection letter if you aren’t admitted, mistakes do happen. Set dates to contact any school you don't hear back from, and if you're put on the waitlist, you'll need to make another backup plan.
13. Be prepared to follow up
College admission offices are really busy during application season. But you also need to be on top of your applications, because you don't want to miss an opportunity due to oversight. Resolve to start checking your email twice daily—now, not January 1. Respond immediately to any requests for further information. Most colleges will give you an online portal to check your status.
You don't have to rely on good fortune to get into your dream school. By following these tips, you can create your own luck and set yourself up for the future.
Sometimes you don't need luck to get into a great school. Check out this list of Colleges That Accept Many Students Through Early Decision.