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My #1 Tip for Taking the Sting Out of Your College Search

JulieAnne Dietz

For those of you that signed up for my online community at the right time you received a free resource titled “Five Ways Successful Students Dominate Their College Search.”

Being that it went to members of my online community it’s technically part of my exclusive content suite, but there are some strategies I simply must share with a broader audience.  So today I’m going to talk about my favorite tip from that list.

Some of the most frequent questions I’m asked by students and families are:

What is the #1 thing I can do to find the right school?

How can I make the college process easier to manage?

What is your #1 tip for approaching the college search process?

Can you complete my appli…only kidding, of course!

If you’ve come to realize that the college search and application process is a lot of work and you’re keen to make the process more efficient (i.e. not so all consuming), I have some good news. There may not be a lot of ways to lighten the load, but there are ways to make it feel much lighter.

One of these ways is something I call The Ten Minute Rule. Now I can’t take credit for the idea, it was passed to me from a friend of my husbands from a time when he was struggling with a possible career transition, but we have put it to great use in everything from educating our kids to building my consulting business – and we are now firm believers in its power!

So how does it work in the context of the college search?

It’s based on the principle of “staying connected”, which is to say that you should work on the college search and application process almost everyday, but in very short, concentrated bursts. Doing so does a number of things:

It keeps you engaged.

It helps prevent burnout.

It helps prevent the need to waste time on repeated work (i.e. refreshing your memory).

It gives your brain time to digest new ideas, concepts, and experiences.

It reduces stress.

And, well, it’s much easier to find small blocks of time in your already busy schedule.

That’s the good news, but it does come with one caveat…

Starting early and staying consistent makes for a potent combination!

It also requires starting the process early enough that you can afford to take things a bit slower.

An excerpt from my free guide sums this up:

‘For me, the most important point is to establish a consistent practice of spending time almost everyday thinking about college. It takes a lot of time to discover new things (about schools and yourself), to process new inputs and experiences, and formulate opinions. This can be “all consuming”, which is why I want you to start early. Starting early gives your brain time to make (and process) all those research-driven connections you’re making without completely ruining your work-life balance! It also gives time for any given phase or isolated event to pass so that it doesn’t skew a long-term decision.‘

So let’s assume you’re starting early enough that you can take a sensibly paced long view.

The obvious question becomes; is 10 minutes a day (most days of the week) enough?

Well, that’s highly subjective and, truthfully, the number ten is fairly arbitrary here. The point is more about staying connected to the process and, as I mentioned above, maintaining a consistent practice that moves you towards your goal with appropriate speed. It’s also more than okay to use some judgment here. It’s not a timed test, so you don’t need to drop your pencil in the middle of your research to meet a time goal.

To get more specific I’ll refer back to the guide once more:

‘I typically recommend sophomores start with 10-minutes a day, five days a week. What this means is that for ten minutes, on most days of the week, you will shut out any distractions and do something that will help your college search. That can be reading about a school or course of study online, learning about a city or state, watching a video about a school or reading their social media feed, or simply making some sort of list (majors, careers, school characteristics, etc.). Just do something proactive and focused to stay connected. Now, as time moves on and students gravitate towards their junior and senior years, ten minutes likely needs to grow (perhaps to 15-30 most days), with longer sessions (1 hour) sprinkled in as well. And during application and essay season you certainly need to devote more time. But if you’ve been consistent throughout your sophomore and early junior year (including summer!) you will likely find yourself on target, relaxed and clear headed. As with anything though, gauge how you feel and how you’re progressing; then adjust the time commitment accordingly.’

So when people ask me the #1 way to make the college exploration process efficient, effective, and productive, my answer is always the same:

1. Start Early.

2. Dedicate short, focused blocks of time to your college search, most days of the week, beginning in your sophomore year. Ten minutes is a good minimum starting place.

3. Increase the time spent in these blocks as you progress towards the end of your sophomore year and through junior year. As a gauge, you should typically know where you plan to apply by June of your junior year.

If you can do the above I think you will find the process feels much lighter, you are better able to hold stress at bay, will make clearer decisions, and will get more out of your research than if you try to cram everything into widely spaced hours-long blocks.

Okay, I hope you found this tip useful. Over the years my students have really enjoyed this approach and report that they find it quite useful. If you find this tip interesting, please share using the buttons to the left, and join my online community for more exclusive content.

Until the next post – keep smiling! You’ve got this!

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