The College Prep Bucket List

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 11, 2018

What has changed about competitive college admissions over the last decade?

With college acceptance rates at an all-time low, qualified students need to find a way to show why they are unique and deserving of admission.

What I have noticed is that parents often separate college prep into two separate buckets:

Grades & SAT-ACT BucketCollege Applications Bucket

Add this to your college prep bucket list:

College Activities Plan Bucket
Once it’s time to write the application essays it’s too late to start thinking about extracurriculars and out-of-school experiences. Students should start early in high school devising a college activities plan, incorporating things about which they are genuinely passionate. This will make the writing of the main and supplemental essays natural, logical and real. Students will be rewarded for taking action beyond just the usual community service.  The key is to try things that not everyone else is doing.


What does a College Activities plan look like?

HIckory and Tweed storegirl food vendor







It could be something like:

  • Talk to Uncle John about his profession and shadow him
  • Explore leadership roles in clubs where you are merely a member
  • Take a summer course in an area consistent with interests or long-range goals. NYC offers an abundance of such classes
  • Get involved in a political campaign
  • Come up with a product idea and pitch it
  • Get paid for coaching sports to local kids
  • Work in a local retail store
  • Work at a sports arena

Students are already expected to do volunteer work, and many colleges have made volunteerism part of their supplemental essays.  Merely being a volunteer because you have to doesn't make it special. If you do volunteer, take it to the next level: help raise awareness; contribute a new, workable idea; create a new revenue stream.student not listening to a parent

The challenge happens when you, as a parent, suggest one of these ideas. Students often resist, claiming you don’t know what you’re talking about.  They sense you are just lecturing them, and you feel you aren't being listened to. First, help them to understand why the activities bucket is important, and then, together, discuss their interests, and brainstorm various ways to meet their goals.

What should students do now to best position them for college acceptance?

The answer to this question depends on many individual factors:
  • Student objectives;
  • Do they want a top school or something less competitive?
  • Burden of extra-curricular activities
  • Are they “overloaded” or “underloaded”?
  • Maturity about their future
  • Are they really passionate about the activity or doing it because you want them to?

The key is to come up with a college activity plan that fits the student. The high school and college years are about learning and trying new things. It is not uncommon for the best and brightest students to be resistant to something new and different, even if it was something that they chose. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when trying something new. Taking the road less traveled is great from an experiential perspective but can also be marked by missteps and lessons learned. As a parent, continue to prod your adventurous student forward, but at the same time be sensitive to their hesitation. If their likes and desires are met at the same time as they are aiming for their goal, they are more likely to stick it out and succeed.

To Do: Suggestions for the Winter:

HS Juniors –
SAT-ACT Prep, Actual SAT-ACT Testing and College Activities Plan

HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer



Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


Topics: College Applications, High school Activities, Community Service, college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college activities plan, SAT/ACT


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