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Juniors & Seniors: Make the Most of Holiday Break

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

It’s really tempting to sit around in your sweats, eating your grandma’s fudge, watching Netflix and adopting your cat’s sleeping habits.

But… what’s that nagging feeling in the back of your head? Oh, yeah. Scholarship applications, college applications, the college search…


Before you roll over and pull the blankets back over your head, consider how a little bit of effort can go a long way to help you feel refreshed and accomplished. Here’s what you can do over the holidays to make sure you have a relaxing and productive holiday break.

hands at a keyboard

For Those Who are Totally Immersed in Application Season

1. Go over your application deadlines again.

You might already have this one in the bag! Your applications may already have been submitted. However, if a few schools have January deadlines, review which ones those are and make a note of them on your phone or other calendars.

2. Check for “hanging chads.”


Quick history lesson: During the 2000 election, some confusing third-party votes occurred with candidate Patrick Buchanan in heavily Democratic precincts. Many thought that they were cast by voters who had thought they were voting for Al Gore. Many punch-card ballots happened in those places, where people attempted to vote and only succeeded in detaching a portion of the perforated paper—the hanging chads. In other words, they dented the paper and didn’t completely punch out the “chads.”

How do the hanging chads fit into what I’m talking about? 

They may mean incomplete applications—gasp! 

Check your applicant portal at all colleges to make sure each college has received your application. It’s very possible that your English teacher forgot to submit her recommendation, that you forgot to sign your application… that… well, the list goes on and on. Make sure everything’s in, and then double check.

3. If you think something is wrong, call.

Most admissions offices are closed during the holidays, but if you know your admissions counselors well, you can text them. They can access applicant information from home (a pandemic perk) and will be able to assist you.

You don’t want to ruin your admissions counselor’s Hanukkah latkes with 63 texts from you (and 12 phone calls) but hey, an emergency’s an emergency. This qualifies.

4. Know that scholarships never sleep.

You can fill out scholarship applications now. And you should. 

Got a stack sitting in a pile? Tap into your naturally competitive nature and ask a friend to race you through as many scholarship applications as possible over break (just don’t forget to do a good job). 

See if one of your parents will reward you with something really good if you meet your goals. Finalizing lots of scholarship applications deserves a major pat on the back.

5. Assess your visit needs.

Have you firmly assessed each college in person? Not just a blow-by-blow online of spotless buildings and residence halls. You need to see a college live before you make a decision. In other words, scrutinize every trash-filled common room and every rickety staircase in the admission office. A video will only show you the “pretty face” of the campus and won’t show you all there is to know about each college. 

Get to know the people, too. You can’t know the video tour guide, never mind how nice he “looks” on video. That’s something that has to happen in person, too.

Along the same lines, take your off campus to get a real flavor of what it will be like when you venture away from the school setting for things like grocery shopping and dining out.

tired man rubbing eyes

For When College Search Fatigue Sets In

You’re tired. You’ve tramped through 18 college campuses since March (yes, during the height of COVID-19), applied to 26 colleges and You. Are. Just. Done. But follow these steps to combat college search fatigue.

1. Schedule it. 

Pencil yourself in as if you’re on the job and you’ve got a deadline coming up. Put it on your phone calendar with an alarm so you get it done! Then set a timer to give yourself a set amount of time to work on it. There’s nothing worse than having a deadline but a whole afternoon sprawled out before you. When that’s the case, you may never get your task done. It’s best to have specific time blocks and tell yourself you have to get something done within that time frame.

2. Pace yourself. 

Spread out your deadlines for yourself. Don’t stress yourself out by putting together some ridiculous goals that you can’t possibly achieve (50 scholarship applications in one day, for example). No, no. 

3. Break it down.

Let’s say you still have six more scholarships to apply for. Break them up! Do just the intro paragraphs for three of the essays on one day, then set it aside. Do just the intro for the next three the next three, then tackle the meaty middle another day (you can reuse a lot of the same content!) 

If a scholarship isn’t due for another week, write one paragraph a day until it’s done.

Break everything up as much as you can. 

cluttered desk

For When College Applications Keep Piling Up

You’re dying to get those applications out the door, and who can blame you? They’ve hovered over your head for weeks and you want nothing more than to shove them out the door.

1. Slow down.

It’s very possible to get into a panicky mindset and start plopping stuff in as quickly as possible. Avoid that temptation. Take a deep breath (remember how your school counselor in second grade encouraged “hot cocoa” breathing, where you pretended to smell the rich smell of a cup of hot chocolate, then breathed on it gently to cool it down?).

Do that. Then look at your applications again with fresh eyes.

2. Take a break.

Speaking of fresh eyes: If you’ve been staring at the computer screen for hours on end, get away from the screen. You need frequent breaks, anyway, so your life doesn’t revolve around college applications. In fact, take as many breaks as you need to without sacrificing your ability to hone in, zone in and get things done (sometimes your best work is built on the momentum you use to glue your eyeballs to the screen and type like crazy).

3. Double-check everything.

You need to check everything before you hit “submit.” Check that you’ve done your best with your personal essay, followed the instructions on the application and more: 

  • Personal information
  • High school transcript
  • Standardized test scores

google for college search

For What Seems Like An Endless Search for Your “Dream” School

Are you just starting the college search? You may be a junior and wondering what you need to do to jump-start the college search. On the other hand, you may be a senior who hasn’t been able to do too many visits during COVID-19. Here’s how to do some things over the holidays. 

1. Make a list of colleges.

Where are you planning to visit? The colleges you’ve applied to? Colleges you have interest in visiting? Put colleges and universities that you want to visit on your list. It’s a great time to talk to family about the colleges on your list. Put colleges on your list that:

  • You’ve heard good things about
  • Have contacted you personally
  • Pique your interest
  • Fit your requirements for distance from home
  • Your parents or other family members graduated from
  • A coach has contacted you

Those are just several examples.

2. Start making calls.

Can you set up college visits over the holidays? You bet!

This is important. Make a call instead of signing up for a visit online. When you call a campus visit coordinator at a college or university, you can make sure you’re getting exactly what you want, such as a meeting with a biology professor, a tour, meeting with a coach, etc. You’ll get the exact visit you dreamed about instead of a cookie-cutter tour that everyone gets.

If you absolutely have to settle for a virtual visit, check out our top tips on what to do and what to expect from a virtual college tour.

Take the Time to Make the Time

Take advantage of this time! You may feel tempted to sliiiiide into 2021 with a combination of pecan pie, Netflix and snoozing, but know that this is the time to tackle what’s important to you during the college search. Think about the tasks that makes sense for your college search right now, get motivated, then tackle them.

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!