We are into March and we are fast approaching the climax of the application season. As most of you are waiting for your application decisions, we talked about the alternatives that are available for you last week in our segment on Rolling Decisions. This week we are going to take a turn and talk to our members that are aspiring to apply to colleges within the next one or two years. As March is pivotal for those that have already applied to college, it is to also pivotal for those of you that are about to get started.

Let’s start from your school life. You should strive to boost your grades. Your GPA can come in handy, especially if you have to make up for the other components of your college application. But, if you feel your GPA isn’t on the right course, don’t worry as there are various components to the application.

This is also the perfect time to assess where you lie when it comes to extracurriculars. You should start thinking about ways you can participate and take roles in different clubs. This is also a perfect time to think about if you wanna participate in voluntary activities right now or over the summer, as it can come handy in the application process. There are various voluntary organizations which are eager to work with you like SOS Children’s Village, Red Cross and many others. It is a good way to give back to your community, while gathering activities you can add to your application at the same time.

The other important things are standardized tests. By now, most of you are accustomed to the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject tests, and TOEFL. U.S. colleges accept either the SAT or ACT. So it doesn’t matter which you take, but you can Google the specific requirements of each college to be sure. Most colleges outside of the U.S. like in Canada require the TOEFL, but most U.S. colleges don’t require it. You can get your TOEFL requirement waived by most U.S. colleges since you have taken a foreign language(English) in high school. But you should still check the requirements of the particular college on their web-page. If you are a junior in high school, you should aim to take your first SAT or ACT or TOEFL by June so that it can give you enough time for improving your scores over the summer with the aim of taking it a second time in October. But if you don’t believe that schedule works for you, it’s okay. Just make sure, to leave enough amount of time so that you can take the exam a second time in case you want to improve it. For most people, the SAT is one of those exams where you need to go through it first so that you can make a cogent plan the next time around so plan on taking it two times. As a plus thinking that you can take it twice can ease your stress and help you perform better too.

If you are a sophomore in high school reading this, you can also plan ahead and take your first SAT in December of your junior year, so that it can give you more time for improvement the second time around, which you could do in June of that same year, giving you the whole summer for other components of the college application. But again, this is just an example of a timetable to get you to start thinking about it; you can change it to whatever fits with your schedule. But please going into the application process, plan to take TWO of the SAME standardized test.

You should also strive to develop good relationships with your teachers. Start thinking about good recommenders you can make use of when the college application season rolls around, especially if you are a junior in high school since teacher recommenders are usually taken from 11th and 12th grade. Don’t forget about your counselor as they are also going to write a recommendation on your behalf. Your involvement in school clubs can come in handy when you approach your counselor.

Another crucial thing is to start thinking about your college application essays. Most people claim this is the most important part of your application. Start looking at the prompts for the college application essay. Sometimes the common app changes the prompts from year to year, but it doesn’t make major changes so you can rest assured the prompts are going to look similar when you are finally going to apply. Strive to think about ideas that can’t be associated with other people but you and you only. The essence of a good application essay is it’s ability to be your story, which can’t be applied to any other one. After you come up with an idea or write a draft of your essay, give it to one of your friends or person you know, and ask them who this belongs to or who it describes, if there is no one it could be about but you, then that’s a good unique essay.

The above tips are just ways to get started in thinking about the college applications process. So, as a sophomore or junior, there is no need to feel helpless or sit idly by as the seniors around you scramble to finish what you’ll be working on in but a year or two. By the time your own senior year rolls around, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever comes your way–and with sleep to spare.

On a final note, we wish all of you that are awaiting college application decisions good luck.

The Author is a rising sophomore at Columbia University.