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You know the drill. Push, push, push. Go, go, go. Take on as much as you possibly can until your schedule is jam-packed. And then maybe, just maybe, it’ll be enough to get you into your dream college.

It’s so much pressure! But if you’re like most high-achieving students, you tell yourself it will all be worth it once you get that YES from your dream college.

Sadly, I have seen too many students follow this model of working for top grades and test scores and logging a huge number of high-level extracurriculars — only to get a polite letter saying they’ve been waitlisted at their top-choice schools. Or worse, that they’ve been flat-out rejected.

But I’ve got great news for you: getting involved in more activities is not what gets you into your dream school.

And it is great news. It means that there’s a better path to getting into your top-choice school… one that doesn’t leave you constantly overwhelmed.

Have you ever heard this phrase?: “If you want to draw water, you do not dig six one-foot wells. You dig one six-foot well.” Our greatest progress comes from focus.

Now, this doesn’t mean drop everything except for one activity. But what it does mean is that you must decide what really matters and focus your attention there. Because that’s what will spike your chances of acceptance at your dream school.

Don’t get me wrong — these decisions are tough at first. You’ve got to cut out what won’t move you towards your goals, which isn’t always easy.

But it’s time to let go of the more-is-better approach.

If you uncover what you really want and where to focus your time, you’ll be able to feel the excitement. You’ll see yourself getting closer to holding that acceptance letter in your hands.

Now, let’s look at three steps to get you there.

  1. Picture Your Future Self

Set aside just 15 minutes. All you have to do is close your eyes. Zoom forward in time three, four, or five years– maybe 10 if you’re looking for a challenge. Set the scene. What do you see? This might feel unnatural at first, but pull together whatever details are coming up for you.

What do you look like? What are you doing? Where are you? Who are you with? What’s your personality like? What kinds of things are you involved in? Really paint the picture.

Are you seeing yourself in a dorm surrounded by lots of really smart friends? Do you imagine yourself walking through New York City? Can you see that acceptance letter in your hand from your dream school? What pops into your mind?

Whatever’s coming up, capture it on paper!

  1. State Your Goal with Pride

Pull together what you uncovered about your future self and turn it into a concise statement. And make it present-tense, as if you’re experiencing it now!

Write it out: “I am…” or “I have…” and fill in the blank. If you can’t help but pick two or three, that’s fine. Just remember, clarity and simplicity make it more powerful.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You may end up tweaking your statement in some way, but the only way you’ll continue getting clearer is if you go full force forward with something specific.

Now, don’t just jot it down and forget about it. Hang it up on the wall near your desk. Stand up each morning and say it out loud. Repeat it in your head as you’re walking to school. And when you say it like you mean it– with a sense of pride, joy, and celebration– I promise, this stuff works!

Now, let’s touch on something really important. I know it’s kind of scary to say “this is what I want.” Because what if… it doesn’t happen?

Well, if you stay so committed to that goal and focusing your actions towards it, you’ll either be getting closer to what you want or some other exciting opportunity will come up. Either way, you’ll be better off than if you stuck to the old routine of going several directions at once and being totally overwhelmed.

And stating what you want creates so much more purpose in what you’re doing. And do you know what that means? More drive!

Any time we’re clear on why we’re doing something, we have more determination to do it. This will help you see small tasks in the bigger (and more inspiring) context.

  1. Start to Filter

Once you have a clearer idea of what you want, then it’s easier to decide what to do. You can ask yourself, “Will this activity help get me where I want to go? Is this helping me grow into who I want to become?”

While these are big questions, think of your goals as a filter. For example, if you decided to be vegetarian, you’d be able to look at a big menu and easily narrow in on the options that work for you. Essentially, decisions become easier to make!

To get even simpler, you could start with, “Does this activity drain me or does it energize me?” Spending your time on activities that light you up will give you more energy to achieve your goals.

If you have way too much on your plate, use your picture of the future to filter through and decide what’s a priority right now. Go through, piece by piece, with everything you’re involved in and pick out the activities that are really going to help you be your best (or happiest, or most driven, or most focused) self.

You’ll get used to checking in with yourself as you’re making decisions about what to do. This stops you from getting involved in a club you don’t really like just because your friends joined. And it takes away some of the chaos of all the demands around you.

At any time, you can think back to your vision. What would “future you” decide? And you can take comfort in knowing you’re one step closer to your dream school.