Finding Your Passion

Most high school students are searching for their passion – that thing that sparks their curiosity and helps them choose a college and career. High school is the perfect time to start exploring your interests and figuring out what motivates you. Understanding yourself and your values will help you make big decisions later, especially when choosing a college and career. If you’re ready to find your passion, we’ve got some helpful tips to get you started. 

Recognize your Strengths

Own your strengths! Recognize the unique qualities you bring to this world. What comes easy to you? What are some of your unique personality traits? Do any of these characteristics translate into an area of study? A career? There is something out there for everyone. Don’t be afraid to pursue a dream, even if others might think it’s crazy. You have everything you need to become the best version of yourself.

List Everything that Brings You Joy

Whether you have many interests, or just a few, everyone can identify something that sparks joy. Make a list of everything that makes you happy, and then determine if those activities could become lifelong careers. Think about the hobbies you enjoyed as a child and how they might translate into your adult life. Follow your curiosity, and you may find your passion! 

Choose What Makes You Happy

Some people choose a career because they can make a lot of money. While supporting yourself is important, money doesn’t always equal happiness. Joy and personal fulfillment feel better than any amount of money you could ever make. If your passion isn’t known for its high salary, don’t give up. Have faith in your choice because the world is waiting for someone like you to try something extraordinary.

Be Patient

You will find your passion, but it takes time. You will have ups and downs, and that’s OK. When in doubt, ask yourself: What makes me happy? What kind of impact do I want to have on the world? What legacy do I want to leave behind? Then trust yourself. Everything will work out.

These tips are just a starting point to discovering your values and passions. Enjoy the journey and happy soul searching!

6 Tips to Help You Set Goals

It’s easy to move through high school just going through the motions. If you have big dreams about college or a career and don’t know how to reach them, it’s time to set some goals! But first, you need to learn how to set a goal. Here are six tips to get you started!

1. Keep goals specific.

Details are key when you’re setting goals. Think about what you want to accomplish, when it should happen, where it should happen, why you want to achieve those goals, and the limits or obstacles you may need to overcome. When your goals are specific, you’ll be motivated to stay committed to them.

2. Measure your progress.

Keep track of your progress with measurable goals, and celebrate small victories because they help build momentum and help you meet deadlines.

3. Set achievable goals.

While there’s nothing wrong with big dreams or challenging goals, you should also be realistic. When you set achievable goals, you can identify opportunities and resources to help you reach them. 

4. Set appropriate timelines.

Timelines help you see the big picture and the smaller steps you need to accomplish your goal. When you set goals, a timeline gives you something to work towards and helps you stay on task.  

5. Find someone who achieved your goal.

Find people who’ve already accomplished a similar goal. Draw inspiration from them, and ask them for their tips and tricks. Their insight will help you progress quicker than if you started from scratch and figured things out for yourself. Consider joining a group of people who have similar ambitions. They can help hold you accountable.

6. Stay positive.

If you start to doubt your abilities, acknowledge your feelings, then remind yourself why you set the goal in the first place. Visualize yourself succeeding so you can let go of the fear of inadequacy. Stay open-minded if plans don’t go exactly the way you hoped. Consider organizing your thoughts and writing down your action plan. This exercise will help make your dreams feel more tangible.

When you identify and establish specific goals, your dreams can turn into your reality. There are many paths to success. If you have a vision and work hard, you can achieve anything!

Handling Stress in Your College Search

Searching for the perfect college takes time, energy, and a lot of patience. If you’re feeling stressed, here are some ways to reduce stress and channel it into something positive!

Steer clear of caffeine

Drinking more caffeine than you are used to affects your nervous system and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Trade your coffee mug for a (reusable) water bottle to stay hydrated and productive.


When the college search starts to feel draining, get your body moving. Seems counterintuitive? As it turns out, exercise improves your cognitive function, including alertness and concentration. Countless studies reveal that exercise reduces stress.

Keep a diary

Write an entry each day expressing your feelings about the college search process. Reflect on the process and pinpoint your struggles. As the search process evolves, look back on your entries and see how you’ve overcome struggles and identify areas of the process that are beyond your control. 

Try relaxation techniques

Whether you’re painting a masterpiece or practicing yoga poses, set aside some time for an activity that relaxes you. Instead of watching Netflix in your bed, consider an interest that sparks your creativity.

Go to bed earlier

A consistent sleep schedule can improve your health, sharpen your memory, rejuvenate your attention span, and alleviate daily tension. It may even help reduce the anxiety of the college search process. 

Talk to someone

Plenty of people, including your friends, parents, teachers, and school counselor, care for you and want to see you succeed! They will be the first to tell you that worrying about your future is normal and encourage you to keep moving forward. Everyone’s journey looks different. It’s okay to stress during the college search, but trust that your hard work will lead you to where you are meant to be. Everything will be okay.

Top 10 Tips for an Epic College Campus Visit: Plus 8 Questions to Ask During your Tour

Visiting a college or university campus is one of the best ways to get a feel for a school and one of the most exciting parts of the college search process! This interactive experience helps you decide if a particular college is right for you. We want your college visit to be the best, so we put together a list of 10 tips to make your experience epic! Here we go!

1. Take Virtual Tours First

If touring every college on your list isn’t an option, take a virtual tour instead! Check with each school’s admissions office to see if they offer live, virtual tours. Some may even include webinars, virtual panels, and video presentations. If a school on your list doesn’t offer a virtual tour, you can still get an idea of the campus vibe by checking out the school’s website. If your “dream college list” is long, taking virtual tours may help you narrow down your search and help you decide which colleges you want to visit in person.

2. Sign up for a Group Tour

All colleges and universities have admissions offices that can help you plan your visit. Most schools publish a calendar of their scheduled group tours online. If you can’t find the calendar, contact the admissions office by email or phone to schedule a visit. Sometimes, high schools offer organized campus tours. Check with your counselor to see if your high school offers tours.

3. Don’t Skip the Introduction and Information Session

Most school tours start with an introduction and information session. While it might be tempting to skip this part, we don’t recommend it! This session is typically led by an admissions representative and covers the criteria for admission, financial aid, campus history, and an overview of what to expect on the tour. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask questions and learn some “insider information” about the admissions process. 

4. Take the Official Campus Tour (Ask to See your Housing Options)

Campus tours typically range from 1-2 hours, and current students often lead the guided tours. While they work off a script and start by showing the most popular places on campus, they have the flexibility to show you specific areas that interest you. For example, maybe you want to major in engineering. Ask to see the engineering building! While seeing housing on your tour isn’t guaranteed, ask if you can see a room. It’s nice to get an idea of where you might be living. Your guide wants you to have the best experience possible, so the college stands out when you’re ready to fill out applications.

5. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that aren’t answered during the tour. If you’re stuck on what to ask, here are 10 questions you can ask your tour guide. 

  1. Do all first-year students live on campus? 
  2. What’s your favorite tradition at this college/university? 
  3. How do students get around campus? 
  4. Does the school offer study abroad programs? 
  5. What kind of on-campus jobs are available? 
  6. What campus safety resources exist? 
  7. What is there to do on the weekends?
  8. What do you wish you knew about the school before you came as a first-year student? 

Don’t forget to take notes and ask your guide for their name and email so you can follow up with any additional questions.

6. Go on Your Own Unguided Vibe Check Tour

Guided tours are awesome but don’t forget about the benefits of just wandering the campus. You can revisit your favorite tour spots or check out some new locations like coffee shops, the library, or the campus store. Picture yourself as a student. How does it feel to walk on campus? Your unguided tour might be the deciding factor when it comes time to choose a college.

7. Visit Your Future Academic Department (or Wander into a Few!)

If you already know your major, find out if the department offers information sessions or allows you to sit in on a class. If you’re still deciding on a major, check out a few departments that interest you. Talk with students in the departments and find out what they like most about their major and if they have any insight they’d like to share.

8. Eat a Meal (or Two!) On and Off Campus

Food is a huge part of the campus experience. Many larger campuses offer multiple restaurants, dining facilities, and grab-and-go options. Ask students about their favorite places to eat on campus and the local favorites off campus. You’re going to eat a lot of meals. Make sure you like the options!

9. Spend Time Around Town

Do you like big cities or small towns? Check out the area that surrounds the school. Find some local coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants. Do a vibe check. You’ll spend a lot of time in the town around your college.

10. Have Fun!

Choosing a college should be fun! While it’s important the school offers the academics you need for your future career, don’t forget college is also about the experience. This new chapter should be exciting. Delight in the process and enjoy the ride!

5 Reasons You Should Download the Encourage App

So many things to do and SO little time. Trying to balance planning for the future and living in the present? We found a way to optimize an interactive, low-stress tool to make sure you’re covered for life after high school. We’re more than your average college planning app.  

Keep reading to learn more about why you should be sprinting to your app store after reading. 

We celebrate each step of your journey with milestones

The journey takes a lot of planning and a lot of steps, and this can seem really overwhelming. We’re ready to bake a cake and celebrate each step you achieve when planning for college; do you like chocolate or vanilla?

Match with colleges directly

You’ll create a profile and list preferences about cost, lifestyle, majors, and more to customize your college matches. Find the school that makes sense for you while you’re chasing your dreams. You’ll have the option to save schools that pique your interest and get to know them more.

Match with scholarships

No joke, college is expensive. Answer simple questions about your preferences, priorities about affordability, and other interests, and we’ll match you to your best-fit scholarship opportunities.

It’s basically a to-do list laid out for you! The guesswork is over.

Half of the battle is simply wondering what you need to do to make it work. Thankfully, we’ve designed your to do list for you depending on preferences and goals. Sounds like a win to us.

We’ve got the experience to make a difference

Long story short, we’ve got over 100 combined years of research experience to build a unique app experience that high school students love to use when planning for college. For the past 50 years, we have been evolving the way we do things by listening to the student experience and implementing changes as needed. In a nutshell, you can trust us to guide you in the right direction when painting a picture of your future!

Intrigued? We can’t blame you. Download the app below and take flight! We’ll be on standby with your cake.

10 Colleges on the Beach

Manifesting a #staycation lifestyle for you where the people aren’t salty, but the water is. Keep reading to learn about 10 colleges in coastal towns, where the beach is within a short driving distance so that you can soak in those ocean vibes all year long.

University of Miami – Miami, Florida

Distance from the beach: 11 miles from Southbeach and 7 miles from Downtown Miami

Type: Private, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1925

Acceptance Rate: 33.1%

Average GPA: 3.8 based on a 4.0 scale

ACT Range: 31-34

SAT Range: 1350-1480

Average Price: $78,640 including room & board

The location is unmatched. The weather is amazing. Spring break is literally your backyard. The food? Chef’s kiss. Miami isn’t your typical college town, with surrounding oceans, canals, rivers, and bays that can also be educational! With 16 beaches to choose from and a diverse, fast-paced community, you’ll surely find your groove in Miami.

University of California – Irvine, California

Distance from the beach: 5 miles to Newport Beach

Type: Public, Coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1965

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Average GPA: 3.8 based on a 4.0 scale

ACT Range: 31-34

SAT Range: 1350-1480

Average Price: California residents (undergraduates) $15,737 Nonresidents (includes tuition, fees) $45,491

In a city that’s known for its geographical advantage—it has access to some of the best beaches on the west coast—UCI’s location is perfect. You can easily access Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Balboa Pier, and 30 minutes from Huntington Beach. These beaches can be visited all year long. And if you’re planning on staying at home during your trip, there are plenty of things to do in Irvine as well! The university offers many activities both on-campus and in the surrounding community.

University of North Carolina – Wilmington, North Carolina

Distance from the beach: 5 miles from Wrightsville Beach in the Atlantic Ocean

Type: Public, Coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1947

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Average GPA: 4.06

ACT Range: 24-28

SAT Avg: 1160-1310

Average Price: In-state tuition is $18,541 and $32,649 out of state

For those of you who are looking for a college campus that is both centrally located and has breathtaking views, look no further than UNCW! The Gary Shell Cross-City Trail cuts through campus making this university easily accessible by bicycle. With beautiful beaches, gorgeous parks, and a thriving community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff all working together to make it an amazing place to be—UNCW is definitely worth a visit!

Texas A&M University – Galveston, Texas

Distance from the beach: 5.7 miles to Stewart Beach, but coastal to Galveston Bay and driving distance to Houston, TX

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1962

Acceptance Rate: 55%

Average GPA: 3.49

ACT Range: 22-26

SAT Range: 1070 – 1310

Average Price: In-state tuition is $6,389/year, and out-of-state tuition is $14,813/yearThis quaint research campus deserves some recognition for offering an ocean-oriented experience for students, all while soaking in the views of Galveston Bay. TAMUG offers a blend of programs from marine biology to business, engineering, and liberal arts.

University of New England, Biddeford Campus – Biddeford, Maine

Distance from the beach: 0.2 miles from Freddy Beach, 0.8 miles from Hills Beach, and Ferry Beach

Type: Private, Nonprofit coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1996

Acceptance Rate: 87%

Average GPA: 3.35

ACT Range: 21-27 (test-blind campus)

SAT Range: 1040-1230  (test-blind campus)

Average Price: $36,474 / yearThere’s so much to love about the University of New England, Biddeford campus. This university shows off 4,000 feet of scenic shoreline. With over 80 extracurricular clubs and organizations to choose from, you can find so many opportunities to get involved! Biddeford offers 24 beaches within a 50-mile radius. Students love the small student-to-teacher ratios and feel like a tight-knit community.

University of California – Santa Barbara, California

Distance from the beach: 0.5 miles from depressions beach, 1 mile from Goleta Beach, and 0.8 miles from the Camino del Sur beach

Type: Public, co-ed 4 year

Year Founded: 1891

Acceptance Rate: 36.7%

Average GPA: 4.12

ACT Range: 26 – 31

SAT Range: 1355-1410

Average Price: In-state tuition  is $14,406/year, and out-of-state tuition is $44,160/year

UC Santa Barbara is a public research university surrounded by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The school has its own beach, lagoon, and rocky extension called Goleta Point (better known as “Campus Point”). The university boasts stellar athletics and academics while offering some sunshine year-round. 

Endicott College – Beverly, Massachusetts

Distance from the beach: Steps away, and the campus is oceanfront to Mingo beach

Type: Private, coed

Year Founded: 1939

Acceptance Rate: 70.4%

Average GPA: 3.55

ACT Range: 23-27 (test optional)

SAT Range: 1140-1280 (test optional)

Average Price: $35,764 / year in state and out of stateThis seaside campus offers a view like no other. You can literally feel the breeze of the ocean from your dining hall, and the campus is admired by students. More than 90% of their students live on campus, and some of the residence halls were converted to mansions. So cool!

University of South Florida – St. Petersburg, Florida

Distance from the beach: 7 miles to St Pete beach, however, is seaside in the downtown St. Pete Innovation District

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded: 1965

Acceptance Rate: 27%

Average GPA: 3.4

ACT Range: 24-29

SAT Range: 1140-1280

Average Price: $5,821 / year in state, $16,736 out of state

“Where water meets wonder”, USF’s St. Pete campus is located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, surrounded by top-notch cuisine, shopping, and beaches. Clearwater Beach and the city of Tampa are a short drive away, so you’re guaranteed to experience a spring break foreva kind of vibe, year-round.

Eckerd College – St. Petersburg, Florida

Distance from the beach: 2.1 miles from Gulfport Beach, 3.4 miles to St. Pete Beach, and is located seaside with awesome views

Type: Private, coed Presbyterian Liberal Arts college

Year Founded: 1958

Acceptance Rate: 68.6%

Average GPA: 3.46

ACT Range: 23-29

SAT Range: 1100-1270

Average Price: $48,220/yr

Ah, home sweet beach. Eckerd’s waterfront campus sits on the Gulf peninsula of Florida’s west coast and has an average temperature of 74 degrees. St. Pete has a ton of shopping, recreation, and dining options, so you’ll never be bored. Tampa is a short drive away, and some of the US’ most famous beaches are located just miles away!

Florida Gulf Coast University — Ft. Myers, Florida

Distance from the beach: Beach on campus, 25-minute drive to over 50 miles of white-sand beaches, including Ft. Myers Beach.

Type: Public, coed 4 year

Year Founded:  1991

Acceptance Rate: 77.5%

Average GPA: 3.87

Average ACT Score: 22

Average SAT Score: 1097

Average Price: $6,118 / year in state $25,162 / year out of state

Love to kayak? Ft. Myers is the perfect spot for you, nestled on the southwest coast of Florida. There are 50 miles of white-sand beaches, so naturally, you can dream of spending your entire college experience with your toes in the sand. You can explore 120,000 acres of parks and nature preserves, barrier islands, an Intracoastal waterway, mangroves, and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico filled with manatees, 245 different species of migratory birds, and bottlenose dolphins. Not to mention, the shopping and food scene is a solid setting for feeling right at home in paradise. 

Now that you’ve seen our top 10 colleges near the beach and what it takes to get in, you can think about your next moves. Hoping for a match? Download the Encourage app, perfect for college planning, and see how you stack up. 


2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts

As you begin your college application process, you may decide to apply through the Common Application. The Common Application (also known as the “Common App”) is an advanced college application platform that allows you to apply to multiple colleges at once. The Common App has seven essay prompts for you to choose from.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Some of these topics are broad, allowing a chance for you to showcase your creativity and share a memorable story. This is a chance to make an impression without overloading the details. This is an opportunity to showcase your writing skills!
  • Think about your passions, skills and hobbies when writing your essays. This is a chance to show off how amazing you really are!
  • Some colleges will publish essay examples on their website, so feel free to use those as inspiration! This will help get a feel for the ways each college celebrates and exemplifies good work. PRO TIP: DON’T PLAGIARIZE.
  • Always ask for someone to proofread your content. Be sure to look out for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and tone of voice to ensure you’re conveying the right message.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2022-2023.

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Don’t forget to stay true to who you are and bring the best version of yourself into these essays! We’re cheering you on!

Be Ready for College Application Season

Chances are, when you’re starting your college applications, you may feel overwhelmed by the list of tasks required for admission. To relieve this pressure, be sure to take this process one step at a time. Here, we’ll cover some crucial steps to take to avoid burnout and imposter syndrome as you apply.

1. Stay organized

We cannot stress this enough. Some things to keep track of for person information are things like your Social Security Number, high school code, transcripts, important contacts, and logins for websites/applications. From there, you need to gather all the information about the schools you’re applying to. Are they featured on the Common App? Is there a separate link for financial aid? How about FAFSA? All good things to keep in mind when sorting through the details.

2. Create a realistic timeline

Grab a planner, notepad, ipad, or whatever helps you list out priorities and put in all your deadlines for college apps. ACT/SAT test dates, registrations, and letter of recommendation deadlines are good to track as well. By sticking to a dedicated timeline, you’ll ease the anxiety or the unknown, keeping things cool during the admissions process.

3. Character counts!

This is your time to shoot your shot and show them what you’re made of! Colleges care about more than GPAs and test score. You’ll want to jot down a list of your passions, extracurriculars, and accomplishments. These other activities and interests will give admissions a better idea of who you are as a person!

4. Pop in to see your school counselor

Your counselor is your biggest fan! Be sure to keep them in the loop about your admissions experience and don’t be afraid to ask questions and feedback on your progress. They may even be the perfect person to serve as a recommendation!

5. Ask questions

There’s a ton to think about when applying to college, and you won’t possibly know ALL the answers! Meet with family members, counselors, your favorite teachers and other support when you’re feeling lost or confused. Share your aspirations and allow them to give you some guidance – they live for that!

6. Take care of yourself!

Self-care is NON-NEGOTIABLE when going through this process. Make time for things that spark joy and boost your serotonin. Just finished an essay? Treat yourself to some coffee! Crushed the ACT? Celebrate with a visit with friends.

Breathe, recharge, and grind. The success is yours!