It’s nearing August 1st, and I’m sure you all know what that means…
The Common Application is about to open.
Over the summer, students are busy with their extra-curriculars, travelling, working and hanging out with friends and family. For rising high school seniors, this summer is also about preparing to apply for college.
So what should you have done during the summer?
(If you haven’t completed these yet, don’t worry - you still have time! You’ll have to get started and work effectively and efficiently to get them done before school starts.)
1) Make your College List
If you’re going into Senior year in a few weeks, you should probably have a pretty solid college list at this point.
The key to a good college list? Making sure you would be HAPPY attending every single school on your list, and not applying to schools that don’t meet your criteria or your vision for your college experience. You should be applying to 5-8 schools. Of course, you will have your favorites and top choices, but NONE of the colleges on your list should feel like a ‘last resort’. With so many schools in North America (around 7000…), you should be able to find schools that meet all your expectations, that work for your family financially, and for which you have sufficient grades.
I recently went in depth in a blog post about how to narrow down your college list (you can find it here).
Getting this done before senior year will take the stress of researching and wondering and exploring all your options OFF your back. This is critical, because as Senior year starts to pick up, and you’re being bombarded with assignments, papers, exams and projects, you won’t have to think about what colleges you’re going to apply to - all that work will already be done.
2) Finish your main personal essay.
Getting your personal essay out of the way is probably the number one thing I recommend rising seniors get done before August 31st.
(and because of that, I am in the height of essay editing season!)
Having your essay completed early gives you lots of time to make revisions yourself, and have it reviewed by a professional if you wish.
Personal statements are a special kind of essay. They’re not written in the same way you’ve been taught to write in English Class, because they have to showcase your personality, perspectives, growth and individuality WHILE keeping the attention of the reader. If you focus too much on writing for someone else (that is, writing what you THINK admissions teams want to hear, or what your parents advise you to write), your essay will come across as disingenuous.
The best essays come from the student just telling their story, with a little help in the idea and editing department from an outside source. This will allow the essay to capture your true self, and showcase all you have to offer the school.
Getting the personal statement essay (and other essays!) out of the way before you dive into Senior year will give you time to FOCUS on it, without having to worry about all your other looming deadlines and will give you the best results.
3) If you’re taking the SAT/ACT again, STUDY.
Summer is the perfect time to study if you’re thinking of taking the SAT/ACT again before you apply to colleges. A lot of my students take the tests one final time at the beginning of Senior year (and I find this is usually when they get the highest grades, because their head is in the game!).
You won’t be worried about studying for all your other courses, and you will have more downtime to focus on studying for the test.
Look at your previous score, and see what section you could improve on the most. Reading? Math? Focus on this section, as an improvement in your poorest-scoring section will make the biggest impact on the overall score.
4) Organize your Letters of Recommendation
Create a ‘brag-sheet’ of everything you’ve done or accomplished that would be useful to someone writing you a Letter of Recommendation, and get this to them before the start of the school year, with a polite request for a recommendation.
This gets the ball rolling, and allows teachers and counselors to write the letters during their downtime in the summer before they get swamped with requests in the fall.
Even though they still have some time to get it done, they will have had ample time to complete it, and will appreciate your initiative to get them organized early. You will have all your Letters of Recommendation done far in advance of the deadline, and won’t have to worry about whether they will all be done in time.
This being said, don’t be discouraged if your teachers and counselors respond asking you to ask them again at the beginning of the school year. This is their time off as well, and they are not obligated to complete any letters for students during the summer. If this happens, thank them, let them know you look forward to speaking with them soon, and wish them a great rest of their summer!
These are the best ways I recommend my students to get started on the college application process in the summer before Senior year. If you manage to complete all these tasks, you’re setting yourself up for success in senior year, and a stress-free and smooth college application season!
For RISING SENIORS ONLY:
I have a special package that runs from August 1st to 31st, where we will work on your College List and get you all set up in the Common Application, AND work on your essays and short answers so they're bullet-proof and error free. I'll also include unlimited assistance until August 31st (including essay revisions!)
With the deadlines of Senior Year looming, the most common feedback I hear from students is: "I'm so glad I got it all done early!"
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