For the college-bound, the months between junior and senior years are crucial for jumpstarting the application process.
It’s also a great time for discovering new interests, adding to your resume, and otherwise positioning yourself for beginning the ultimate transition from high school senior to college freshman.
The first day of the last year of high school will be here before you know it. But in the meantime, here are ways you can make the most of the summer before senior year:
Work. Options range from flipping burgers at the shore to organizing a book drive, conducting research, or hammering nails for Habitat for Humanity. By the time you’ve completed junior year of high school, you should be old enough and responsible enough to work—full or part time, paid or unpaid. Work builds character, introduces career options, teaches skills, and expands your network in important ways. Don’t miss the opportunity to add to your resume while learning something about yourself and others.
Visit Colleges. Campus tours don’t stop just because undergrads are off doing other things. Now is the time to check out the last few colleges on your list and refine your ideas of how location, size or architecture affects your thinking about a particular campus. And by the way, the summer is a great time for more relaxed conversations with admissions staff, coaches, or professors in departments you may be targeting.
Nail Down the List. Take a deep breath and begin eliminating schools that don’t really appeal or offer what you want. Zero in on places representing the best fit—academically, socially, and financially—and begin committing to a realistic list of schools to which you intend to apply.
Demonstrate Interest. Beyond visiting campuses, engage in a systematic demonstrated interest campaign. Be proactive by getting on mailing lists, requesting information, initiating correspondence, and attending local events. In addition to showing your favorite schools a little love, you might just learn something important about campus culture or new initiatives college administrators want to sell to prospective applicants.
Get Organized. There are a billion moving parts to the college admissions process. Get a handle on them by creating a spreadsheet of colleges on your list and noting deadlines, requirements (recommendations, test score submission, interviews), important admissions policies (early action vs. early decision), and application quirks (supplements, scholarships, honors). Also, make note of which colleges use the Common Application, the Universal College Application (UCA), or other school-based forms.
Do the Clerical Part. There’s no reason not to complete the simple stuff as soon as applications go on line or are made available on college websites. Note that the UCA will go live on July 1 and the Common Application will be ready on August 1. Other applications and supplements will appear on websites as the summer progresses.
Draft Essays. Now is the time to begin brainstorming and drafting essays. Explore a variety of topics and don’t be afraid to change direction or discard work that’s going nowhere. This is the advantage of writing and reflecting during summer months before the pressures of senior year cut into Zen time.
Prep for Standardized Tests. You’ve probably taken the ACT and/or the SAT at least once. If you didn’t knock the ball out of the park the first time (and most don’t), plan to prep for a fall retake. Get a tutor, sign-up for a class, or simply sit at the kitchen table and take timed practice tests. Work on vocabulary and grammar—these are learned skills that involve repetition like playing the piano or improving your ERA.
Research and Apply for Scholarships. The scholarship hunt should begin now—not after all your college applications have been submitted. A surprising number of scholarships have applications due early in the school year and use essay prompts similar to those you’re working on for colleges. Use FastWeb or Cappex to get an overview of what’s out there. And while you’re at it, explore the FAFSA4caster with your parents for a little financial reality testing and apply early for that all-important FAFSA pin number.
Secure Recommendations. If you haven’t done so already, try to get in touch with at least two core academic teachers from junior year to ask for college recommendations. You may or may not need both, but it’s always a good idea to have two teachers willing to support you. Don’t delay—teachers may limit the number of recommendations they’re willing to write or they may want to get started before school begins. And be sure to provide recommenders with whatever background information they request—at a minimum, a resume and cover note.
Schedule Interviews. Note that many colleges offer on-campus interviews during the summer. You want to be able to check these requirements off your list sooner rather than later. Colleges make it easy to combine interviews with campus tours, but you have to schedule early to get days and times that work for you.
Position Yourself for Fall Classes. Be aware that senior year courses and grades can be very important in admissions decisions. Colleges want to see upward trends in grades, and they care very much that you continue to challenge yourself academically. Obtain texts for any challenging and/or AP/IB classes and “study forward” during the summer. If necessary, give your tutor a call and go over the first few chapters of material you know will keep you up late at night come September.
Read, Relax, and Enjoy Yourself. A year from now, you’ll be packing your bags!