The following is a guest post written by Anna Carapellotti of Admissionado, a premier college admissions consulting company focused on helping students get into their dream schools.
It’s finally here. Your last summer as a high school student. Congratulations! As rising seniors, you will probably be pretty busy this summer with your jam-packed social “to-do” list. However, it will also be important to spend some time over the summer planning for college applications, as there are many things you will need to accomplish in the year ahead.
So, what can you do to get started? Here are seven tips to help all of you rising seniors out there maximize your potential this summer:
1. Finalize your list of colleges
While some of you have probably had a dream school in mind since freshman year, others may still be struggling to narrow down the list. With so many options and so many factors contributing to the admissions process, it is important to go into senior year with a solid game plan. So, take the opportunity to do some additional research over the summer. Which academic programs are best given your interests? Which schools offer the types of clubs and activities that you want to get involved in? Most counselors recommend that students apply to five to eight colleges—one to two safeties, two to four good matches, and one to two reaches.
2. Visit a few schools
A great way to narrow your list further is to visit some campuses. If you haven’t gotten a chance to already, take advantage of the time off during the summer to visit some of the schools you are applying to. Of course, academics are a huge factor when it comes to selecting a school, but things like size, location, distance from your hometown, and campus atmosphere can really affect your college experience. Though many colleges and universities are much quieter during the summer, students can still get a great sense of a school’s general “feel.”
If you can’t visit some of your schools in person, many colleges and universities offer virtual tours on their websites. Another great website to check out is youvisit.com, a virtual reality platform with photos, videos, and virtual tour guides that will take you around the campuses of over 1,000 schools. Students can “walk around” campus, take a peek inside the freshman dorms, and even visit the library. Moreover, you can even search for schools based on institution type, campus setting, tuition price, and the size of the student body.
3. Look into the different application portals
College-bound seniors applying in the 2016-2017 cycle will have more application portals than ever to choose from, with the major ones being the Common App, the Universal College Application, and the new Coalition Application. Students with exceptionally strong academic records from low-income backgrounds should also consider applying using QuestBridge, a nonprofit that connects high-achieving, low-income students with top-tier colleges and opportunities.
While many colleges and universities will accept several, if not all, of the applications mentioned above, a few will only have one option, so be sure to confirm this info with your prospective schools. This year, it will be more important than ever for seniors to plan ahead. After you finalize your list of schools, check out which application portals each school will be using this year and create a checklist that details what each application requires.
4. Take some time for test prep
While some of you may have already taken the SAT and/or ACT in your junior year, other students will take these standardized tests in the fall of senior year. If you have already taken the test and know you have a weakness to strengthen, or if you haven’t taken it yet and have no idea what to expect, take the opportunity to do some studying over the summer. Consider looking into ACT tutoring or SAT tutoring, and don’t forget to check out the many free resources available online, such as these free prep books.
It is also important to register for the test itself. Be sure to select a date in the fall that will allow you to send your scores to the colleges and universities that you are applying to on time. If you are applying early action or early decision, the absolute latest that you can take the test is in October of your senior year!
5. Explore your interests
Summer is a great time to explore new interests and hone existing passions. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language or how to code. Or maybe you’re an athlete or an artist, and you want to take this opportunity to sharpen your craft. Whether students choose to volunteer, intern, work, travel, or enroll in a summer course, they should aim to learn something new. Whatever it is that you’re interested in, take your knowledge of it to the next level and carry it forward with the intention of doing something special with it.
Coincidentally, exploring your interests over the summer will likely give you great material to write about in your college essays. Which bring us to our next piece of advice…
6. Get started on some application essays
While it may feel like application deadlines are light-years away, they will be here before you know it—and it will be even more difficult to get started on your essays when you have other ones to write for school! At the very least, compile all of the different prompts that you will have to answer from the various schools you are applying to and start brainstorming potential topics.
Regardless of how you decide to spend your summer, you should devote some amount of time to planning and writing. The college application process can be a long one, so it’s best to get started sooner rather than later.
Learning how to manage stress as a teenager is critical. So while it is important to spend some time this summer being productive, it is also important to spend some time resting your mind and recharging for the upcoming school year. Find time to venture outdoors, read for pleasure, and spend time with your family and friends. Striking the perfect balance between being productive, having fun, and resting will not only make for an enjoyable summer, but will also reduce the amount of stress that you will face in the upcoming school year.