High school rising seniors – this is it – your final summer before the college application madness begins this fall! You should do these five things this summer:
5. Research colleges. Make your list bigger before you make it smaller. You just watched your senior friends get rejection letters, so you know how much that sucks. Go beyond the names you know; look at colleges your classmates might not be considering. Spend at least 2 hours per week this summer on college application related stuff; about an hour on research and an hour on the other stuff on this list. Here are some tips on researching college websites. Figure out what you MUST have in your college learning environment, and search for colleges that fit those desires. Prestige and ranking should not be at the top of your list.
Here are a few ways to broaden your college list.
- Think about your college priorities:
- Location: Do you want to be far from home? Close to home?
- Weather: Can you handle snow? Do you love or hate rain, heat, humidity?
- Size: Do you want a campus with a few thousand students, five-ish thousand, ten or more thousands? Do you want/need to make personal connections with professors? Are you good at taking notes in a lecture hall with several hundred students?
- Campus culture: Is a sporty and spirited environment a must-have for you? Do you want to join a fraternity/sorority? Do you want your college to have a social justice vibe? What’s important to you about who your classmates are?
- Think about what you might want to major in in college. Here’s an exercise to get you started.
- Think about your learning style – that is, how you successfully learn something new, be it a fact or a skill. Here’s an exercise to help you think about this.
4. Finalize your testing plan. Will you take the SAT one more time in August or October? Or the ACT in September or October? With many colleges being test-optional, you may not have to spend time on prep this summer – which means you can spend more time figuring out which colleges are a good fit for you, and how you can help them see that through your essays (see #5 above, and #3 below!). Should you take the SAT or ACT again? Consider where your practice scores are and what they would need to be to make them compelling to each school on your list, and decide if testing is a must for you.
3. Write, revise and finalize at least one essay…but two or three would be better. Colleges learn A LOT about you from your essays – they give you an opportunity to share your motivations, strengths, and what you will contribute to their campus community. Many colleges ask some version of these two prompts:
- Why have you chosen the major you selected?
Basically, why are you interested in the academic areas you are drawn to now?
- Briefly elaborate on one of your extra-curricular activities or work experiences.
Can you use a story from one of your activities that demonstrates one of your more likeable personality traits?
Different colleges ask different versions of these questions, and they may have different word limits. But if you write (and revise) one 500-word version of each of these, we can almost guarantee you will have a chance to use them! You can also get started on a main Common App essay (prompts here), or if you’re planning to apply to UC schools, you’ll need to respond to four of these eight questions.
2. Finalize your list. Don’t forget to do #5 on this list before you get here. Regardless of your GPA and test scores, you should have AT LEAST two ‘likely’ schools on your list that you would honestly be happy to attend (see cartoon above!). Understand that colleges with admit rates below 30% are NEVER ‘likely’ for anyone, and they really aren’t ‘target’ either – they are generally a ‘reach.’
This final ‘to do’ for summer is as much for parents as it is for students.
1. Choose one time per week to talk about college with your child. Only one. Not every day. Don’t talk about college constantly – everyone will get tired of talking about it and nerves will fray. If you set a specific time each week to have this conversation, everyone can be prepared. This tip will help everyone in your house keep their sanity during this process.