Jul 11, 2012

12 Ways to Make the Most of the Summer before Senior Year

Even if you’ve taken it pretty easy the past few summers, the months between junior and senior years are crucial for jumpstarting the college admission process.  It’s also a good time to refine interests, add to your resume, and otherwise position yourself for beginning the ultimate transition from high school senior to college freshman.

The first day of school will be here before you know it.  But in the meantime, here are 12 ways you can make the most of the summer before senior year:
  • Work.  Options range from scooping ice cream 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 CollegesCampus tours don’t stop just because the 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 and size fit into the scheme of things. 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 the places that represent the best fit—academically, socially, and financially—and begin committing to a realistic list of schools to which you intend to apply.

  • Get Organized.  There are a zillion moving parts controlling 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 went live on July 1st and the Common Application will be ready on August 1st.  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 true advantage of writing and reflecting during summer months before the pressures of senior year cut into your 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 take lots of practice 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 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 who are willing to support you.  Don’t delay here—teachers may limit the number of recommendations they’ll be willing to write or they may want to get started before school begins. Be sure to provide recommenders with background information—a resume and cover note should suffice. 

  • Schedule Interviews. Note that many colleges only offer on-campus interviews during the summer, and 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 andgrades 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 classes and work ahead 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!

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