What are you doing this summer?

Perhaps you’re scooping ice cream – or traveling abroad on a community service trip. Or maybe you’re taking a class at a community college to explore an academic interest (which will look great on your college applications!). Maybe you’re teaching yourself to play an instrument, or reading for pleasure, or backpacking with friends.

But what rising seniors should also be doing this summer is working on college applications. The more prepared and organized you are now, the better your life will be come the fall. Plus, you’ll be helping out your school (or guidance) counselor by being better prepared!

Here are five ways to get a jump-start on your college apps this summer:

  • Visit colleges. Don’t wait until the fall; now is the time to visit. If a college offers on-campus interviews, consider setting one up. Make sure you officially sign in and take the tour and info session. After you visit all your colleges, you’ll be able to make a much more well-informed college list.
  • Update your extracurricular activities resume. Add work experiences, clubs in school, and activities outside of school (even informal activities like blogging). Include leadership positions and awards won, if any. Don’t list every activity (we recommend just four to six over the past four years).
  • Determine your recommendation letter writers. Most colleges will ask for two or three letters of recommendation. Usually it’s one from your school counselor, and the others from teachers. Which teachers will you ask? Consider teachers that you’ve had for more than one class, for junior or senior year classes, and teachers in subject areas of interest. Keep in mind that they’re busy and lots of other students will ask them for letters, so the earlier you ask, the better. You should also think of non-teachers to ask: coaches, job supervisors, clergypersons. They’ll be able to provide a different perspective about you – your character, work ethic and maturity. Discuss your college goals with your letter writers, and give all them your completed resume, and enough time, to write excellent letters for you.
  • Write your college application essays. It’s time to start working on your essays – or at least working drafts. If you’re applying to colleges that accept the Common App, create an account now. You’ll be able to see the essay question options, and it’s a good idea to write an essay for one of these questions. Even if you don’t apply to a Common App college, these questions are broad enough to fit into most colleges’ applications. Most colleges’ online applications go live on August 1 so that you can get a list of all the essays you’ll need to write. Let colleges know more about you through your writing. Give yourself the summer to think of great topics, and complete the drafts early so that your counselor, a teacher, your parents, or a friend can give constructive feedback.
  • Study for standardized tests. If you haven’t completed your standardized testing yet, now’s the time to get studying. Do you need to take the SAT or ACT? Where you decide to apply will ultimately determine which tests are required. Most students take these tests cold, but you can really improve your scores with dedicated effort. Tests are coming up in September and October. Don’t try and cram your studying into the last two weeks before the exam – you’ll be swamped with senior year course work.

There’s a lot you can do over the summer to make the college application process less stressful (and more successful) come this fall. Take advantage of it!

About the author
Stephen Friedfeld

Stephen is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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