I know what you all are thinking-- summer is finally here! You are completely done with junior year, a.k.a the most stressful year of your short life (so far). So relish in this moment! Take a break and relax; enjoy spending time with your family and friends. Enjoy not having to worry about any upcoming papers or tests. You all made it this far and accomplished so much to be able to call yourself a senior and, frankly, you deserve a break!
However, is it crucial to not get too carried away by the long vacations and lazy days. The summer before senior year is an important time to get a head-start. And by this, I am referring to the much anticipated college application process. College defines where you will be, and what you will do for the next four years; it is not a concept to be merely shrugged off, or put off until the last minute. As a veteran high school student, I remember the stress I experienced with applying to multiple colleges during my senior year. And the best way to minimize this anxiety is utilize these next couple of months to your advantage. Make this summer fun and relaxing but also productive!
Here is a list of what I would consider “Fundamentals Before Senior Year”. Not everything may apply to you, but I hope this helps you plan for the future and makes your college application and admissions process at least a little easier.
1. Where would you like to go to college? Seriously. Some of you may have never thought this through yet or having been putting it off (like I did) until senior year. And now, believe it or not, is the time to realistically answer this question. WRITE down a list of where you plan on applying to. And actually write it down, and don’t lose it. It will most likely change, grow, or shrink but by the end of the summer, you should have one clear-cut list of every college you plan on applying to.
2. Research. Browse colleges’ websites, attend any informational sessions in your area and, if feasible, travel to visit colleges you are considering.
3. Talk to your parents. You may be really close to your parents and have already discussed college or you may have never broached the subject. Don’t worry if you’re in the latter pool; no matter where this topic stands in your family, find time to sit down and discuss REALISTIC expectations regarding college. How much do your parents plan on contributing to your educational expenses? How comfortable are they with you moving far away? Do you have any alumni in your family? This will ultimately guide your college choices.
4. Consider financial aid. If you know you will require any type of financial aid for your college expenses, research potential schools’ financial aid policies. Net price calculators will be your best friend. By determining how much certain colleges will cost based on your family’s income and the schools’ respective financial aid polices will effect whether or not you should even consider applying there. If financial aid is a high concern for you, check for schools that meet 100% demonstrated financial need (many Questbridge partner schools provide generous aid and can be found at http://www.questbridge.org/partner-colleges/overview-listing).
5. Standardized Testing. Did you not perform as well as you would have liked on the SAT or ACT? There is an opportunity to retake these tests the beginning of your senior year. So if when researching colleges you notice that your test scores fall below average or if you just want to boost your scores, spend time reviewing for these tests. Don’t forget to check each school’s testing policies to make sure you have taken each required exam. I know some schools require SAT Subject Tests (for example, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton), and you don’t want to be denied admission simply because you didn’t have the required test scores.
6. Essays. Many colleges that require specific essays release their prompts over the summer. The Common App also officially opens on August 1. Therefore, I recommend spending time drafting your essays. See which schools are on Common App and only require the one common app essay then determine which ones require additional supplements. After this make note of any colleges that have similar essay prompts whereas you can write one essay that answers both. If you can kill two birds with one stone, do it. For many of you, this may be possible but if it is, go for it. This is especially important is you are applying to multiple colleges and if essay writing is not your strong point. Always seek constructive criticism and remember to answer the prompt and never loose your voice.
7. College Courses. If you are able to “dual-enroll” or take community college classes, do so! Not only may you receive credit but it helps boost your HPA and shows colleges you were productive with your time. And yes, it is completely understandable if your school does not allow you to do this, or if you cannot fit summer classes into your schedule.
8. Get a part-time job or volunteer. Especially if you are looking to boost your resume, find something meaningful to do, or are spending your summer at home-- look for a summer job or volunteer activity. There are many local organizations, such as libraries, camps, and schools that could use some extra help over the summer.
9. Search for scholarships. This is something I regret not doing over my summer last year. I wholeheartedly stress to search for scholarships over the summer using free search engines (fastweb, scholarshipexperts, Peterson’s, etc.). Also look locally as many community-based organizations offer scholarships (i.e. rotary clubs, county/city foundations).
10. Do some research. Actually spend time researching colleges, even ones you wouldn’t normally consider. Attend any informational events in your area and, if feasible, visit college campuses. If it helps, make a list of what you are looking for in a college (jn regards to majors, student life, location) and explore colleges that fit that criteria. Then label your colleges as “safety”, “reach” and “middle”. Make sure you have at least two safety schools, or schools you are sure you will be admitted into. Reach schools can be those that have low acceptance rates and set high admissions standards, such as the Ivy leagues. I cannot stress QUALITY OVER QUANTITY enough! It is better to submit quality applications that you put much time and effort into for fewer than to submit poorer applications to a significant number of colleges.
Make sure to enjoy your summer, but to also be productive and prepare for the year ahead!
Written by: Bethany Malzman
Published: 2 June 2015
Updated: 2 June 2015
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