Did you ever notice how summer gets shorter and shorter the older you get? My birthday always hovered around the last day of school. I recall those days fondly, especially when I was in elementary school. I would ride the bus home on that last day knowing that I had birthday presents waiting for me. What a way to kick off the summer! June, July, and August yawned before me like the lazy, long yawns I would emit lying on our porch glider, reading Archie comics and baseball magazines. Those were the seeming endless summers. Those were the days!
Of course, during my high school years I had other priorities than Jughead, Betty, and Veronica (I always preferred Veronica). There were sports (tennis), part-time jobs (busboy, Cold Power sample delivery boy, etc.), and cars (my freedom machine), among other diversions. The only thing that loomed for me on the horizon was that dark Day Before School Starts. Maybe you know that feeling. June and July seem filled with so many days that it seems as though vacation will never end. Then August dawns and as each of its successive weeks expires, a mounting feeling of dread creeps into your thinking. Some obsessive teens create a countdown calendar and dutifully “X” out each precious dwindling August day as the reckoning inches closer. Some obsessives start their calendar in June, beginning the day after school ends.
Anyway, if you’re a “rising” senior planning on applying to college this fall, you need to add some important to-do items to your summer calendar, if you haven’t already done so. Here are some of my suggestions to get you started, or to refine your list.
- Get your Common Application act together.
Go to the Common Application site and set up your account. It’s quick and easy and will help you start to focus on the application process. Getting started on the Common App during the summer will pay big dividends for you, since the fast pace of senior year will surprise you. Before you know it, Halloween and Thanksgiving roll up on you, and if you’re planning to apply Early Decision or Early Action, you’ll give thanks that you worked on your Common App over the summer.
- Start working on your Common App essay.
Probably the first task you’ll want to undertake after registering is to approach the Common App essay. You may already know that there are brand new essay prompts this year and a more generous word limit. If you’re stuck for ideas, take a gander at some material I wrote about writing a winning essay. Of course, if you’re applying to schools that have Common App supplements, you’ll likely have to deal with an additional essay or two. Don’t worry about supplements now. Once you finish your main Common App essay, you’ll feel like an experienced writer and the supplements should take care of themselves.
- Target your recommenders.
The key here is multifaceted. Who, among your recent teachers, really knows you well? To that, add another question: Who, among that group, can relate anecdotes about who you are and how you think using a compelling style? You have to be careful here. Some teachers (and I have seen this first-hand) have a recommendation “template” on their computers that they use to issue recs. Sure, they tweak it to suit the specific student for whom they’re writing, but templates are easy to spot by admissions committees and they (the recs) don’t come off well, compared to “original,” one-off efforts created by the writer. So, think carefully about the kind of writer you want to represent you in your application(s).
- Do something “significant” over the summer.
I’ll add “if you can.” By significant, I don’t mean inventing an uncrackable security protocol for PCs or Macs. You don’t even have to discover a new planet or set a world record in the marathon. In fact, working an honest job (not that you would work a dishonest one) during the summer can add a nice little significant plus to your profile. And, as of this early-July writing, there’s still some time left to find an interesting work challenge, even if it’s merely becoming skilled at making interesting yard patterns using river stone. At least do something other than just texting and watching reruns of Wipeout. See how original you can be in doing something that counts.
- Take a “college vacation.”
This may be a logistical challenge, but it’s possible. Discuss vacation plans with your parents and see where they plan to go (assuming that you will be going along with them). Then, take a look at your college candidate list and see if there is any overlap between where your vacation will take you and where any of those candidate schools are. Even if a college is 50-100 miles from your vacation route, it would be a good investment in travel time to make a detour to visit the campus. Yes, it’s better to visit when school is in session and all the students are there, but a summer visit can pave the way for a fall or spring visit. A summer visit might even prove to be the deciding factor to eliminate a school if, after you get a good look around campus and the surrounding area, you can honestly say, “Hey, no way do I see myself here!” Trust your gut.
- Do some test prep.
If you’re like most rising seniors, you probably have an October or November SAT/ACT planned. First of all, if you do, don’t forget to check the registration deadlines. They come up quickly and you don’t want to be left out in the cold or having to travel to an outlying test center. Also, summer is a great time to do some test prep. You probably have at least one area in which you need to improve, so why not make a little schedule to attack that area with a good prep program, either in book form or online? Just a couple hours a week can make a big difference for your confidence and familiarity with these tests. So, to coin a phrase, the first step involves some test prep. You’ll be glad that you did.
So, there’s a half a dozen of things you can do, starting right now, that will give you a leg up on your college process this fall when school starts. There are others but this should get you started in case you haven’t started already.
The thing to keep in mind is that old saying about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with the first step. Another analogy is building a wall. If you cement in place just one good brick per day, eventually you will have a very strong wall. Thus, look at your summer as an opportunity to erect (or at least start to erect) a strong college application process “wall.” It may seem like a long journey from where you are now to the end of the admission results road, but a few sensible steps over the summer can make your trip much easier than it would be if you have to start from scratch this fall. Just some words for the wise.
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.