If you're going to be a high school senior this fall, getting a head start on your college admissions to-do list is a great way to spend your summer. But as most students are aware, this summer presents unprecedented challenges, preventing students from taking on the standard activities like touring colleges and working paid jobs. However, that doesn't mean you can't find creative ways to prep for college admissions season.
If you're finishing up your junior year of high school, consider these six tips for summer college planning.
One of the most important to-do items before the fall should be narrowing down the list of colleges where you plan to apply. Make sure you have a good mix of safety, match and reach schools on the list, and take into consideration the features that are important to you. Keep such factors as college size, majors offered, distance from home, sports and other activity opportunities in mind, and do as much research online as possible about those schools so you can find out which might be the best fit for you.
Many colleges consider "demonstrated interest" when making admissions decisions, so you'll want to show each college on your list that you are truly interested in the school and you haven't just haphazardly added it to your list. Even if you can't visit campuses in person, you can connect virtually with schools and register for online information sessions and virtual tours, says Jodi Siegel, a college admissions consultant with College Bound in Potomac, Md., and former admissions officer at George Washington University.
"There are online college fairs, some colleges have offered Q&A sessions with current students and faculty members, and you can find virtual tours at almost every school," she says. "Those all count toward demonstrated interest when admission officers evaluate your application."
Although you aren't likely to be headed to camp or taking on an internship this summer, you can still find activities to list on your college application if you think outside the box, says Terry Mady-Grove, president of Charted University Consultants. "Start by asking why you wanted to do whatever was planned. Is this still of interest? Or has COVID-19 changed your thinking? This change may present opportunities."
For instance, she says, if that great summer program or research project has gone online and you are not tired of online learning, then take the class. "Colleges are doing everything possible to make these experiences as enriching and fun as possible including virtual field trips. So, no, you will not get to live on a college campus, but if the program is done well, you will be able to interact with professors, meet other students and learn about something that interests you. I suggest before signing up you have a clear understanding of exactly how the program will be run and how potentially being in a different time zone will affect the experience."
You can also help others during the summer. "If you were looking forward to being a camp counselor, think of other ways that you and friends can engage with children, Mady-Grove notes. "Contact parent groups and be creative. Set up a morning Zoom meeting with a few friends and read stories to young children or play games. This would give young children something to look forward to and give parents a break. Or help the other end of the age spectrum and organize a chain of phone calls to the elderly on a regular schedule. Ask seniors to tell you a bit about their childhood and you tell them about yours."
Rising seniors might also consider focusing on personal growth. "Do something that you never thought you had time to do. Learn a language. Learn to play an instrument. Teach yourself to cook. There are many free online courses."
The bottom line is that college planning includes discovering who you are and what you value, notes Mady-Grove. "By keeping engaged, you will discover more about yourself — this will make finding that right fit college much easier for you and that is the best college planning that you can do."
Although some colleges have gone test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, many have not, and will still expect you to submit test scores with your application. In addition, some students — particularly those who traditionally perform very well on standardized exams — may hope to get an admissions edge from submitting test scores with their applications.
Most tutors have moved to online instruction, Siegel says, so you can continue your test prep plans by meeting virtually with your tutor and studying for these tests from home. Currently, the SAT is scheduled for August and the ACT is expected to take place in September, but both the College Board and the ACT have said they may roll out digital versions of the exams this fall.
"To prepare for the possibility of taking standardized tests digitally, students should take some practice tests online this summer and become accustomed to the digital format," Siegel says.
She also advises students to speak with their current high school teachers and find out whether online high school courses may have created any gaps in the subject material that could lead to a more challenging test prep regimen. "For instance, if you're finishing up Algebra II, ask the teacher if any concepts were left out of the online curriculum that you might want to address this summer to better prepare for the Math portion of the SAT or ACT."
Both the Common Application and the Coalition Application have released the main essay topics for the upcoming admissions season, so you can start writing those essays this summer, Siegel advises. In addition, many colleges will open their applications this summer, so you can begin filling those out when they're released. Colleges roll out supplemental essays at different times, but once yours come out, you can start working on those as well, she adds.
You can start creating your college resume and your activities list this summer, documenting the things that were meaningful to you. If you don't have many activities to share and were hoping to build up that roster this summer, there are still opportunities to take on extracurriculars, she notes. "Not only are there virtual opportunities, but think about whether there are jobs you might be able to safely take on," she says. For instance, mowing lawns or cleaning pools could be an option.
In addition, if you are applying to a program that requires a portfolio, you can get that together and start polishing it this summer. "Don't wait to start on a portfolio, because once school starts back up in the fall, it will be hard to juggle that with your classes, test prep and everything else going on."
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