For rising high school seniors the summer before your senior year is crunch time for preparing your college applications. It is also your last opportunity to improve your standing in the college applicant pool. The recommendations below will keep you on track, organized and give you a competitive edge.
Request your letters of recommendation early. Thoughtful recommendations take time to write. Give your recommenders sufficient time to work or the resulting letters may lack some of your finer qualities. Select teachers and other recommenders that know you and will likely write about you in a positive light. If you are applying to a program that requires certain skills, such as engineering, athletics or performing arts it is advisable to get a recommendation from someone who can write of your expertise in that area. If possible, when requesting a letter of recommendation, include a note that reminds your recommenders of all the wonderful things you accomplished and your noteworthy contributions. Teachers are generally not paid to write recommendations and do this as a courtesy to their students, always thank them for their time and effort.
Take or retake standardized tests. Early fall of your senior year is your last chance to boost those standardized test grades. The ACT offers testing in September and October, while the SAT has dates in October and November. As you research colleges it is also important to note which schools require SAT subject tests and if specific subjects are required. Fall is your last opportunity to fulfill this requirement.
Many colleges allow for score choice on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT. This means that you can take the test several times but colleges will only consider your best scores from each section or your highest score on a single test date, depending on their chosen method. The Collegeboard which administers the SAT provides a list of school specific test score reporting policies. However this list is subject to change and only states what testing documentation each college requires, not how that information will be utilized. If a college states that it requires all tests scores, I recommend checking the website or contacting the admissions office for clarification on how those scores will be used for admission purposes.
Compile and write your resume. Many high school guidance counselors suggest that you prepare an activity list prior to filling out college applications. This is a useful tool as you must enter this information onto your college applications. However an activity list is of little use if you are applying for a job, internship or highly selective program. A formal resume enables you to highlight areas of expertise and elaborate on specific accomplishments. This document can be submitted to colleges along with your transcript.
Boost your resume. The summer before your senior year in high school provides one of the last opportunities to distinguish yourself from your peers before applying to college. Use your time wisely. Get a job or internship, conduct research, volunteer, start a business or write a book. Do something. You can work on your tan next summer.
Create a college list. Attend college information sessions, college fairs, visit colleges and peruse the internet. Investigate which colleges cater to your academic goals, learning style and personal interests. Many high school guidance offices maintain lists or software that detail college acceptances of previous graduates and their academic record (GPA and standardized test scores.) While this contains an extremely limited view of the information admission officers used to make their decisions, it is worth noting where students of academic records similar to yours were accepted.
Visit Colleges, especially colleges offering early decision and early action options. If a student has done their homework and is able to commit to a college should they be offered admission, it is advisable to apply ED or EA. The odds of attaining admittance to a competitive college via the early decision or the early action application rounds are significantly better than during the regular decision application round. However, this is not a decision to enter into without careful forethought. Early decision is a binding agreement. You can apply to only one college Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action. You can apply to other colleges with certain restrictions. Should you get accepted to a college in the Early Decision round, you are obligated to withdraw your applications to all other colleges to which you have applied. Financial need is the only exemption from this commitment.
Request information. Many colleges track interest and consider it a factor when reviewing an applicant. When you attend information sessions, visit colleges or research websites, let the colleges know. Preregister for events and check in when you get there, call the admissions office, and get on the admission office’s mailing list. Let them know you are interested in that college. Colleges prefer to offer admission to students that are likely to attend.
Write your essays. Get a copy of the common application available online at www.commonapp.org. The common application is currently accepted at 456 colleges. Read through the personal essay options, pick one and start writing. While on the commonapp website, click on the Download Forms tab. Scroll down to the bottom of Complete First-Year Application Packets and click on College-specific Supplements. Look up individual colleges on your list and take note of the required supplements.
For colleges that do not use the common application or if the supplement information is lacking, obtain application essay prompts directly from those colleges.
Make a timetable and build a strategy. Look at each of the colleges you wish to apply to and make a note of the important deadlines for each college. This should include early decision, early decision 2, early action, priority and regular decision deadlines. You will also need to check deadlines for testing and special skill supplements such as those for artists. Athletes may have additional guidelines to follow. Create a calendar; excel sheet or whatever works for you. Check carefully to determine whether the material must be “received by” or “postmarked by” an error like this can cost you dearly.
Best wishes for your college success -