What to do This Summer to Get a Head Start on College Applications

Students who want to lower their stress level during senior year know that summer is the time to start working on college applications. The Common Application opens on August 1, but you the essay prompts won’t be changing, so there’s no need to wait until August to start working on essays. Some colleges will also make their supplemental essay questions available on their website before the Common Application is online.

In addition to working on essays, students should make a list of awards, extracurricular activities, and community service, so they will have all the information readily accessible once college applications are available.

The idea of writing application essays may seem overwhelming, especially to students who have just finished a junior year filled with SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP exams and final exams. It’s understandable that all you want to do is go to the beach and not think about anything related to college admission. Everyone needs a break, so go ahead and take a few weeks to relax.

But your college application process will be much less stressful if you get started during the summer. You’ll have time to work on your essays without trying to juggle homework and extracurricular activities at the same time. Essays take shape in the rewriting, so having enough time to do several drafts is crucial. Starting the essays during the summer means you can play around with different ideas and not worry about getting the perfect idea on your first day.

Before you start working on essays, you need to know where you want to apply. Make sure you have a solid college list, with at least one or two “highly likely” schools that you are excited about. It’s not enough to choose schools where you know you’ll be admitted. You have to be able to see yourself attending every school on your list.

If your SAT or ACT scores were disappointing, summer is a good time to do some additional test preparation before taking these exams again in the fall. You might also want to add a test-optional college or two to your list. Knowing that there are excellent schools that don’t require standardized test scores can help lower your anxiety when you take these tests. When you feel less anxious, you are more likely to do your best. Get a list of test-optional schools at Fairtest.

You need to have at least one financial safety school on your list, especially in an economy that is still unpredictable. This is the time for families to discuss any financial limitations, so that students don’t get too emotionally invested in colleges that cost more than what their parents are prepared to spend. Use the FAFSA4caster to get a preliminary estimate of your eligibility for need-based financial aid. If it looks like you won’t qualify for need-based aid, you may want to target colleges where you are likely to get merit-based scholarships.

In recent years, students have been applying to more colleges, because the increasing competition for admission is so anxiety-producing, and it may feel like you have better chances if you apply to more schools, though this is not always the case. If you choose wisely, there’s no need to apply to fifteen or twenty colleges. But if you are applying to a lot of schools, it’s even more important to start early so that you don’t end up trying to turn out eight essays in the week before application deadlines.

Be sure to register with each college, so that you will be notified of any local information sessions and receive important admission updates. You might also want to create a new email address to use for college applications, preferably something with your name, so that colleges can easily identify you. Get in the habit of checking email regularly, as that is how admissions offices will communicate with you, and you don’t want to miss a message saying that a college never received your SAT scores.

The process will be less overwhelming once you get organized. Make a chart of all the application tasks, so you know what needs to get done. Then you can make a schedule, with realistic deadlines for each essay draft. If you don’t give yourself enough time between essay drafts, you’ll start missing your self-imposed deadlines and then you feel like you’re losing control in this process. Too much time between drafts and you lose momentum. You want to set this up in a way that will enable you to produce quality work.

Having a solid application plan will enable you to get the work done in a low-stress way and still have time to enjoy some fun this summer.

Success Stories

  • Wilma E., Camarillo
    "I would like to thank you again for helping Kathryn with her college applications. She did very well and got in to all 7 schools she applied to, even with her highly impacted major. In addition to Stanford, she got into UC Berkley, UCLA, UCSD, UC Irvine, UC Davis, USC with BioMedical Engineering as her declared major."
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