For many high school juniors, spring campus tours are over, and SAT and ACT tests are out of the way. So, what are the next steps on the road to college, and when should you start applying for college?
There are many requirements that rising seniors can take care of to get a head start on college applications so that the fall semester is less stressful. Here are a few tips to begin the application process:
1. Finalize your college list.
You can start by reviewing your list of schools and deciding which colleges to eliminate and those to keep. Schedule a meeting with the college advisor at your high school before junior year ends and ask her to suggest additional schools to consider. If you have a top choice and are a strong candidate, discuss the possibility of applying Early Decision or Early Action and what your chances are of getting in. Identify the colleges that are your “reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools.
2. Build a student resume.
Begin drafting a student resume that will accompany your applications. This document will list extracurricular activities both in and out of school, as well as awards, honors, community service, and leadership positions you’ve held. Once senior year starts, you can bring a copy of the resume to your college advisor and to the teachers from whom you have requested recommendation letters; this summary of your accomplishments will help your teachers enrich the letters they write about you.
3. Continue test prep for the SAT/ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests.
Many students hope to improve their scores by spending more time on test prep over the summer and retaking exams in the fall. Some students may consider taking a subject test — or more — in order to enhance their college applications. This is recommended even if the colleges to which you will apply do not require subject tests. Make sure to register for fall exams early. If you wait until the August 7 deadline for the September ACT or the September 11 deadline for the October SAT, you run the risk of not being able to sit for the exam in the location of your choice.
4. Start writing your application essays.
Summer is the perfect time to get started on your actual college applications. While many students have summer jobs or internships or may be taking summer classes, there is time on weekends and evenings to begin composing your personal statement — the main college essay. The essay prompts on the 2015–2016 Common Application are already available, so students can begin brainstorming what they want to write about.
Moreover, while the Common App itself won’t go live until August 1, it’s still a good idea to begin working on the essay. It may also be possible to draft responses to some of the supplemental questions that particular colleges and universities require. Many schools list the supplements on their websites, so check online to see if you can learn the question(s) your essay will have to address. Be prepared to spend a few weeks on each essay as you will need several revisions.
While following this plan leaves little time for an extended summer vacation, the benefits of thinking ahead far outweigh the costs. The key advantage, of course, is getting the bulk of the writing out of the way before senior year kicks off and the college craziness really skyrockets.
“Sure, doing schoolwork in the summer is no fun, but when school started and sports took up all my time, I was really glad my essays were done,” recalls one senior headed to Yale. “My high school had pretty much prepared us to know that this was not going to be a relaxing summer, so I just accepted that this was what I had to do.”
“Writing my essays over the summer was huge,” added another senior on her way to Northwestern. “It left more time for visiting other colleges in the fall, which helped me make a decision about applying early,” she continued. “And when I was visiting schools in the fall, I had a much better idea of what to look for because I needed to write about them in some of the essays.”
In essence, the summer between junior and senior year should be a period to get as much of the college application work out of the way as possible — doing so will ease the pressure of the start of senior year immeasurably. Fall is the semester when it all comes together and a student’s responsibilities mount. Most students are still visiting colleges to finalize their lists, taking another round of standardized tests, writing final drafts of essays, and prioritizing their deadlines so that Early Decision/Action applications are completed in due time — all while keeping up or improving their grades.
Bottom line: It’s never too early to begin the application process.