Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author
I don't want to appear too favorable to your parent's position, but getting a head start on your essays is not a bad idea. Once you head back to school you will have both the demands of managing all of your school work, plus applying to college. It can be overwhelming.
Your college summer to-do list depends on where you are at in the college decision and application process. Have you finalized your list of schools? If not you may have college visits to still make. Or you may want a revisit to a campus that would benefit from a second look. Remember, during the summer you will not see the campus scene as it typically it appears when school is in session.
Are you happy with your test scores? If not, the summer months may be when you want to prep and take one last test in the fall before you submit your applications. This will also depend on your application strategy and choices. If you have found your dream school and plan to apply early decision (binding) or early action, you will need to make sure the test date you sign up for - with either the ACT or SAT - will deliver test results in time to meet those deadlines.
Finally, the essays. I suggest creating a spreadsheet of your potential colleges and identifying which ones utilize the common application, and which schools require you answer their own unique essay questions. And which have additional, supplemental essay questions. Depending on the colleges you apply to, and your major, you may have more essays to complete than anticipated. The summer is an excellent time to chip away at these. Some colleges even start accepting applications on a rolling admissions basis as early as August. In this case, the summer is a critical time. It your high school is still in session, see if you can meet with a fave English teacher, or your guidance counselor to get a basic story line going for your main essays. Remember, that one common application essay will have to work for ALL the schools that use the common app. Developing a compelling story, and your "brand" for the application takes time.
Although your college search, and decision process may take many twists and turns (settling last minute on another school, or applying early decision), there is one variable that remains constant. The essays!
Best of luck for a fun, and productive summer!