The summer before senior year represents an invaluable opportunity for students to meaningfully advance their college application materials while avoiding the usual stressors that accompany the first half of senior year. In my experience rising seniors tend to overestimate the amount of time they anticipate they will be able to allocate towards their college applications in the Fall while, in turn, underestimating the extent of work required to produce effective application materials. Unfortunately, this costly miscalculation often leads to a frantic college application experience that typically results in hurried college essays or (even worse) missed deadlines. To ensure that applicants leave themselves enough time to produce application materials they are proud of, I strongly encourage all of my students to accomplish the following three college application projects by the conclusion of the summer.
Draft a Personal Statement Essay
For many high school applicants, the Personal Statement remains the single most daunting aspect of the college application experience. While universities tend to focus heavily on such quantitative metrics as an applicant’s GPA and standardized test scores, this 650-word essay represents a student’s best opportunity to present an effective description of who they are, what they stand for, and/or what they hope to achieve in the future. And as the six Personal Statement prompts in the Common Application seldom change from year to year, I often recommend that students complete the lion’s share of their work on this essay the summer before senior year. First, students should provide themselves ample time (a minimum of 1-2 weeks) to brainstorm as many essay topics as possible. After arriving on at least a half-dozen viable options, I next ask students to engage in creative “free-writes” in order to explore each idea thoroughly. Students who complete these first two steps in earnest eventually tend to develop a natural attachment for one of their ideas, at which point they usually feel comfortable embarking on the drafting stage of the essay. Ultimately, I always encourage my students to have completed an advanced draft of their Personal Statement by the end of August so that they can continue to refine the essay throughout the Fall before applications are due.
Compose Activities List Entries
I have written at length in a previous article about both the importance of the Common Application’s Activities List as well as its unique formatting characteristics. A de facto high school resume, the Activities List is one of the only sections in the entire application in which students are able to elaborate on as many as ten extracurricular activities they participated in during high school. As such, this section should be viewed as an invaluable opportunity for students to expound upon their interests. I often encourage students to begin working on this section piecemeal throughout the summer by first creating a comprehensive list of all extracurricular activities they participated in throughout their high school career - including summer enrichment programs, internships, employment, clubs, sports, and volunteerism. After listing all of these activities, students should next whittle this list down to their top-10 most significant extracurricular activities, rank them in order of "importance," and answer the corresponding 50 and 150-character descriptions for each activity entry. And although certain students plan on adding new extracurricular activities in the first half of their senior year, I still advise them to compose the most current version of these ten entries the summer before applications are due.
Finalize the College List
Arguably the most important aspect of the college application process is crafting a well-balanced array of reach, match and safety schools that suits a student’s individual interests. While the summer before senior year typically represents the ideal time for students to visit colleges in person and attend campus tours, the continued spread of Covid-19 has precluded many from engaging in these fact-finding expeditions. In lieu of campus visits, I have been advising my students to utilize alternative resources - notably colleges’ official websites – to familiarize themselves with the unique attributes of a given school. Not only do most colleges’ websites tend to supply detailed answers to commonly asked questions, but many now offer “virtual tours” several of my students have found quite helpful in recent weeks. Ultimately, students should aim to thoroughly investigate the characteristics of each school so they can successfully envision what their scholastic trajectory may entail if they were to enroll. And as supplemental essays as well as deadlines can vary quite markedly by college, I strongly recommend that students finalize their college list well before they return to school senior year.