Weekly College Column

Top 5 College Application Tasks for the Summer Before Senior Year

Final exams are almost over, seniors are about to graduate and juniors are wishing they weren’t rising seniors with all the pressures of college applications ahead of them.

The summer before senior year of high school is a vitally important time for students to make progress on their own college admissions process. If juniors are unwilling to dig in, the best solution is to ask them to reach out to some senior friends and ask them how best to use this summer. Guaranteed, seniors will admit that they wish they had done more of their essays and applications last summer until waiting until the fall crunch.

Before the school year starts and fall and winter college application deadlines loom, students can knock out several key tasks to avoid stress down the road. The three months of summer are an ideal time to finalize the college list and begin the essays and applications. It’s a great time to make some headway on the inevitable to-do list.  The fall gets complicated with extracurricular activities, community service, requesting letters of recommendation, and, yes senior classes. Most students are wise enough to not slack in their senior year. They should be to continue taking rigorous classes and making sure their first semester grades are the best they can do. Many schools will request mid-year grades and if a student is wait-listed, as so many are now, their performance in the first semester of their senior year is frequently the tipping factor for colleges.

Experts say it’s important for students to use the summer to recharge mentally and physically for the next school year. But students should also be aware that the college application process has several layers to it, and some may take more coordination and planning than others. To that end, experts say, the earlier a student can start, the better.

Finalize the College List

The unfortunate fact is that college admissions have gotten more difficult over the last several years. What used to be a “Safety” school, may no longer be a true “Safety”. Make sure the list is balanced with 1-2 “Lottery” schools; 2-4 “Reach” schools, 2-4 “Target” schools, and 2-3 “Safeties”. A successful college selection requires thoughtful research. Rising seniors should spend time learning about schools over the summer to identify institutions that may be a good fit for the student academically and socially and definitely a good fit for the family financially.

Work on College Essays

The Common Application www.commonapp.org opens on August 1; however, students can fill out many of their applications in June and July and it will re-populate when they re-open their applications in August. As far as the essays, Common App has already announced the seven essay prompts for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Applicants are only required to submit one essay on the Common App, but experts say the summer is a good time for rising seniors to narrow down a few preferred essay choices and start writing them. These essays are not meant to be written in one sitting; students should do some soul-searching and be introspective about how they’ve grown and changed. Colleges want to get to know the student; what makes them tick? Remember the essay is the student’s best opportunity to set themselves apart from their peers with a thoughtful essay.  Beyond the Common Application’s Main Essay (Personal Statement), many colleges will have supplemental essays that are tailored to each school and/or specific programs, honors colleges, etc.

Visit College Campuses

Summer can be a good time for families to visit college campuses. In-person visits give prospective students and their families the opportunity to ask questions about academics, financial aid, and anything else they’re curious about. If families can’t make it work to visit all of the schools on the list, students should be sure to take a virtual tour – resources for virtual tours include: www.youvisit.com; www.youtube.com – type in the name of the college or university of interest. Many students like www.campusreel.com where they can get a more honest, behind-the-scenes look at the school with student-produced videos.

Research Scholarships

While some scholarship application windows may not open until the fall, prospective college students can still explore available award opportunities. There are websites that can assist students in their scholarship search. My advice is to apply for scholarships early and often throughout the senior year. Make sure to create a calendar with scholarship requirements and deadlines.

Study for Standardized Tests

The testing landscape has changed dramatically since the COVID pandemic. Many schools are now “Test Optional” and far fewer schools require submission of test results. However, you’re likely to have at least one school that will want your test results, so the likelihood is that you’ll be testing over the summer and into the fall.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com 

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