Rising Seniors, Get Ready for Application Season

In April, we gave you tips on how to have a successful summer, and this month we have one more. Many IvyWise students have been working with their counselor to finalize their college lists and build resumes. They will begin drafting their personal essays later this summer. However, if you have not gotten started on any of these items, you can use the summer to catch up on the application process and even get ahead!

Finalize Your College List
Creating a balanced college list of reach, target, and safety schools is one of the most important aspects of the college application process. You also want to be sure that each school is a good fit for you academically, socially, and financially, and that you could be happy and successful at each school on your list. By now you should have a preliminary college list with the schools you are likely to apply to in the fall. If you don’t, then use your college research, as well as notes from your college visits, to build a personalized preliminary college list. You can also use the questionnaire found in my book, The Truth About Getting In to help build your list. If you don’t have a copy handy, some of these questions are:

  • How much academic structure is important to you?
  • Would you prefer a general or specialized curriculum?
  • Do you want your school to have a strong Greek life with many students belonging to sororities and fraternities?
  • Which areas of the country will you consider? (See this month’s article, Location, Location, Location, for more tips on how to determine your school location preferences.)

Update Your Resume
If you haven’t completed your extracurricular resume, catalogue each activity you have done (indicating the hours per week and weeks per year) and any awards or honors you received during high school. You will also want to have logs of your community service and any materials documenting the impact of your service. Be sure to include everything, as the resume is an important part of your college application. If you’ve already assembled your resume, use the summer to update it with new items from junior year. Also, be sure to show your parents your resume, in case you accidentally left items off or did not fully detail an activity.

These materials are also great to have on hand when you approach your teachers for references. Not only will your teachers appreciate the organization, it will remind them of your impact in your local and school communities. Ask two of your junior year teachers if they would write a letters of recommendation for you before school gets out for the summer. Not only will you be fresh on their minds, they will also have the summer to prepare the letters.

Start Work on the Common Application
The Common Application is available online starting August 1st, 2010. However, you can begin gathering the information you will need during the summer by previewing the new form here: https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/news.aspx#40.

Outline and Draft Your Personal Statement
With 414 schools using the Common Application as of July 1, 2010, it is likely that you will be able to use the Common Application to apply to many of the schools on your final college list. Over the summer you can create an outline, and even your first draft, of the Common Application personal statement. The topics for 2010-2011 are:

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  • Topic of your choice

Develop Essay Outlines
Use brainstorming strategies to develop your personal statement and any supplemental essays. My methodology uses some of the following approaches:

  • Personal Questions—Create a list of questions about your background and start answering them. Try these for starters:
    • What makes you happy?
    • What obstacles have you overcome? How?
    • How would you describe your personality?
    • Who is your hero or heroine? Why?
    • What do you want to study in college? Why?
  • “So You” Stories—Ask five of your closest friends or relatives to come up with a story that can only be described as “so you.” Choose one and write an essay about it. Show the completed essay to the four people whose stories you didn’t choose. Did it make them feel the same way as their stories? The goal is to learn how to show someone, such as an admissions officer, what makes you unique.
  • Personal Timeline—On a piece of graph paper, create a personal timeline of “life” moments you can remember, complete with valleys and peaks. What are the high points in your life? The low points? The turning points? When did you experience something that changed the way you think? These are the moments that define you, which is something colleges want to hear about. You can choose your essay topic from among these moments.
  • Five Adjectives—Choose five people who are close to you and ask them for three adjectives that honestly describe you. From these fifteen, create a master list of five adjectives. When you write your essay, try and express these adjectives without ever actually using them. The goal is to be able to successfully convey, in writing, your strengths and attributes.

Create an Application Checklist
Many applications won’t be available for you to start working on until late summer or early fall. However, you can identify which applications will take the most preparation by looking at last year’s applications. For example, the application to Stanford had 10 questions and may take longer to complete than the application to Tulane University, which does not have a supplement to it’s Universal College Application. You should also identify application deadlines for each school you are applying to, particularly if you are interested in applying early to your top-choice school. Be sure you’re aware of any special deadlines for interviews. You can use this research to create a personalized checklist to help you keep track of deadlines and avoid feeling rushed.

Gather Additional Materials
If you play a sport or are a dedicated artist, start organizing any additional materials you may need. Different colleges have different policies on accepting additional material (some schools don’t accept any at all), so check the admissions webpage for more information. You can also check the department website for portfolio requirements. If a school does accept additional materials, there are often complicated procedures for submitting an artistic portfolio, including adhering to proper formatting and using potentially unfamiliar media, such as slides. Be sure to plan ahead.

It’s important to give yourself as much time as you can to put together an application that you are proud of and reflects who you are as a scholar and as a unique individual. If you need to, utilize the summer months to catch up on the components of your applications. Even if you don’t use the summer to get a jumpstart, don’t wait until the month before applications are due to begin working on them. Good luck and enjoy your vacation!

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