By Katie, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
Although the end of the school year has been anything but normal for many students across the world, rising seniors should still be spending time this summer preparing their college applications. Checking things off your college application to-do list this summer is a great way to stay busy even in the face of limited summer activities and will help relieve added pressure and stress in the fall of senior year. Below are some of the key areas to focus on this summer to leave your schedule freed up to focus on your academics and extracurriculars in the fall.
Start Filling Out Your Applications
While most applications formally go live August 1, you can actually begin filling out the demographic, education, activity, and testing sections of the Common Application or Coalition application now. At IvyWise, we advise students to utilize the Common Application, as it has the most member schools (over 900!) and the one that students are most familiar with. Gather lists of the awards and honors you’ve earned throughout high school, determine which of your activities, jobs, summer experiences you want to highlight in your applications, and start to put together those pieces of information you might not know off the top of your head, like the year your mother graduated from college or the number of students in your senior class. Then, when the Common App opens Aug. 1, roll over your account to the 2020-21 application cycle.
Plan Your Testing Schedule
Register for any necessary college entrance exams if you have not taken them already, including the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, TOEFL, or other English proficiency tests. Although over half of universities in the US have gone test-optional for this upcoming year, I still recommend trying to take at least one of the tests if possible and make the decision once you get your scores back whether or not to submit them to your test-optional schools. It is better to have a test score in your back pocket for scholarship applications and schools that require it, than have to opt-out of applying to certain schools because you don’t have the minimum testing needed. Take a look at available testing dates and centers, and register for the one that is most convenient for you, and plan your test prep around that date. Continue your test preparation throughout the summer, devoting a few hours to test prep every week can help you stay sharp in advance of sitting for the test.
Work on Your Balanced College List
Use the summer to visit and tour colleges both virtually and in person, as available, in order to narrow down your final college list. Register for information sessions, whether on campus or virtual, as many schools track your engagement through the application process, including whether you’ve visited. Attending an info session or tour can help strengthen your demonstrated interest.
Your final college list should be balanced, with a range of likely, target, and reach schools – all of which you would be thrilled to attend. Try to avoid falling into the trap of the “one perfect school” and instead build a list full of “number one” choices. Keep in mind that applying by certain deadlines or admissions programs like Early Decision can have a big impact on your chances of being admitted.
Draft Your Personal Statement and Supplements
Begin writing drafts of your essays. The prompts for next year have already been released for the Common App and Coalition apps, and many schools have already started releasing their supplemental essay questions. Note the word limits for the Common App and Coalition app differ by 100 words!
You can also start brainstorming and researching for supplemental essays by answering common questions asked like “Why XYZ College?” or “Why XYZ major?” For every college on your list, research clubs, organizations, sports, and even particular classes, research labs, or traditions you want to take advantage of. This research can be crucial in helping you to imagine yourself at a school and being specific in your supplemental essay responses.
Square Away Your Teacher Recommendations
Make the formal ask of teachers to write you letters of recommendation and provide them with any additional information they might need like a brag sheet or resume. By giving your teachers as much notice as possible, you give them plenty of time to do you justice in their letters! It’s important to follow the procedures your school has for requesting those letters of recommendation as well. Some schools have you request directly through the application, while others have those requests go through Naviance, Scoir, or Cialfo.
Use this final summer of high school to dive further into your interests and passions. Take an online class in the subject you are considering for a major, or participate in a summer enrichment program – many programs are being offered online this summer. Consider how you can make an impact on your community through volunteer work or getting active with social justice causes. Colleges want to admit students who pursue their passions and are engaged in making the world around them a better place. Take a look around your own hometown and consider ways you can maximize the opportunities available to you.
This admissions season will be very different in a lot of ways due to the closures and changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, but by staying organized and on top the tasks above this summer, you’ll save yourself the stress leading up to application deadlines and can even enjoy senior year a little bit more. At IvyWise, we’re staying on top of the latest college admissions news, trends, and changes in order to guide students through this unusual application season. If you need help with your college applications this fall, or a customized test prep plan, contact us today for more information on our college counseling and test prep services from our team of expert college admissions counselors and test prep tutors.