Wondering how to spend your last summer of high school? Hoping to maximize your chances of admission to great colleges in the fall? Read on! Here are our top tips for rising seniors.
Focus Your Extracurriculars
When it comes to extracurriculars, the rule is quality over quantity. You want to show colleges that you are a committed leader when it comes to your activities outside of class. This means that the summer before your senior year is not the time to try a number of new things—you’ll have plenty of time for this in college.
By now, you should have a clear sense of which activities matter to you. Start by making a clear list of all the extracurricular activities you’ve engaged in since you started high school (if you haven’t already). Where do you really stand out? Now is the time to go deep into an activity you already have a significant amount of experience with. It may sound counterintuitive, but the idea at this stage is not to go broad and try to develop your less impressive activities. It’s always better to have one or two truly impressive extracurricular achievements than a long list of under-developed interests.
If you have a number of impressive activities related to journalism, for instance, focus on journalism this summer. If your thing is community service, now is the time to create a community service masterpiece.
The best activities list is a focused activities list. You want your extracurriculars to present a clear narrative about your strengths.
Get Ready for College Applications
Start working on your college list now. Putting together a solid college list takes a great deal of research, and this takes time. Make sure you’re identifying schools that will support all your academic, extracurricular, and social interests.
Your list should include three main kinds of schools:
“Safety,” or “likely,” schools are colleges where an applicant has a very good chance of getting in. The applicant’s grades, test scores, course difficulty, and extracurricular accomplishments will be appreciably stronger than the middle 50% of the profiles of past admitted students.
For “target” schools, the applicant’s profile falls solidly within that middle 50% range.
At “reach” schools, accepted students in the middle 50% range have stronger profiles than the applicant.
You should consider applying to between twelve and fifteen schools. Make sure you have at least two likely schools and around five target schools on your list. The rest should be reach schools. After all, if you have outstanding extracurriculars, these can make up for grades and test scores to a certain extent.
(Here’s a little trick you can use when building your college list: check out Common Data Set (CDS) information on the colleges you’re interested in. Google “common data set” and the name of the college in question for useful data that will help you determine how you stack up against past accepted students. Keep in mind that not every college shares information in this way.)
There are two reasons why starting your college list now is important:
First, you should have a good sense of which colleges you’d like to visit by June or July. Don’t wait until August to visit schools, since this is when everybody else will be swarming the campuses.
Second, you want to be sure that you’re ready for Early Decision and Early Action deadlines in November (usually the 1st or the 15th). Applying early can significantly increase your chances of admission, but since Early Decision policies are binding, you need to be very sure that your ED school is really your top choice. If you need help, check out our blog post on "How To Create A College List (Don't Just Look At The Rankings!)"
(Re)take Standardized Tests
Are you happy with your SAT or ACT scores? How do they stack up against the scores of accepted students at the colleges on your list? If you feel you can do better, we strongly encourage you not to wait until the fall to retake these tests. Your senior fall grades are very important, so it’s best to focus on your academics without having to worry about test prep. The ACT is offered in July; the SAT in August.
Start Working on Your College Essay and Supplemental Essays
Writing the college application essay is probably the most difficult part of the application process. You’re going to want to try several different approaches, and go through a number of different drafts before you settle on a topic.
In January, the Common Application announced that the 2021-2022 essay prompts. You can find them here, but they aren’t particularly important. The last prompt is always: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice.” You can write about anything you like.
The best college essays tell personal stories. Start preparing for your essay now by keeping a journal. Focus on writing down meaningful anecdotes about your life.
Think about times when your point of view shifted. Write down stories about first times, first days. Try to recall quirky and even embarrassing stories about yourself. (Avoid anything incriminating, of course!) Actually write out these anecdotes—don’t just take notes. Practice telling compelling stories—with a beginning, a middle, and an end—about your experiences.
Don’t forget that most colleges also require that you respond to their own supplemental essay prompts. These questions are released over the course of the summer. As they come out, we will be publishing writing guides for individual top colleges. Sign up for our newsletter for news and tips about writing supplemental essays!
One good way to prepare for writing supplementals is to think long and hard about why you want to attend each college on your list. Many schools will ask you to respond to this question directly, and even if they don’t, it will help you craft a stellar college list.
Finally, remember that the college application process doesn’t have to be stressful. Plan ahead, make sure to stay organized, read some great books, and take time to relax and spend time with your family and friends. Keep these tips in mind, and start thinking about admissions now. This will give you plenty of time to ensure that you’re presenting yourself to colleges in your very best light.
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