You’ve just finished your finals, and you’re about to begin the summer before your senior year…the calm before the storm! You’re tempted to take it easy this summer—or be a counselor at a camp, or mow lawns, or hang out at the pool, or get a job flipping burgers.
But don’t forget that college is looming around the corner. Being ready to complete college applications requires preparation long before you begin your senior year. You can still have a job or teach kids or hang with your friends this summer. However, keep in mind that when the fall of your senior year comes around, you are going to be very busy with new classes, athletics, student leadership activities, and so much more.
And, oh yeah, there are college applications and essays that need to be written and submitted by specified fall and early winter deadlines—that is, if you want great college options for next year.
So, whether or not you’ve already begun your college search, here are essential guidelines to help you plan the next few months and keep you on track.
● If you are just beginning your college search, ask yourself some self-awareness questions. Do you know what you want out of life or how you learn best? What are your favorite subjects and what are your out-of-school activities? What are your skills, strengths and talents and achievements? A little self-knowledge will go a long way in your search to find the colleges that match your needs and goals.
● Now you’re ready to find some of those colleges that “fit” you and your academic profile and offer what you are looking for in a college experience: size and location of the school, academic program/major that you are interested in studying, opportunities to play sports or participate on study abroad experiences, and accessibility to your professors and appropriate class size. These are some factors to consider as you get to know colleges that interest you.
● Use websites that will help you develop a list of 12 to 15 colleges that appeal to you. Start with The College Board to find colleges that have the criteria that you are looking for. Others, among many, are The Princeton Review, Unigo, and Colleges That Change Lives.
● From now and into the fall of your senior year, explore colleges with the goal of narrowing your initial list of 12-15-plus colleges to five to eight colleges to which you plan to apply.
● If your colleges use the Common Application for online applications, read the choices or “prompts” offered for the Essay or the Personal Statement. Begin thinking about these options.
● Be sure to check with each college’s admissions site for any supplemental essays or other requirements that must be submitted.
● Begin to write the first draft of your essay. The sooner you get started with this task, the more time you will have to be sure it’s right. Students who are serious about being admitted into selective or competitive colleges write four to six drafts of the essay before it’s ready to be submitted.
● If you completed your college search in the spring of your junior year, you will be ready to write essay drafts before the fall of your senior year.
● Compile your list of extracurricular activities, athletic accomplishments, honors, awards, jobs held, leadership positions, etc.—anything that you have consistently done outside of academics. This will prepare you to put together your résumé to submit with your applications.
● Register for the October or November SAT or ACT exams.
● Ask one or two teachers if they are willing to write a supportive reference for you. Give your references a list of your colleges, along with your résumé, so that they can see what you have accomplished and what your next goals may be.
● Make a list of your colleges with the due dates for applications: Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. Once you know these deadlines, then you will be able to plan the completion of your applications on a self-directed timetable.
● Complete the final draft of your essay.
● Ask your guidance counselor to send your transcript and your first semester senior year courses to the colleges on your list.
● Finalize your essay and your résumé.
● Begin to fill out your college applications online. For many students, it’s easier to complete a pencil draft of the Common Application prior to completing the final version online. This saves time and eliminates mistakes.
● Once you complete your application, the essay, any required supplements, and your résumé, you are ready to push “Submit.” Even if you plan to submit applications to meet January, February, or later deadlines, give yourself the goal of completing all applications by December 15. That way you can enjoy the Christmas holidays stress-free!
Assuming that you are prepared to follow this timeline, you will enjoy completing each application. The most important final reminder is this: Only apply to colleges that, if you are admitted, you’d be delighted to attend. Otherwise, why apply?
Martha Green Quirk, M.A., has been active in the college admissions field for over 30 years. In 2008 she founded her own independent educational consulting company, College Admissions Consulting (CAC), in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC).