For many high school students, summers are a time to hang by the pool, work a summer job, or simply take some time off from coursework and extracurricular demands. Whether your summer plans involve serving tables, lounging at the shore, or participating in a highly-selective summer program, we recommend five simple steps that won’t overly-detract from your summer vacation but will give you a leg up in the college admissions process. Topics covered include:
- Why it pays to request letters of recommendation early
- The benefits of starting early on the Common App
- How to demonstrate interest in your perspective colleges
- How to create an activities resume
- The keys to creating a perfect college list
If you follow this advice, you stand a much better chance of avoiding a potential meltdown during the frenetically-paced autumn months that loom ahead.
1. Request Letters of Recommendation
Separate yourself from the panicked masses who, in a few months’ time, will be begging their favorite teacher(s) to crank out a recommendation 48 hours before their application deadline. Fact — recommenders will appreciate your proactive approach and may even utilize the extra time to write a more thoughtful, detailed letter. Additional tips include supplying your recommender with a resume (see tip #4) to better inform their testimonial as well as picking an individual who knows you intimately rather than someone prominent who doesn’t know you at all (admissions officers see mountains of generic letters from elected officials signed in autopen).
2. Create a Common App Account and Write the Common App Essay
The Common App actually allows students to rollover an older account for the 2019-2020 application cycle, meaning that students can go ahead and create their account now, even though the 2019-20 application won’t technically launch until August 1.
Earlier this year the Common App released their essay prompts for the 2019-20 admissions cycle, which means students can begin writing now. Of course, your first challenge is to brainstorm and pick a personal and compelling topic on which to write. Let’s define those words in the context of the college essay. By personal, we mean talk about something that happened to you, where you are at the heart of the action. If you write about a trip to Haiti and chronicle the culture of the Haitian people, then the essay is not really about you – it might as well be a homework assignment. Colleges want to know who you are and how you view the world – the essay may be your only chance to provide them with this type of insight, so it’s worth spending a fair amount of time crafting and refining your message.
3. Demonstrate Interest
Carve out a few moments to show your prospective colleges some love by demonstrating interest. Trust us, with yield rates causing admissions officers many restless nights, making schools feel wanted can leave a favorable impression. Whether or not a student showed interest in the form of a campus visit, an e-mail to an admissions counselor, or by requesting info through the university website can become a factor come admission time. Colleges want great students, but they really want great students who are genuinely interested in attending their institution.
4. Complete the Students Activities Resume
When it comes to listing your extracurricular achievements, the goal is not to fill a single-spaced page in 6-point font with a record of every single action you’ve ever taken as a human being. Admission officers are looking for depth over breath and want to see evidence of leadership, commitment, and flourishing passion that will carry over to their respective campus. In other words, leave off that afternoon as a freshman when you attended a Model U.N. interest meeting, only to embarrassingly realize that it was not, as you assumed, a club for building miniature replicas of embassy buildings.
Within the Common App form itself, you will have space to enter 10 activities. This is frequently one of the most challenging components of the application—consult our detailed guide to mastering the Activities List here.
5. Finalize your College List
Developing your college list can be much more challenging than it sounds. It’s easy to get caught up dreaming about one’s top choice school, yet it’s important to have not just multiple irons in the fire, but the right irons (all you blacksmiths out there know what I’m talkin’ about). Remember that admission to Ivy and other uber-selective colleges can never be taken for granted so you’ll need to diversify that portfolio. Also make sure to pick at least one financial safety school in case you end up on the short end of the merit aid chase. For a detailed look at the college list creation process revisit our previous blog on the subject.
Rising seniors, enjoy this well-earned respite from hard work. Relish the opportunity to enjoy a late breakfast while taking the time to relax. However, if you can also spare a few hours here and there to work on the above activities, you will thank yourself in just a few short months.
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.