9 College Application Tasks for the Summer Before Senior Year
Use the summer to visit colleges and work on application materials, experts say.
By Cole Claybourn | May 12, 2023, at 3:09 p.m.
The summer before senior year of high school is a critical time for students to make progress on the college application process.
Before the busyness of the school year starts and fall and winter college application deadlines loom, students can knock out several key tasks to avoid stress down the road, experts say.
“The summer before senior year, you can really get a lot done,” says Matt Woodworth, founder of college admissions consulting company Woodworth Prep. “You can make really good headway on your essays and on test prep. You can get some kind of work situation that will help you. When you’re not distracted by being in all these classes, sports and volunteering, you’ve got these three months to try and optimize everything you’re doing.”
Experts say it’s important for students to use the summer to recharge mentally and physically for the next school year. But students should also be aware that the college application process has several layers to it, and some may take more coordination and planning than others. To that end, experts say, the earlier a student can start, the better.
“When we work with students on college applications, our goal is to have most of the application materials completed before senior year begins,” Angela Warfield, principal consultant and founder of admissions consulting firm Compass Academics, wrote in an email. “That way, seniors and their families can focus on the milestones and memories that senior year brings without the stress of applications hanging over their heads.”
Here are nine college application tasks that rising seniors can accomplish during summer break.
Narrow Down Your College List
A successful college selection requires thoughtful research. Rising seniors should spend time learning about schools over the summer to identify institutions that may be a good fit, Woodworth says. They should aim to build a well-balanced college list that includes reach schools, target schools and schools that are more likely to admit them, he says. Some people refer to that last group as safety schools.
“I always encourage people to apply early whenever they can,” he says. “Figure out which of those schools you’re going to apply to early decision, because the (acceptance) percentage rate is better if you apply early.”
Experts disagree on how many schools students should apply to, with recommendations ranging anywhere from four to 15. “I always encourage them to apply to between 10 and 12 schools – three or four reaches, five or six reasonable, and three or four likely,” Woodworth says. “But the ‘reasonable’ schools need to be really good fits where the students have a good chance of getting accepted.”
Visit College Campuses
Summer can be a good time for families to visit colleges. In-person visits give prospective students and their families the opportunity to ask questions about academics, financial aid and anything else they’re curious about.
Though COVID-19 briefly paused in-person college tours across the U.S., “many colleges are once again offering on-campus visits,” Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies, wrote in an email.
Some colleges have also kept virtual tour options available, meaning students can still use those tools to explore more campuses or schools that are far away.
Work on College Essays
The Common Application, which many students use to apply to college, opens Aug. 1 every year, and Common App has already announced the seven essay prompts for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Applicants are only required to submit one essay on the Common App, but experts say the summer is a good time for rising seniors to narrow down a few preferred essay choices and start writing them. Students are encouraged to collaborate with friends or classmates and consult school counselors or teachers to complete the essays early, Woodworth says.
“You can workshop what you’re doing, brainstorm and help each other,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have to have them completely done, but have them in really good shape before you even start senior year.”
Your essays should highlight unique traits or accomplishments that help differentiate your application from others, says Christopher Rim, CEO of Command Education. “You want to be able to write about in these essays what you’ve done in the past, what you’ve done during school, what you did the summer before. That’s what’s really important.”
Additionally, prospective students can go online to find out if any of the schools they’re interested in applying to require one or more supplemental essays.
Ask for Recommendation Letters
Some colleges and universities require applicants to obtain letters of recommendation, usually from teachers or school counselors. Ideally, students would find recommenders by the end of their junior year, experts say, but it’s best to have them secured by the start of senior year at the latest.
This gives teachers and counselors time to prepare and write a thoughtful letter before they are flooded with requests. Because of how time-consuming it can be, some teachers limit how many recommendation letters they will write each year.
“If you get your name in there and get a promise from them over the summer, you’ll be in good shape, whereas if you do it a week before your first early application deadline, you’re going to be scrambling around,” Woodworth says.
The number of recommendations required varies by school, so check each college’s website to find out how many letters you’ll need. Be intentional about who you ask to write letters, Rim says, suggesting they come from club advisers, teachers or coaches who know you on a deeper level.
While some scholarship application windows may not open until the fall, prospective college students can still explore available award opportunities. There are websites that can assist students in their scholarship search. (U.S. News offers a guide on finding scholarships for college.)
“My advice is to apply for scholarships early and often during your senior year,” Will Geiger, cofounder and CEO of Scholarships360, which offers free services to help students find applicable scholarships, wrote in an email. “You can spend your summer mapping out which scholarships you want to apply for during the year. This will allow you to stay on top of deadlines and also focus your attention on the scholarships that are the best fit for your background, experiences, and interests.”
There are many types of merit-based and need-based scholarships available, and some students may find some related to their hobbies.
Study for Standardized Tests
The COVID-19 pandemic led many colleges to shift to a test-optional approach, in which ACT and SAT scores are not required but considered if submitted. Other colleges went test-blind, meaning they won’t consider scores at all.
Though the weight of these tests in college applications has decreased, some institutions still require them. While many students take these tests during their junior year, some may elect to take them during their senior year as well. Experts say students who plan to take the ACT or SAT during their senior year should use the summer months to prepare for these exams and check individual college policies on using test scores.
“I’m a big believer in people prepping for the ACT or SAT in the summer,” Woodworth says. “I think it’s much better to do that when they don’t have high school distracting them.”
Learn About Financial Aid Requirements
Students and parents can take some time during the summer to learn about the various aspects of the college financial aid process, Geiger says.
There are several types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study and federal or private student loans. Families can research the financial aid application requirements and deadlines for the schools of interest to a prospective student. For example, some schools ask for a form called the CSS Profile, or College Scholarship Service Profile, in addition to the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Students should set a reminder on their calendar for Oct. 1, when the FAFSA opens up, Geiger says.
Start Filling Out Applications
Some college applications don’t open until later in the summer. The Common App opens Aug. 1, but students can create an account at any time and transfer their information into the new app when it opens.
Create a Checklist
A big key to success during the college application process is organization, experts say, and creating a checklist to keep track of what is and isn’t completed can be helpful. School counselors can typically provide students with a checklist, but the College Board also provides a list for students and parents to use.
“College applications have a number of moving parts,” Warfield says. “If a student doesn’t have a checklist and timeline in place, they are likely to miss something important, like an application or scholarship deadline.”
Originally published on US World News on May 12, 2023