Ah, summertime and the livin’ is easy. Here in Boston, we New Englanders have earned the right to a long, lazy, carefree romp in the sunshine after enduring another long winter and chilly spring. High school students, having just completed a busy and challenging school year, are eager to bask at the beach and chill in the heat. Teens have busy plans for working, volunteering, attending academic programs, joining family vacations, and playing in sports camps and showcases. Rising seniors are completing applications and going on college visits.
Although we value the mental, physical, and spiritual health benefits of vacation just as much as everyone else, we also know that the summer before senior year carries with it a crucial checklist of tasks that – if completed before September – will make senior fall so much more manageable and enjoyable for students and families. Think about it: do you really want to have supplemental essays hanging over your head when you’re looking forward to your senior season of field hockey? Do you want to be facing another revision of your college essay when you are getting pumped for Homecoming? We know that you will not want more college application homework piled on top of an already full and challenging academic schedule sometimes including AP classes or IB diploma requirements. So, the time to work is now.
Although at this point in the process seniors are at different places on their college search and application journey, still there are some important milestones that all seniors should achieve by the end of the summer in order to insure a less stressful fall:
College Visits. The summer is the best time to complete your college visits. If you are travelling far, be sure to schedule an interview if they are offered. If you haven’t seen any college campuses yet, you need to shift into a higher gear and get on campus pronto. Remember that you are looking for your home for the next four years. You need to get a feel for the place and people to see if it feels right to you. Don’t save the visit for after you apply and/or receive a decision; colleges need to know that you were on campus and attended a tour and information session before they read your application. And don’t forget to complete your McMillan Education college visit evaluation forms!
Common Application. At the very least, seniors should create their Common App accounts and complete the simple yet tedious non-writing portions. We are here to help with in-office application bootcamps to get this work done. Procrastination and the apprehension it breeds feel worse than the toil of actually doing the work!
Essays and supplements. We like to use the summer – hopefully during our office bootcamps but over Zoom or Skype if necessary – to help students write their main Common App essay as well as some short answer essays that could easily be used for a variety of supplements. Some students prefer to hang out in our office and write while we are present to guide them along the way; others may prefer to write independently and send us drafts. Either way, students need to get as much of this writing done as they can in the summer. Our top advice for college essay writing:
- Start with a very specific anecdote or vignette – a memory, a moment, a conversation. Think cinematically about the opening scene of your essay – what do you want the reader to see, smell, hear, touch, even taste?
- Use that anecdote or vignette as the springboard to reveal important information to the admissions committee about who you are as a person. They don’t care so much about the story itself as what they are able to learn about you through that story.
- Have fun with the freedom to infuse your own personal voice into the essay with personal pronouns, carefully chosen colloquialisms, and proper nouns to provide detail. Have fun breaking out of the chains of the literary analysis conventions you have been taught in English class. But keep the grammar and syntax polished! We can help with finding this balance in your writing.
The List. Ideally, your college visits, the reflections sparked by completing the evaluation forms, and your conversations with your consultant here will help you finalize your college list by the end of the summer. Making some decisions about the breadth and depth of your list – with your consultant’s guidance – becomes a time-sensitive matter when we start talking about deadline strategies. When it is time to start school again, the closer you are to a final and balanced list, the better.
The earliest applications are due November 1st, and although that sounds far away now, we assure you that September and October will fly by. When you commit to using your time wisely over the summer, you are buying time in the fall to make careful and deliberate decisions about the deadline strategies that will optimize your chances of acceptance. Sometimes successful applications have just as much to do with how carefully and thoughtfully those applications were completed as with the quantifiable data they contain. Give yourself the time and mental space to produce applications that you will be proud to send to college admissions committees, and no matter what happens in the end you’ll be satisfied with the investment you have made in yourself. And we assure you that completing your college application work can be a fun process in and of itself! Discovering what you value about your life and personality, and learning how to present that information to colleges in a confident way will leave you feeling proud and invigorated as you begin your senior year of high school.