Now is the time to finalize the college list, prep for SAT/ACT tests, write the Common App essay and more.

There’s one way to make the fall college application process less stressful—use the summer to get organized. Here are some suggestions.

Refine the list of colleges There’s no reason for a student to apply to 25 colleges; 8-12 is more than reasonable. Start pairing down the list or, if it’s too short, exploring more colleges making sure to include at least two safety and two reach schools.

Secure commitments for recommendations Colleges generally require at least one teacher recommendation. Keep in mind that the most popular teachers get the majority of the requests and guidance counselors know who writes the best ones. You want a teacher with whom your student shares a good relationship. Encourage your teen to ask for a recommendation before school is out, otherwise they should email a teacher or two early in the summer because most write them in the order requests are received.

Write the essay The Common App releases essay prompts in the beginning of the year, usually in January or February. Some junior year English teachers help students write a solid draft in class, which can be finalized over the summer. If your teen doesn’t get this opportunity, they should plan to use summer break to write, edit and polish their essay. You can assist with choosing a topic and even proofreading (colleges recommend an adult review the essay for this purpose), but you cannot write it. Read my post on the lessons I’ve learned as a college essay coach for more advice.

Study or take a test prep course for the SAT/ACT Once spring test scores are in, you can figure out whether your teen’s need to go up a lot, a little or not at all. For a modest improvement, taking practice tests and reviewing vocabulary words at home should be enough. A test prep program or private tutor makes more sense for kids who want a more dramatic jump in their scores. Ask a few experienced parents what’s available in your area and what worked for their kids, then find the right option for your budget.

Determine the best test date for the next SAT/ACT Visit the College Board and ACT sites to find fall test dates. Choose earlier dates for Early Decision and Early Action applications and if there’s a chance your teen will need to take the exam again.

Create the activity sheet or high school resume Here is where your teen lists all their extra-curricular activities, as well as honors, volunteering, leadership positions and even employment. The information from the high school resume gets transferred to the appropriate sections on their applications, so putting it all together now will help streamline the process later.


Visit colleges I know in a previous post I said not to visit over the summer, but if this is the only time you can see a few schools, then do it. Who has time to visit 12 colleges in the fall?

Review application due dates and create a schedule to apply Some colleges may have their application deadlines posted already (or have left up last year’s dates). Filling out college applications takes time. Plan for your child to get through one or two a week rather than three a night to relieve some of the pressure.

Check out the Common App and Coalition sites Technically called the Common Application, the Common App is used by over 800 colleges. The actual application goes live online August 1 (paper versions are no longer available). If you visit the site now, and click on “How to Apply,” you and your teen can learn about creating an account, filling out the application, the information to have on hand when applying and more. Also review the list of colleges that use the Common App to compare it to the schools your student hopes to apply to.

About 140 colleges are also accepting the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (the Coalition) application, including some who use it exclusively. Explore this site as well to find out which, if any, of your teen’s schools use this application and to learn any differences between it and the Common App.

Most kids will resist their parents’ efforts to get a jump on the college application process. But some of the tasks I’ve covered take very little time. Come September, you’ll all be happier for your efforts.

Share your thoughts on summer college planning in the comments section below.