Making the Most of the Summer Before Senior Year

Here’s a checklist for you and your high school senior.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady


For those of you wondering what should be on the college planning list for the summer,  I’ve created this guide. Hopefully you can check off some items right now, and the rest you can review with your teen and attack together in the remaining weeks of summer break.

Write the essay Summer is the time to pick a topic, structure the essay and write a first draft, at least. Though the Common Application doesn’t go live until August 1, the essay topics are already posted. An essay written for the Common App will work for almost any college application. [Update: The addition of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success to the universal application pool includes its own set of essay prompts.]

The goal should be to have an essay ready to be reviewed at the start of school by a teacher, guidance counselor, consultant or you. Yes, someone must read it before it’s added to a college application.

Refine the list of prospective colleges Now is the time to more thoroughly research the schools on the list and decide which ones to keep. A general guideline is 8-12 schools: 2 safety, 2 reach and 4-8 where your student meets almost all the requirements. Start with the basics, then look at more personal factors. Share the revised list with your teen’s guidance counselor.

Email teachers for recommendations Too many kids wait until the start of school to ask. Teachers generally write recommendations in the order they receive requests. Your student needs to ask now if he wants a recommendation in hand by his first application deadline.

Schedule SAT/ACT tests and do test prep Spring tests scores are out, so your student can compare hers against the range for the colleges on her list. If her scores need improvement, she needs to register sooner rather than later on the College Board and/or the ACT site for fall exam dates.

Test prep is important. The materials from last winter’s prep class can be reused. Or sign your teen up for a course or program, if your budget allows. At a minimum, she should be reviewing the SAT Daily Practice Question, and taking free practice tests on the SAT and/or  ACT prep sites.

Visit colleges I’m not a big fan of summer college tours because it’s hard to get a feel for the school’s vibe with so few students on campus. But if this is the only time your family can make the trip, or if your teen has yet to set foot on a college campus, then definitely register for a summer tour.

Check out college application deadlines These dates can be found on college websites under “Future Students” or “Admissions.” With these deadlines in hand, your student can begin creating his application schedule. Seeing the due dates on a list should help all of you feel less overwhelmed.

Some colleges offer “Early Decision” and “Early Action.” As their names imply, these deadlines are sooner than those for regular decision. Consider whether either is an option for your teen.

Review the senior year class schedule While researching colleges, your student should check that she’ll meet each one’s academic requirements. Does she need four years of math? Three years of science? Four years of a foreign language? Two years of art? If she’s coming up short, make an appointment with the guidance counselor to talk about adding courses.

Also, colleges don’t look favorably upon the student only taking three classes a semester. Add electives, if necessary, to fill out her schedule.

Discuss paying for college Too many families leave this very important conversation until after college acceptances are in. Your teen needs to know now how much he must earn in scholarships and grants (these don’t need to be repaid), as well as from his summer and after school jobs. If loans must factor into the equation, talk about who will be taking them out, you or your student. Research college Financial Aid pages to learn the minimum SAT/ACT scores or GPA in order for a student to qualify for merit-based scholarships.

Now that you know what’s on the summer to-do list,  take a collective deep breath with your teen and dig in.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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1 Response to Making the Most of the Summer Before Senior Year

  1. Anne, this is a solid list that squares with our experience of seeing 3 sons (in our two families) through this process already. Our youngest two are rising seniors so we hope they are on target. Thanks for your excellent support for families.

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