Ten Suggestions for the Summer for Rising Seniors as They Prepare to Apply to Colleges


You are a senior and will apply to colleges in the fall. What should you be doing this summer? Here are ten suggestions for the college bound senior.

1.     Manage your social media. Colleges are now checking students’ social media accounts including Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google+, Whisper, and Kik. A Kaplan survey of admissions officers reveals that about 70% believe reviewing social media is fair, and 30% look at student’s on-line accounts. Students should use their social media presence to document key aspects of their application. Students should also follow the social media accounts of schools and programs in which the student is interested because this is the emerging metric for demonstrated interest. Mostly importantly, students should ensure that there is nothing offensive on their accounts. Every year college admissions are withdrawn after students have accepted when something inappropriate turns up on-line. Don’t think that colleges don’t have access to your digital life; your peers are often the ones who bring it to colleges’ attention.

2.     Prepare for testing. Be sure to sign up for the testing you need to complete your applications. The SAT and SAT Subject tests will be offered on August 25, October 6, November 3 and December 1. As a rule, I think it is helpful for students to take two Subject tests. Some colleges require Subject tests for all students, and other colleges require Subject tests for math, science, and engineering programs. The Kahn Academy offers a free test prep service on line for the SAT. The ACT is offered on July 14, September 8, October 27 and December 8. You need to sign up for these exams six weeks before the test date.

3.     Update your resume, and write a resume if you don’t have one. Some colleges and most scholarship applications require a resume. Your resume helps you to collect information that you will need later, beginning with a complete list of your activities. the correct names of organizations in which you have participated, dates, descriptions of your contributions, and an estimate of hours. A good website to help you develop a resume is here.

4.     Convert entries in your resume to descriptions of 150 and 160 characters. Once you have your resume in hand, you can convert your resume’s descriptions of activities and job descriptions into the required application format. The Common Application limits descriptions of your positions to 50 characters, and description of your responsibilities and accomplishments to 150 characters. The University of California application limits a description of your responsibilities and accomplishments to 160 characters.

5.     Open your accounts for applications. You may create accounts for the Common Application and University of California Application on August 1. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success may be opened at any time. It is just a good idea to get started and to enter basic information such as your contact information, parents’ education, and the name of your school, etc. The University of California asks students to self-report grades, and it is important that you enter your grades accurately. The UCs will ask for a transcript after you have been admitted. They will not know if you made a data entry error or if you purposefully misrepresented your grades, and they may withdraw your acceptance if you make a mistake. I always encourage parents to review self-reported grades to ensure accuracy.

6.     Develop an essay strategy. Even if you are an accomplished writer, composing essays for your application can require a lot of time--I've had students write in total between 10 and 30+ essays. To manage this amount of manuscript production, it is best to start with a plan. Do you work well with outlines, brainstorming with friends, or simply thinking about the essays? Can you draft or complete a few essays? Any effort you can make now will save you time in the fall. Remember that fall semester grades count! The application essay prompts for the Common Application, University of California and Coalition applications are now available. Supplemental essay requirements typically don't change year after year. One exception to this is the University of Chicago which has contests for supplemental essay prompts. This year's list includes, "What’s so odd about odd numbers?" And you should always be able to answer the question, for either an essay or an interview, "Why do you like our school?"

7.     Research colleges. Read schools’ websites! Read about different departments, campus life, new initiatives…everything you can think of that will help you evaluate the school. Follow their blogs, and connect with their social media. Like favored colleges on Facebook and follow them on LinkedIn. Colleges offer these resources so you might know about them. I always encourage students to pick a few fixed points (for example, the English Department, Career Services and Study Abroad options…anything) and compare them. After a while you will begin to see patterns.

8.     Prepare for the basics of an interview. Have clothing and stationary ready to go. Before an interviewer hears your first sentence, he or she sees your physical presence. Clothing should be youthful, clean, reasonably well fitting, and not revealing. Think of something you would wear for a nice dinner out with your grandparents. Your interviewer might be your grandparents' peer. Your last impression in an interview is a thank you note. It is best if you can write it on paper, but an e-mail is a good alternative. Have on hand stationary that best reflects you.

9.     Parents: Understand financial aid. Just as students organize their college application lists into safety, target and reach segments, parents should also identify financial aid safety schools. A good first step is the College Board’s Financial Aid 101 website. Additionally, every college’s website is required to have a “Net Price Calculator” which should give you a general idea of what you will pay for your student’s first year of college. For an example, you can visit Duke University's Net Price Calculator here. I also think it is important that the student and his or her parents understand how much they will pay monthly for student loans and how that will affect the student’s life. Debt Wizard is a great tool to calculate student loan repayments. 

10.  Have a healthy summer. The fall of college applications still feel like a sprint. Make choices during the summer to build up your stamina. Read! Enjoy your friends! Go to the beach! And mind your health during the application process—this is no time to get sick. I always give my students a bottle of Purell, and remind them to wash their hands. Take care of yourself. And have fun this summer!

Photo: "Georgetown University, 3 Scooters, 1 bullet," courtesy of Rudi Riet, July 27, 2012, Creative Commons