Summer is the perfect time to get a jump start on your college admissions process. There are several steps that you can take to make the admissions process as stress free as possible during the upcoming fall. Even though your friends may procrastinate, there is no reason for you to do so. Put these 10 tasks on your to do list, and you’ll be thankful you got started early.
[Have you considered an online college?]
1. Create your college list.
With summer comes more free time. Spend that time researching colleges you want to attend. Simply looking at the rankings is not enough. Check out academic programs, extracurricular opportunities, campus environment, social atmosphere, size, location, student body, and any other details you would want to know. You might be at this school for four years, so you’ll want to make the best decision possible. Once you have a list of schools that you love, assess your chances of getting in. Be as honest with yourself as possible. Have other people help you make this assessment as well.
2. Request teacher recommendations.
As you start to create your college list, think about how many recommendations you will need. Some schools will also specify which grades you should have gotten or the subject the teachers should have taught you. Think carefully about which teachers know you well. The grade is not as important as the relationship. Colleges use this recommendation to learn about your personality and how you interact with others.
3. Visit colleges.
While many college campuses tend to be quiet during the summer, it is still a good idea to visit a few different colleges. If you are unsure about what setting will suit you best, these visits will tell you more than reading information online. While you might not visit every college on your list, you will have a much better sense of the locations that will be a better fit for you.
4. Brainstorm essay topics.
Sit down and just free-write about the experiences you have or the things that you want colleges to know about you. This is a time to reflect on what is important to you. It is fine to read past essays, but it is not okay to copy the exact content. Remember that colleges want to learn what makes you unique—and you ARE unique!
[Read more: College Essays: Six Common Mistakes You Must Avoid.]
5. Draft your personal statement.
Once you have brainstormed some ideas, try to draft an actual personal statement. The Common Application and Universal College Application essay prompts are already available. While you will be able to swap out essays for different colleges, write personal statements that you are comfortable sending to multiple colleges. Also, start drafting supplemental essays since you might have to do research or more reflection.
6. Complete the Common Application or Universal College Application.
These applications will go live in early August. Fill them out completely as soon as you can. For some tips on the common application, see our article The Common Application: Breaking It Down, Part 1 and Part 2.
7. Fill out the online net price calculators.
No matter what your family’s financial situation, your parents are certainly thinking about how to finance your college education. Your parents can complete a Net Price Calculator online for each college you are considering. This will give them an estimate of what each college will cost. While this does not take into account merit-based scholarships, it gives you a starting point.
[Search for scholarships at ScholarshipAdvisor.com.]
8. Complete high school forms and questionnaires.
Many high schools will require students to complete forms or questionnaires. Do these as soon as they go live. Many students wait until the last minute, and this causes unnecessary stress.
9. Check out interview policies.
Once you have a final college list, find out if interviews are required or recommended. There might be earlier deadlines if you want to request an interview. If schools offer you the option to interview, take advantage. This is a chance to really show a different side of you to someone representing the college. If you are worried about your interview skills, practice with a parent or mentor.
[What role does a personal interview play in college admissions? Get the answer here.]
10. Create a timeline for deadlines.
If you miss a deadline, there is very little that you can do to recover. So rather than miss deadlines, plan to submit everything at least two weeks ahead of time to avoid any problems.
Your entire summer should not be spent focused on admissions, but use your time well. The more you do now, the less you will be worried about later. More importantly, you will be approaching your applications with confidence and preparedness.
[You can take these eight fun summer classes for free!]
Purvi Mody is the co-owner of Insight Education and is an education contributor to the Daily News, Mercury News, and StudentAdvisor. She has been interviewed for several articles and books, as well as radio and television shows. She has worked with students across the United States and other countries including India, China, Korea, Dubai, and the UK on the increasingly complex college admissions and financial aid processes.