The summer before your senior year can make or break your college application experience. Save yourself the stress with Ivy Academic Prep’s top 6 tips.
1. Intern or Volunteer
While the summer may be a great time to work on your tan, you should also be working on your resume. If there are internship programs available in your area that interest you, apply. If you are having trouble finding an internship, volunteer with a local organization. Do not take on an internship or a volunteer position that is not in line with your interests – this will come off as disingenuous in your college applications.
Not sure where to look? Here are some of our suggestions:
If you are interested in STEM, look at research laboratories, volunteer with organizations advocating for underrepresented groups in the sciences, or work at a science camp for young children. If you are interested in humanities or liberal arts, get involved with local politics, explore local creative writing groups, or volunteer at an art collective. Many hospitals, labs, and corporations have internship programs that are easy to apply to. You just need to visit their websites to learn more. Or, you can start your own organization if none of the available options speak to you.
If you are not in a financial situation to work at an internship or volunteer, working a non-academically oriented job over the summer is a great option as well. It will show colleges that you are hard working, mature, and willing to take your family’s financial obligations into your own hands.
2. Create a list of attributes you are looking for in a college
The college search process can be overwhelming, and many colleges can appear similar at first glance. Prioritizing what is important to you in a college when you begin your search can save a lot of future hassle. Once you figure out what is important to you in a college, you can highlight these specific attributes in your college application essays – notably in the classic “why this college” essay question.
Some of our suggestions of important attributes include: the size of the college, option to live on-campus all four years, Greek life, financial and merit based aid, academic programs, sports teams, community vibe, retention rate, and geographic location.
3. Create an initial list of 10 schools
Once you figure out what is important to you in a college, start searching for colleges that you are excited about. You may want to categorize colleges into three categories: safety, match, and reach schools. We suggest you try to find three colleges for each category initially. Every school publishes their median SAT/ACT scores and GPA for each of their admitted classes. While schools review applications holistically, and other factors including letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities are also important, you can compare your standardized test scores and GPA to the median scores for colleges of interest to get an initial idea of where you may fall. If your scores are significantly over a college’s median, you can categorize this as a “safety” school. Similarly, if your scores are below the median, you can categorize this as a “reach” school. Furthermore, colleges publish their acceptance rates, which can be used to categorize these schools. For example, even if your scores are well above the median for a school with a 4-10% admit rate, this should still be categorized as a “reach” school.
After you find colleges within each category that you are excited about, write down a notes as to why you are excited about them and what makes them stand out in your mind.
4. Obtain your letters of recommendation
Obtain letters of recommendation as early as possible, especially if you attend to a large high school. The earlier you ask for your letter of recommendation, the higher chance you have for your recommender to spend more time on it before others start to ask.
Spend some time thinking about who knows you the best and who will highlight different aspects of your personality, academic work, and interests. Remember, the best recommenders are the ones who know you the best, not the ones who have the best “titles” or accolades.
If you are completing a summer internship or volunteering before senior year, a great “additional recommender” could come from a summer mentor. For a summer experience mentor, ask them for a recommendation one week before you complete your work. This way you can still have face-to-face contact with the recommender to answer any additional questions and to remind them of important common application deadlines.
5. Explore the Common Application essay topics
The Common Application essay topics are released early for a reason – the longer you work on your essay, the better it will be. Check out the 7 Common Application essay topics and start brainstorming stories that would pair well with a few essay topics that interest you. The best essays are not the “craziest” stories or most “interesting,” rather they are essays that demonstrate who you are as a person and showcase a side of you that is not evident from simply reading your resume. Similarly, colleges are not interested in essays that only speak to your academic accomplishments and intellectual prowess; they can see this from the other aspects of your common application. Think of this essay as your one chance to showcase something that colleges would not get the opportunity to see otherwise. Brainstorming with people who know you well is a great idea if you are stuck and a good way to keep your essays genuine. Once you have some ideas, start drafting a few essays – you may find one idea lends itself easier to the 650-word limit.
6. Complete a state-school application
While state schools may not be on everyone’s radar, applying to your local state school as early as possible has many benefits. Most state-schools open applications at the end of the summer, and have earlier deadlines to receive merit-based aid than other schools. Applying to a state school early allows you to familiarize yourself with the overall application process so that you are ready to go when it comes time to apply to other colleges with later deadlines. Private institutions that use the common application allow you to apply to your state’s public schools at the same time or before you apply to private colleges.
Similarly, check out any college scholarship programs with early deadlines to see if you qualify and are interested in applying. There are many great scholarship opportunities that have very early deadlines. The applications for these scholarship programs will often ask you for an essay that is similar to a Common Application essay. Use this as an opportunity to start working on essays that could be tailored into your Common Application essay. Furthermore, if you receive one of these scholarships you will have time to add this award to your college applications before submitting.
How are you spending your Summer? Do you have any tips or insights that you want to share? Join the conversation and share your tips by posting in the comment section below. Or, if you want personalized, 1-on-1 help from a college admissions expert, click here to get started today.
Posted by Matthew T. Riley, Ph.D., Director – Ivy Academic Prep
Matt has 15 years of experience helping students and families apply for college. He is also is a former Yale University faculty member, an award winning teacher, and a father.